Write with me! Creative writing for museum professionals

wild mind

I’ve been making something of a habit in my life as a poet/author of writing in museums, leading workshops on writing in museums, and writing about writing in museums. Now I’m leading a free webinar through the New England Museum Association (membership or geographic location in New England not required!) for museum professionals on how taking a creative break in your museum space can re-energize your daily practice.

WHEN:  Wednesday, May 31, 2017, Noon – 1 pm EST
WHAT: Recharge, Reimagine, and Write! Accessing Your Creativity to See Your Museum Differently
WHO:  Meg Winikates, Author/Poet and Museum Educator
FORMAT: Free Webinar

Many of us came to work at museums because we find them inspiring. But in the day-to-day operation of a museum, not to mention the pressures of outside factors and current events, it’s all too easy to fall into patterns, to stop seeing what makes our places special, and to stop feeding that inspirational, creative element of our museum practice.

Join poet, author, and museum educator Meg Winikates (also member of the NEMA staff!) to explore ways to see elements of your museum’s collection in a newly creative light, by writing an ekphrastic poem. Ekphrasis, or the creation of one kind of art inspired by another kind of art, is a natural fit for museums and museum professionals. Discover different methods of creating an ekphrastic piece, how it might translate to your job, and how to encourage similar experiences for your colleagues and your visitors.

This session is for all types of museums and all types of museum professionals. Grab your lunch and bring your imagination!

You can RSVP for the webinar here.


I am not a zombie, but I do love brains.

Every now and then, a blog named Brain Popcorn needs a post about fun, entertaining, and awesome brains.

Actual Science Stuff


This 3D interactive lets you explore the ‘neighborhoods’ where certain word associations live.

National Geographic Education blog does it again! Check out their post exploring new brain science, including a ‘brain atlas’ that maps out where the meanings of words are stored in your brain and some of the questions it raises for further study.

Then, make your own 3D paper brain map with a free downloadable paper craft from soilshop.

The Artsy Stuff

The artist J Sayuri makes watercolor paintings of brain cross-sections from many species (mostly mammalian).


Stuff and Nonsense

Anyone need a thinking cap?

crochet brain

Downloadable crochet pattern from CandyPopCreations on Etsy, link above.

Fill your brains with books

brain bookends

Brain bookends on Uncommon Goods, link above.

Needs more memory.


Somewhere, the Enterprise NCC-1701 computer is saying “Working…” Link above.

A dose of wonder from DC’s museums

Have you been following the tag #5womenartists on social media? The National Museum of Women in the Arts has been running a challenge over instagram et al. to raise awareness of female artists during the month of March, and there have been a lot of neat posts from other museums as well as individuals (including artists themselves). I recommend checking it out if you have time.

When I was in DC at the end of last month for Museums Advocacy Day, I had a little free time, and naturally used it to tour museums (and the Library of Congress, because  librarian’s daughter).

Renwick Gallery (of the Smithsonian American Art Museum): Wonder exhibition review

The Wonder exhibit was a piece of colorful communal paradise on a rainy Sunday. Though I was operating on about four hours of sleep, I was completely enthralled with the show and went through it about 1.5 times because there were several installations I needed to spend just a bit more time with.

Each gallery in the recently restored Renwick was home to one installation, and my favorite thing about this tactic was how thoroughly it changed your experience of the museum from room to room. Patrick Dougherty’s Shindig Stickwork installation made for a mischievous, rambunctious audience experience, as people ducked in and around the swirling stick sculptures, peeking through windows and twirling between them in much the same kind of movement as the twigs themselves. Janet Echelman’s tsunami-inspired net sculpture and its corresponding rug was a much quieter experience, encouraging people to linger as the lights and shadows shifted, to lie down on the floor and just observe. Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus A1 was especially effective in its brilliance against the gray rain hitting the windows behind it; I did pity the guard stationed there who had to keep warning people not to get too close, because that rainbow of thread was as appealing a spider’s web as I’ve ever seen. It was hard to believe it wasn’t itself glowing, just excellent lighting. I admit I was less enthralled than many of the people I saw that day with the room entirely decorated with dead insects, and the sculpture out of tires, while texturally appealing, smelled distinctly of burned rubber and I couldn’t figure out if I was looking at a post-industrial dragon hide or a rejected piece of scenery from Mad Max: Fury Road. That said, the sheer variety of installations on view meant there was something for everyone.

I also found myself taking pictures of a bunch of the labels; not something I usually do unless I’m trying to remember an artist’s name, but the interpretation panels generally and the ‘wonder’ themed quotes they picked were exceptional. I love the idea of defining wonder as ‘a suprise of the soul.’

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National Museum of Women in the Arts review

Firstly, major kudos to the visitor services team. The woman on duty at the front desk actually left her post to give me an extra suggestion and a gallery activity to take along, when I was partway into the galleries. Big points for being helpful and friendly! Said gallery activity was pretty interesting, too; I regretted that I was on my own and had no one with whom to discuss the questions posed for the various highlighted objects.

I had no idea this museum was as big as it is; I did a shamefully poor job on the top floor as I needed to catch my plane back to Boston. I will definitely need to go back. There were works by artists I recognized, and of course dozens upon dozens of works and artists that were new to me. It was a very good day for learning things, and for appreciating the breadth of the collection, from painting to photography to reinterpretations of materials and techniques in craft and design. The Pathmakers exhibit was much more interesting than I expected, in fact (though as with many design shows I found myself wondering for some pieces about where the function had gotten lost along the way to the form).

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The museum has works of art created by women (and often featuring women) since the Renaissance. One of the things which most impressed me, as I suspect the balance was a fine one, was the tone in which the interpretation was presented. Labels, theme panels, etc. did not shy away from talking about the fact that women’s art was traditionally underrepresented in the Western canon, nor that women’s art was often influenced by the materials and roles generally assigned to them, nor that sometimes (especially in the 20th century) women’s art was directly related to political statements about women’s rights. However, these came across as statements of fact without seeming loaded, accusatory, or otherwise negatively charged. In a world that is increasingly emotionally and politically volatile, it was delightful, even restorative, to be somewhere that recognized, remedied, and celebrated instead. It was a great way to end my trip to DC.

Next week I’ll be hitting up historic houses and possibly the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut, so stay tuned for some history-themed posts in the near future!

This Week’s Museum Reads: Multi-Sensory Activation

Museum Reads header image

This is your brain on art (and food!):

The most powerfully engaging works of art appeared to trigger brain regions in the frontal cortex that are involved in introspective thought, as well as nearby regions usually directed at more outward matters. The two areas usually don’t activate simultaneously. “That is a very rare state,” Dr. Vessel said. “It resonates in the shape of your mind.”

Storytelling and STEM:


“When you can call a line of code a spell, then you are getting somewhere,” Fruchter said. After all, isn’t computer code basically modern magic?

Fingertips to fossils or the Mona Lisa’s face:

Beyond their beauty, fossils are also physical objects, with heft and depth, contours and textures. These qualities are not easily conveyed across the Internet, which tends to resolve on screens, brightly colored and flat.

Happy National Library Week!

Click for source.

Click for source.

The theme for this year’s National Library Week is “Unlimited Possibilities,” which is an idea I can definitely get behind.

Here are a few bookish things to celebrate libraries big and small, public, academic, and everything in between.

2015 Reading Challenge from PopSugar (much easier to complete if you visit your local library!)

By Perilous Paper on Etsy. Click for prints of this and more adorable book-loving art

By Perilous Paper on Etsy. Click for prints of this and more adorable book-loving art.

A celebration of preserved historic properties with a library spin, from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Exploring the chemistry of that awesome book-smell from Brain Pickings and Noodle.

America’s 10 Most Unique Libraries from Huffington Post

Trendswatch and Open Data You Can Use

The future is bright, and full of sugar.  Image courtesy of NASA's image galleries, see link below.

The future is bright, and full of sugar. Image courtesy of NASA’s image galleries, see link below.

Have you been looking through The Center for the Future of Museums’ Trendswatch 2015?  If not, you can find it (and some related articles) right here.  (If you’re not familiar with Trendswatch, the basic idea is that the CFM looks at what’s happening in society on a large scale and predicts how certain trends in technology, attitude, and habits could influence/affect museums and museum-goers.  It has broader implications for education, design, marketing, and service organizations too.)

One of the trends identified is the rising importance/influence/availability of ‘open data’ and the projects that are created using it.  This can mean anything from GovTrack’s database of US Congressional voting records to the Cooper Hewitt’s 3D scans of their mansion, available free for makers and creatives of all sorts to download and tinker with.

In the spirit of Brain Popcorn’s Ideabox, here are some open resources that you can use, and some creative prompts for yourself, your museum, or your classroom:

Inspiring Images

What can you do with museum-quality images?

  • Digital collages, cropping, recoloring, pop-culture parodies, screen wallpapers, custom header for your personal blog
  • Print actual wallpaper, fabric, etc. using a service like Spoonflower or similar
  • Print images for mixed media collage, mod-podge and resin-based crafts like jewelry or glass jar luminaria
  • Costume, set, and character design inspiration for theater classes, writing prompts, and authors’ visual reference files
  • History reports, bulletin boards, and VTS classroom discussions with an overhead projector or poster-sized prints

Where can you find them?  (Some of these links also include 3D models and audio and video files, for bonus remixing options)

The Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries have all their collections online, with images you can use in any non-commercial form, for free.

The Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries have all their collections online, with images you can use in any non-commercial form, for free. Click the image to go to Open F|S!

So Many Numbers…

I mentioned GovTracks earlier, but there are reams of numerical sorts of information out there too.

What can you do with lots of numerical/geographical/etc. data sets?

  • map customized information onto Google Earth or other visualization services (see Gapminder below) (great for conversations about population density, conservation efforts, etc.)
  • track language use on social media (where are certain words or new phrases popular, and what kind of people are using them?)
  • More maps: what do people in each state search most often on the internet?
  • Plan a student advocacy campaign for something your class decides is important.  Who are your legislators and what do they think is important?  Who do you have a chance of convincing based on their records?
Visualizing a timeline/map of electricity use per person, 1700's until the present day, using Gapminder

Visualizing a timeline/map of electricity use per person, 1700’s until the present day, using Gapminder

Where can you find data sets?  Please bear in mind that a lot of these sites aren’t going to have data that’s super interesting to a class of third graders, for instance.  For middle, high school, and college students, not to mention professionals, sure.  But if you have rec’s for kid-friendly data, I’d love to hear them!

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you have other great sources of open data, or suggestions for cool projects, please share them in the comments below!

What’s next?

Looking to make a set of data you or your organization has a part of the open data universe?  Check out Open Data Commons for a getting-started guide and important legal information.

As a logical extension of open data, some people are going all the way to ‘open objects,’ such as Jeremy Deller’s Do Touch project, in which objects from a historic collection are brought out to the public in malls, parks, etc, and made available for exploration.  This is a great idea, and it would be great if museums could do more of this! The Active Collections project is all about helping museums identify which objects are truly serving their missions: if they could also identify what could be used as ‘educational collection’ for this kind of purpose, think how inspiring that could be.

Open data is being used for community mapping, app building, advocacy, education, and more.  What are other possible mid- or end-points for this trend?

Rooted in Art: An interview with Joan Backes

IMG_0185_Backes_Bangkok,Thailand Hanging.Leaves300dpi-3

Hanging Leaves: Bangkok Installation, by Joan Backes

I always appreciate the stark and intricate beauty of winter’s bare branches, but there’s something about the curtain of falling leaves at the end of the Atrium at work that’s good for my autumn-loving soul.  Recently, I had an opportunity to interview Branching Out artist Joan Backes for the Peabody Essex Museum’s Connected, to ask about her multinational leaf collection, working in a storybook forest, and more.  You can read her responses here: “Leafing Out with Joan Backes.”

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.

— Albert Schweitzer
This will also be my last post for Connected, as after five remarkable years at PEM I am moving on to a new position with the New England Museum Association, starting in February.  All my past Connected posts can be found here, and I’m looking forward to sharing my continuing museum adventures with you as always here on Brain Popcorn.
Though I say a fond farewell to PEM, there's a whole world of interdisciplinary adventures yet to be had! (Mega Mega Planet by Josh Simpson, photo by Allison White)

Though I say a fond farewell to PEM, there’s a whole world of interdisciplinary adventures yet to be had! (Mega Mega Planet by Josh Simpson, photo by Allison White)