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.

 

Imagining Museum Education in 2040

A few months ago, the Center for the Future of Museums posted a challenge: what might preK-12 education look like in 2040 if museums got involved in new and more thorough ways than we do now? Instead of asking for statements or essays, they wanted stories: imagine the future, and tell us a good yarn.

So seventy-eight of us did. The winners’ stories are all fascinating, and I recommend you have a look here. I’m also pleased to be able to say that my entry won an honorable mention, and is posted on the “Vibrant Learning” microsite here. The lovely folks at CFM have granted me permission to post my story in its entirety here as well.

I picked the Harvard Museum of Natural History as my ‘future-awesome’ location because it was a place I spent a fair amount of time as an undergrad, but I’ve never worked there, so it’s a good balance of familiar but not overly so. (Plus they’ve done some really neat events encouraging artists and students to ‘hack the museum’ by creating interesting overlays, installations, and interventions, so I figured they’d be game.)

heterodontosaurus

Heterodontosaurus, photo from the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Romer Hall

It Was Supposed to Be Dinosaurs
by Meg Winikates

 

Senator Ariel Kwan
1705 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC
February 15, 2040

Dear Senator Kwan,

As your constituent, I write today to urge you to vote for the reauthorization and increased funding for the Family Learning Leave Act. I also thank you for your continued support of the Institute of Museums and Library Services, especially as it was museums and libraries who spearheaded the initial passage of the Act.

I hope that based on your previous record, you already intend to vote in favor, but I would like to share the lasting impact this bill has had on my family and so many families like mine. Enclosed you will find a selection from the learner’s self-assessment report I wrote during my daughter’s Kindergarten Collaborative three years ago, and an interview from my subsequent Artist’s Spotlight this past autumn. Were it not for Learning Leave, I would never have been able to take the time away from my retail job to support my daughter’s education. Having the opportunity to connect, to explore, and to create together has given me a better understanding of how she learns and what her options for the future are. Thanks to our museum experiences, my daughter is now in an accelerated Creative Science program, and I gained inspiration and contacts which have allowed me to grow my own independent business.

Thank you for your attention and support for this vital program.

Regards,
Hannah Lopez
Parent, Artist, Businesswoman, Museum Supporter
[encl.]

= = = = = = =

Harvard Museums of Science and Culture: Kindergarten Collaborative
Adult Learner’s Self-Assessment Journal, Day 3

Today was the best day yet of my ‘grown-ups go to school’ adventure. Lucy has, of course, spent the last two days beyond excited. She has been absolutely bubbling to show me all the places in the museums that she loves, and it’s been amazing to see how seriously she takes her job as a ‘guide’ for me, the museum newcomer.  Today I really got to appreciate the way my shy baby has learned to work with the other children, and how responsive the education team is to their curiosity and enthusiasm. It’s clear they have some specific educational goals in mind, so it’s not the free-for-all that it would be if I tried to run a class of five- and six- year-olds, but with one adult for every four or five kids, the educators really do know how to listen and guide the conversation without cutting off or shutting down the little ones.

Today, for instance, was the start of ‘dinosaur days.’ I guess they’d spent some time in the dinosaur galleries before now, but mostly were exploring other things; rocks, I think, and teeth? Lucy will surely tell me in great detail if I ask. But today was dinosaurs, and the kids split themselves up into small groups, gravitating to a fossil, cast, sculpture, or diorama, already used to peppering the educator stationed nearby with questions, almost before the kids stopped moving.

Then the educators pulled out this spray-on-glove stuff, apparently the same kind that their conservators use in the lab, and spritzed all our hands and let us touch the fossils. The stuff’s so thin, you could feel every bump and grain, like the gloves weren’t there at all, but apparently it keeps all the sweat and oils from your hands off the delicate bits. Crazy, but just so cool. (I actually got up the guts to ask one of the educators later where the glove-spray came from, and she looked really proud of me. I guess they are serious about the grown-ups being there to learn too. Turns out it was first developed for medical work, which makes sense.)

So there we were, touching the fossils, and one of the kids in Lucy’s group asked how they found the fossils, which meant we all got to troop outside to the lawn to try out the ground penetrating radar machine. With five year olds. Looking for the ‘modern fossils’ in plaster that the museum had buried in the front lawn. Once we got *very* dirty uncovering them with shovels and trowels and measuring tapes, we then went at the plaster with real chisels, hammers, and brushes. I don’t know what that educator would have done if the kid hadn’t asked that question, but I hope she would have managed to get us out there eventually somehow, or some poor college student would’ve spent a whole afternoon of their work-study burying fake fossils for nothing. And all of that was before lunch time. I know some of the kids in Lucy’s group; they’re a hyper, easily distracted bunch of kids most of the time (especially right before lunch). But they were really engaged, and I admit as a mom it was awesome to see my normally quiet little girl take charge of an excavation. “No, Momma, you have to make a drawing before you pull it out of the ground!” and, “No, my momma should do the drawing because she’s an artist!”

Sweet, given that my drawing abilities are limited to making costume patterns, but it’s always nice to feel like you’re your kid’s hero.

After lunch it was back to the original room, this time to look at the Pteranodon. It’s hard to believe something encased in rock could ever fly, which I totally get, so Lucy and her buddies were understandably skeptical. Only Lucy and her pal Karen were completely unconvinced by the video of the scientists’ animated model, though, which means they were the ones that split off from the group to go into the PhysLab (“FizzFizzFizz, like ideas in your head, Momma, that’s why it’s called that!”) to test out wing designs.

We made wings of paper, string, and straws, and tested them in the wind tunnel. We each picked our favorite, put it in the scanner, and got to add the finished computer model to a digital animal body to animate and watch it ‘fly.’ Lucy was very serious about hers; she actually wanted to recreate the scientists’ Pteranodon for herself, but I admit I got a little silly with mine, and made a dragon.

I never was the science one in the family, after all.

I half-expected to get in trouble for not taking the ‘assignment’ seriously, but instead, it was like I’d made the PhysLab overseer’s day. She handed me an exhibit brochure for a fantastical creatures show at one of the other university museums, and when I told her that my side gig was fantasy costuming, I ended up with info on 3D printing wearables, a costume design exhibit announcement for a museum across town, and a shiny new Searcher ID card.

I’d heard there was some kind of library-card-for-museums thing, but between work and family and all, not the sort of thing I’ve had time to go looking for on my own. It’s fancier than the library card I had as a kid; you add some personal details to your profile, interests and stuff, and it gives you suggestions on where to go and who to talk to for answers. Plus it gets you in free if you’re working on a research project. So I could go see that costume design exhibit on research for my own designs, and talk to a curator or a designer, and borrow study materials, all on the strength of this card that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been messing around with dragon designs on the computer at the museum to make my daughter laugh.

So yeah, definitely the best day of my learning leave yet. I think I’m as excited as Lucy to go back to “school” tomorrow.

= = = = = = =

“Wings, Webs, and Wishes: An interview with Hannah Lopez” by Ginny Evans
Harvard Museums of Science and Culture newsletter

This month’s Artist Spotlight is costumer Hannah Lopez, who has been the brains and hands behind this spring’s highly anticipated Paleontology Parade performances. Lopez’s temporary home is HMSC’s PhysLab, where she was finishing printing the latest dinosaur-skull headpiece for enthusiastic decoration by her ‘apprentice’ — daughter Lucy, age 8.

When asked why she wanted to meet in the PhysLab, Lopez laughs.

“Because it pretty much started here, with designing dragon wings.” Behind her, Lucy scoffs into her glitter paint; it’s clear she’s been part of telling this story enough to say,

“Dinosaurs, mom, it was supposed to be dinosaurs.”

“Yes it was, but mine were dragons, and it was a good thing they were, too.” Lopez’s eyes light up as she talks about the chance encounter with fellow fantasy-fan and HMSC staff, Maya McCormack.

“She wouldn’t let me leave the lab until I’d finished my Searcher profile.  Those first couple of resources she pointed me to, they were great for bringing my inspiration back. It’s so easy to get lost in the day to day details. But somewhere in there, in watching Lucy fall in love with science here at the museum, and in taking the time to follow up on the connections Maya made, getting close to those fabrics in the teaching collection, it made me want to do something big. Bigger than the kids’ Halloween costumes and Renaissance Faire garb I’d been doing in little bits. And once I had the bug, I just didn’t stop.  If that Searcher card had been a credit card, I’d have reached my limit ages ago.”  Lopez laughs.

“Lucky for me it doesn’t work that way. It’s like getting lost on the internet, but better, because it’s this whole web of people and things and ideas that you can reach in person, and some of the time it turns out they’re looking for you, too.”

The discussion turns to the binder of costume designs in front of us and the nearly-finished pieces on her worktable nearby, since it seems dinosaurs have won the day, at least this time.

“Getting the artist residency here, it felt like the right thing to do,” Lopez agrees. “I wanted to do something collaborative, something that showed what Lucy and I both learned when we were first here, and to keep that excitement going.  So we’ve been having troops of kids of all ages in here to help with personalizing their costumes, and making comments on the designs for the professional actors.  I think the final effect will be just on the right side of hilarious and brilliant.”

Opening next week, Paleontology Parades will be a series of theatrical skits that bring various stories in the museum to life, incorporating both professional actors and the schoolchildren they’ve been working with, including Lucy and her classmates in the Creative Science program. The acting troupe, the Wishing Wells, are another contact Lopez made through the Searcher program, when it recently expanded to include performing arts organizations.

“Working with Jason and the team from Wishing Wells has been a lot of fun. I can’t wait to put the last scales and feathers in place and watch it all light up.”

And what’s next for Lopez (and her apprentice)? They give identical grins.

“Well, to celebrate, we thought we’d go find a new museum to explore.”

This Week’s Museum Reads: Curiosity

Museum Reads header imageAs a child, I was informed that ‘dull’ and ‘boring’ were swear words. Anything could be interesting if you looked at it long enough, asked enough questions, and any time you had free could be easily filled by more looking, listening, imagining, and investigating. (“Are we there yet?” was similarly disallowed, but “where are we?” was allowed as often as we liked, so long as we were willing to track our road trip route on a map.)  Consequently, I’ve spent my life always looking for the next new and interesting thing, and somehow I always find something.

A few interesting reads on the topic of curiosity:

Graphic made by Meg Winikates on Canva.com

Graphic made by Meg Winikates on Canva.com

Other Brain Popcorn posts you may enjoy:

NEMA Wrap-up 1: Pop-Up Museums and Peer Learning

The week before Thanksgiving was a big, busy, thought-provoking whirlwind of interesting issues in the field of museums.  I had a great time at the New England Museum Association (NEMA) annual conference, and as you may know if you follow me on Twitter, I had plenty to say!  For the next few posts I will be pulling together some of the highlights from the sessions I attended, and I’ll wrap it up with a summary of the session that I actually presented.

Highlight 1: “Pop-Up Museum” pre-conference event

IMG_20141118_200409106_HDRFor those of you who haven’t run across the Pop Up Museum concept before, the brief explanation is that it is a short term event, in which participants (usually from a particular community based on location, profession, interest, etc) create the ‘museum’ by bringing objects to share related to a theme, writing a label, and then talking to other participants and interested viewers.  There’s great in-depth information on the concept available from Michelle DelCarlo’s Pop Up Museum blog and Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0. (and a toolkit at the first link in this section)

This event’s theme was ‘things you do and create outside of work,’ and featured painters, photographers, sculptors, collectors and enthusiasts, voiceover artists, gardeners and more.  I brought poetry (see my ‘author’s point of view’ post here), but in the middle of being a poet, I was still being a museum educator, and here are some of my museum-centric takeaways:

  • Theme matters.  The theme was one people were passionate about and they were eager to tell their stories.
  • The label writing session was fun and needed about 3 more minutes than it got.  Brevity on labels is hard, we all know this.  A little more time for editing would have helped!
  • The “Ask me about…” prompt for the labels was the best part, as it promoted conversation and allowed an icebreaker for starting conversation with strangers.  We can and should do more of this kind of thing when we have artist demos, residencies, and facilitators on the exhibit floor, because it empowers our audience to be the ones to start a conversation.  Signage, buttons, nametags, whatever works.
  • A little more time for the participants to circulate to interact with each other before letting in other guests would help–we all wanted to see each others’ works but felt the pull to be near our own as well.

If you’d like to find out more about the objects people brought, a number of us posted 45 second clips up on Brad Larson’s Story Kiosk, and he’s got a great wrap up of the event, with playlist.

Highlight 2: Peer Learning

I went to three sessions that focused on different aspects of adult learning: professional publishing, new research in adult learning in informal spaces, and reflective practice.  It is important to remember, of course, that no matter how long one has been working in museums or in education or in whatever one’s chosen field, there is always something new to learn.  That’s what makes life fun.  And it is equally important to support one’s staff as learners as well as teachers, so here are the highlights from the peer learning sessions:

  •  Involving people from all levels in the process of setting goals and developing evaluation methods increases buy-in and aids in the development of a shared language.
  • Variety is key: evaluation methods stagnate as easily as anything else, and you can’t learn more if you’re only ever measuring one or two points of ‘success’
  • Feedback and reflection and observation are tools not to prove that people are doing things wrong but to highlight ways to improve.
  • Keeping up your reading in the field is important not only for providing shortcuts to finding the methods and language that works for you, but to help you figure out what you want to be doing next.

Tomorrow is “Poetry at Work Day”

Feeling the need to bring some creativity into your workplace in the new year?  Get off to a good start with “Poetry at Work Day” tomorrow, the brainchild of the folks over at tweetspeakpoetry.  They have all kinds of resources, including a free ebook, graphics, and line art of assorted popular poets that you can print out, color in, and stick on a pencil to take around the office for the day.

Who is your favorite poet?  Perhaps you want to print out a few copies of one of your favorite poems and leave them in the break room tomorrow.

Related posts you may like:
Are You A Curiosity Addict?
Varying Your Information Diet
Encouraging Creativity at Work
Poetry Constructions

 

How will you experience 2015?

It’s January, and though my internal clock is still very wired to the scholastic calendar (September will always and forever be the start of a new year to me), budget and program cycles are telling me it’s a fresh start and a chance to do something new and cool for 2015.

What will your guiding words for this year be?  Photo of sculpture from outside the Fuller Craft Museum, photograph by Meg Winikates.

What will your guiding words for this year be? Photo of sculpture from outside the Fuller Craft Museum, photograph by Meg Winikates.

For me, that includes things like planning new exhibits, getting a new set of museum guides up to speed with drop-in programming in the galleries, and coming up with ways to evaluate last year’s changes and figure out where we can be even more responsive to our visitors in both exhibition and program design.  (I’m currently working on ways to get visitors to inspire each other to greater heights of creative play in our Investigate Zone designed for visitors under 5 and their accompanying adults.)

Here are a few cool reads to help you get inspired (personally and professionally) for the new year:

  • Nina Simon over on Museum 2.0 has a neat interview with a member of Museum Hack, thinking about how to reinvigorate the tour experience.
  • Seeking inspiration and a way to keep on track for the new year?  The Artful Parent has suggestions for making a vision board to hang in your home or office.  (This is much prettier than the strings of to-do lists I tape to my apartment door!)  She’s also doing a daily sketchbook project.
  • The Jealous Curator is doing a monthly “Creative Un-Block” challenge: January’s features altering copies of the same image in as many ways and with as many materials/media as one can imagine.

What are you planning for next year?  What grand experiments and adventures are getting your grin a little wider than usual?

Varying your Information Diet

Photo by Nevit Dilmen.  Creative Commons license.

Photo by Nevit Dilmen. Creative Commons license.

Remember that post I made a few weeks ago about Creativity in the Workplace?  Authors Rainey Tisdale and Linda Norris ran a related networking and creativity event at the USS Constitution Museum last week in cooperation with the NEMA-YEP group.

With the blood-and-attitude-shifting assistance of music and a dance circle, Tisdale and Norris led participants in a speed-networking creativity discussion, challenging each of us to consider and then share what we were passionate about, what we wanted more of from our jobs/careers, what we were good at, and how we could implement and incorporate into our daily routines elements of their steps to creative thought processes.

River tributaries, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (public domain)

River tributaries, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (public domain)

One of the steps they list to help prepare your mental ground for creativity is to vary your information diet.  With the easy availability of tailored information streams now (everything from RSS feeds to Twitter streams to Pandora channels), it’s easy to wrap yourself in a comfortable bubble of information you’ve essentially pre-selected.  One solution, of course, is to vary the tributaries that are feeding into your stream.  Here are a few quick and easy ways to do that:

Have a Tumblr? Freshen up your Dashboard!

A lot of museums and libraries have gotten into publishing fun stuff from their archives and collections, visitor images and videos, and even staff-created music videos on tumblr.  I recommend just poking around the museum tags until you find some that appeal.  Who doesn’t want neat and beautiful art and animals and whatever on their screen every day?

NPR has thoughtfully collected a list of their own and other public media tumblr blogs, featuring news, science, arts, politics, history, food, all of the above, and more.

The fun and passionate folks over at We Need Diverse Books are doing a summer reading series, where they recommend books by diverse authors and/or with diverse characters that share elements with better known works, ie ‘readers of Harry Potter will probably like Nnedi Okarafor’s Akata Witch.’  They’ve just started, so you have a whole summer of fun kids’ and YA lit recommendations ahead of you.

Looking for a few more ‘grown up’ reads? Try the folks at Go Book Yourself, where real live readers recommend 4 books you might like that have similar characteristics to a book you’ve read and liked.  (They also have a Twitter feed.)

Interesting Stuff in 140 Characters

I have such a love/hate relationship with Twitter.  People post all these cool links and then I end up with roughly a bajillion tabs waiting to be read.

Yes, thank you, New Scientist, exactly what I mean.  (You might want to follow that link, by the way, it leads to some really interesting book reviews!)

Aside from New Scientist, here are a few other feeds I follow that promote the kind of brain-popping curiosity experience I love:

  • Think Progress – lots of interesting and occasionally fairly terrifying news about global environmental, political, and other newsworthy news
  • Creative Nonfiction – for those of us who like our true stories to sound like stories
  • Education Week – largely, but not exclusively, an aggregator of news from all over US school systems
  • Crossed Genres – speculative fiction publishers with an emphasis on diverse story telling, in all the ways that can be interpreted
  • American Museum of Natural History – fun science facts, all the time!
  • Two Nerdy History Girls – a pair of authors who are also amateur historians.  Highlights the hilarious, wacky, and cool bits of history
  • Future of Museums – Some very museum-focused information, but also wide ranging idea pulling from other fields

There are, of course, many more, and if you have suggestions for me, feel free to add them in the comments!

Meanwhile, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by information overload, either, and remember to give yourself time to reflect and ponder and daydream and make those brain-popcorn connections between information and ideas…or in Norris and Tisdale’s term: Incubate.

 

The PEM contingent at the #creativemuseums DIY photobooth.  Yes, I'm the one with the sword.

The PEM contingent at the #creativemuseums DIY photobooth. Yes, I’m the one with the sword. Naturally. Don’t you think better with a lightsaber in hand?