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Set Your Superpower Free! 10 tips to help small museum professionals tap into their creativity. – American Alliance of Museums

A group of colorful butterflies in the shape of a hot air balloon lift a basket off the ground with the words "Set Your Superpower Free!" on top in white letters.

A gaggle of colourful butterflies within the form of a scorching air balloon carry a basket off the bottom with the phrases "Set Your Superpower Free!" on prime in white letters.

You’ve in all probability heard some variation of the next: making modifications at an enormous establishment is like turning an ocean liner round whereas altering course in a small group is like tacking in a sailboat.

Small museum people, chances are you’ll not realize it, however giant museum professionals typically envy you and your museum’s capacity to adapt and alter shortly. Embrace this!

Profitable small museums take advantage of of their adaptability by being artistic. In truth, creativity is a small museum’s superpower.

So what precisely is a artistic museum? In our ebook Creativity in Museum Apply, Rainey Tisdale and I outline the time period: “Creative museums—and creative museum workers—produce new ideas and new ways of seeing things that add value either internally (to the staff and to operations behind the scenes) or externally (to a public audience).”

How do you do this? Listed here are 10 recommendations for exploiting your small museum’s superpower.

1. Constantly mirror in your follow, perspective, and privilege.

Artistic individuals—and artistic organizations—are all the time wanting outward to discover the subsequent nice concept. However we additionally want to do the exhausting work of wanting inward.

Reflecting in your follow may imply rethinking your hiring methods, pushing your board of administrators to embrace extra numerous views, or wanting deeply at your collections to see whose story just isn’t included. Artistic organizations don’t view this reflective work as a burden or an add-on to an already busy schedule. They embed it in every thing they do.

2. Draw inspiration from all over the place—notably from your personal group.

Way back, earlier than Rainey and I knew one another and earlier than we contemplated writing about creativity, we each attended a memorable AAM session chaired by Nina Simon, government director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Artwork & Historical past. A various, humorous group of
colleagues shared locations that impressed them to broaden their work. Public libraries, minor league groups, group gardens, and, as I keep in mind, at the very least one guitar retailer, all offered inspiration.

In my very own work, I’ve been fortunate sufficient to journey to all types of locations that present inspiration. However far-flung journey isn’t the one method to increase your horizons. Range the locations you go for espresso within the morning, stroll in a neighborhood totally different than yours, or attend a special home of worship.

You may as well broaden your considering via the pages of a e-book. This yr I’ve been engaged on Guide Riot’s Learn More durable problem. Designed to push your studying boundaries, the instructed duties embrace studying a comic book written and drawn by the identical individual, a ebook set in or about one of the 5 BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), and a movie star memoir.

three. Perceive and set artistic constraints.

“Constraint” isn’t all the time a constructive phrase. However setting artistic constraints can truly produce extra artistic work. You may brainstorm round probably the most partaking exhibitition you might produce for $250. Or you possibly can set a time constraint: What are you able to accomplish in a single hour to make your entrance desk extra welcoming to guests?

four. Arrange your area and schedule to help your artistic follow.

In small museums, employees workplaces are sometimes tiny areas, squeezed in storerooms or up within the attic. I do know it’s robust to make room for a artistic area, however attempt. Have you ever saved previous exhibition panels? Outdated brochures? An previous fax machine? Get rid of them! Make a cushty area to share info and concepts. Put these markers and Submit-its out for everybody to use when inspiration strikes.

You additionally want to manage your time for artistic dreaming. At workshops, I typically ask individuals to write a 30-day decision on a postcard, after which I mail it to them on the 30-day mark. Resolutions have included bringing extra enjoyable to a piece schedule that has turn into too hectic and cumbersome; seeing the location with new eyes; and visiting non-museum individuals for museum concepts.

5. Get along with native friends.

It’s typically lonely on the market, however it doesn’t have to be. Get collectively together with your native museum colleagues to discover out what they’re up to. Your state museum affiliation can help.

The Maryland  Museums Affiliation (MMA), for instance, presents Brew & Evaluation, a presentation at a member museum with beer (and wine) offered by MMA. “The goals were to provide a tangible benefit for our members, to help museum professionals learn from one another, and to do so on basically no budget,” says Lindsey Baker, an MMA board member. “It grew into an opportunity for us to gather and be open about our different challenges and let the brainstorming for solutions be less formal and more open to a variety of thoughts than a formal assessment program such as MAP or StEPs would have produced.”

6. Be open to new concepts with “plussing.”

Everybody has been in a piece assembly the place somebody has an concept and the subsequent individual says, “But…we’ve always done it this way.” “But…we tried that once and it didn’t work.” “But…our members will hate it.” This virtually instantly shuts down the circulate of concepts.

Set a gathering floor rule that nobody can use any of the phrases above. As an alternative, attempt a easy method referred to as “plussing,” or, from the world of improv comedy, “yes, and…” When an concept is floated, the aim of subsequent feedback is to “plus” that concept by including worth, deepening the thought, or sharing a broader perspective.

7. Attempt brainwriting to get probably the most from all employees members. 

The museum subject, like some other office, has each introverts and extroverts. Extroverts like me love brainstorming assembly: we love to share our concepts out loud. However not everybody (ahem, introverts) operates that method, and an efficient, artistic office is one the place everybody’s concepts are valued.

Attempt brainwriting; it’s easy. A activity (say, how to make reveals extra partaking for households) is introduced. In small teams, every individual writes down, in silence, all of the concepts she or he has. After a couple of minutes, that paper is handed to the subsequent individual, who plusses (see above) these concepts. I’ve been stunned at how typically a shy individual comes up to me on the finish of a workshop and says, “I love that brainwriting! I hate talking in groups.”

eight. Don’t be afraid to experiment—and experiment once more.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Middle in Hartford, Connecticut, had a fantastic social-justice mission and did compelling programming. Nevertheless, if you visited Stowe’s home, the centerpiece of the customer expertise was a home tour, like so many different home excursions on the market.

The schooling/interpretation group, led by Shannon Burke and supported by Government Director Katherine Kane,  launched into a three-year course of to redesign the customer expertise. That course of included many, many conferences, as you may anticipate, nevertheless it additionally included ongoing experimentation with each facet of the customer expertise. Will guests speak to one another? Will they learn out loud? What story matches the place within the narrative of the home? Do individuals really feel uncomfortable—and is that good or dangerous?

How did it find yourself? Right here’s one evaluation on Journey Advisor: “The message of fearlessness, a call to action, and equality were told through Harriet, but the connections to 2018 were obvious.”

9. Administrators, be artistic leaders!

Artistic leaders discover methods to encourage the artistic improvement of all employees whereas on the similar time constructing employees cohesiveness. Rod Cofield, government director of Historic London City & Gardens in Maryland, plans skilled improvement days all year long. Today have included visits to different museums; experiential studying journeys, akin to a horse day (extra under) and crusing on a picket tall ship; and easily staying onsite to speak by means of how the previous few weeks or months have gone. “These days have really helped the group here decompress when needed and have injected more fun into our workspace,” Cofield says.

About that horse day: throughout most of London City’s colonial and 19th-century historical past, horses have been an on a regular basis reality of life. “So, we took advantage of some connections to give our staff a horse day to learn more about this,” Cofield says. “They examined horse-related artifacts, had an hour-long discussion with a horse vet, got practical experience with brushing down horses and similar care, and then we ended with a trail ride.”

Artistic leaders additionally look all over the place within the museum to each discover inspiration and share a artistic message. The employees on the Matilda Joslyn Gage House in upstate New York created an equal pay desk. An indication notes that each one gadgets on the desk are $1.00 for males and $zero.77 for ladies, reflecting the wage hole.

10. Construct group creativity. 

Graphic of the Union play with a line of black workers with signs saying I am A Man - and one that says I Am a Woman with the W and the O handwritten in. Clayborn Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, produced and staged Union: A New Musical concerning the 1968 Memphis sanitation staff’ strike.

Small museums can play very important roles in constructing the artistic, problem-solving capability of their communities. There’s a lengthy custom of non-Shakers gaining inspiration from Shaker historical past, landscapes, and materials tradition. In the present day, the Shaker Heritage Society in Albany, New York, attracts on that custom for its Day of Inspiration. On the occasion, individuals can be a part of a guided writing workshop through which they search inspiration from the grounds, nature, and structure.

Clayborn Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, an iconic website of the Civil Rights Motion, combines its historical past of activism with the artistic and social justice skills of its group. It has produced and staged Union: A New Musical concerning the 1968 Memphis sanitation staff’ strike. The performances this yr included a group dialog that introduced younger individuals, activists, artists, influencers, and civic leaders collectively across the ongoing work of democracy and activist coaching workshops.

View of an previous money register with indicators that say "Equal Pay Table", and "All items on the table $1.00 for Men $.77 for Women" and "Try Me". The equal pay gross sales desk on the Matilda Joslyn Gage Residence drives residence the truth of the wage hole.

“The solutions for communities live in those communities already,” says Clayborn Temple Government Director Anasa Troutman. Artistic small museums can help floor these options.

There’s one factor that each one these artistic efforts have in widespread: they’re free or virtually free. And that signifies that each small museum can attempt them out. No matter you do, don’t waste your superpower!


Linda Norris and Rainey Tisdale, Creativity in Museum Apply, 2013

Linda Norris, The Uncataloged Museum,

Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft, Make Area: How to Set the Stage for Artistic Collaboration, 2012

Ebook Riot’s Learn More durable 2018 Problem,

Linda Norris is the worldwide networks program director for the Worldwide Coalition of Websites of Conscience and was beforehand an unbiased museum skilled specializing in creativity and group engagement. She is the co-author of Creativity in Museum Apply with Rainey Tisdale, with whom she has a unbroken artistic partnership that sparked a lot of this text.