Monday, February 4, 2013

SMA Keynote: Who’s Got Creative Superpowers? You Do!

When you read the word creative, do you imagine someone like the picture here?  Did you love art but at some point someone told you that you were no good at it?  Do you wish your small museum could really engage the community but feel hindered by a lack of money?  Do you think you’re creative but the other people in your organization are not?  Time to wake up those superpowers.

Over the past year, my colleague Rainey Tisdale and I have been working on a book about museums and creative practice.   We’re exploring what the research tells us about creative people and creative places and we’re trying out a host of tools that can help you put your creativity to work.

In my keynote address at the upcoming SMA conference I’ll be sharing some of our learning with you.  We’ve learned, no surprise, that creativity doesn’t happen when only one person talks, so don’t imagine that you’ll be able to sit quietly over your coffee.  I’ll be asking all of you to join me in some creative explorations.  After all, it’s an early morning talk entitled, “Wake Up Your Creative Superpowers.” Research has shown that creativity isn’t an innate quality, but rather it’s something we all can enhance—through practice.  If you want to get a head start on that creative practice, here’s a few quick tips before you arrive at the conference.

Look Around

Great ideas come from unexpected places.  Add one new source of information to your life, outside the usual.  Follow a European museum on Facebook;   listen to a science program if you’re an arts person;  or visit the zoo.

Look deeply at the things you see every day.  Spend thirty minutes sitting in your museum’s gallery or research library and just looking.  What does the space feel like?  What are people doing?  What does the place suggest to you?  What new ideas could you implement here?

Try It!

Creative innovations don’t come in that single flash of brilliance. Thomas Edison tested thousands and thousands of substances before he found the right one for an electric light filament.  That same persistence and willingness to keep moving despite failures characterizes any creative person or organization.   So go out today and prototype something;  anything.  Write a new label for a long-outdated permanent exhibit, put it up, and ask for visitor feedback.  Think up a new hands-on activity and try it out in your lobby or with incoming school groups.  Don’t like the results?  Revise and try again.


Ideas are built upon ideas—and often it’s people slightly outside the situation that have ideas worth sharing.  Walk down the hall and talk to another department about school groups or marketing.  Don’t have a department?  Talk to volunteers, or someone you know who’s in an entirely different business.

Get out those Art Supplies

You don’t have to be an artist with a canvas and palette to create.  Have a bin of art supplies--markers, Post-it notes, scissors, paper and tape—for use during meetings.  See what people create while talking through an issue.  The creative solution might be right there!

- Linda Norris

William Merritt Chase by John Singer Sargent 1902, Wikepedia Commons

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