Tag: imagination

The New Wonder Room: Icing on the Cake


“Hi, what are you doing?” I whispered as I crouched, on hands and knees, under the treehouse.

“We’re imagining there’s a troll living up there in the treehouse,” Marina shared.  “We’re the elves.”

“Elves are nice,” added Pilar.

I smiled and joined in the creative play with Lorena and her two daughters Marina and Pilar.  Together we wondered about the ambiguous glass sculpture.  Is it a girl or boy?  Is it human or elfin?  We pretended to be mermaids climbing rocks; we stacked up piles of bamboo stones. And then, Lorena and the girls crawled away to spy on the “mean troll” living in the tree house.

The Wonder Room is back in business.

After five hectic weeks of demolition and transformation, the Wonder Room is open again. Chock-full of birds and bats, trees and mysterious creatures, this experimental gallery now flaunts a woodland theme with all new hands-on activities and an eclectic selection of art.  Curious visitors of all ages braved cold and ice to come out and play with us last month during the Wonder Room preview weeks.

Lorena and her two daughters played for hours.


Daniel, Susan, and Shirley also came to check it out.  When I met this trio, they were huddled around the tree stumps, contemplating their progress.  Their goal:  to build an arched branch — one that would span both tree stumps — using the large cardboard pieces.  Susan played the role of a human support beam while Daniel experimented with different pieces to make the structure sturdy.  Shirley offered advice from the sidelines.

As always, I relished chatting and collaborating with these and other CMA families.  As always, I observed and documented some of their conversations and actions.  As always, I looked for evidence of collaboration and creativity in action.

Situated in the very heart of the Center for Creativity, the Wonder Room is intentionally designed to foster and provoke creativity.  But creativity, we know, is like a gargantuan, multi-tiered cake; we don’t expect to take in the entire confection at one sitting.  Instead we pick away at the layers at different times in different ways.  The Wonder Room takes a big bite out of the tiers of curiosity, imagination, experimentation, and storytelling. 

To set the stage for these creative experiences, we made countless intentional design decisions to promote creative play – play inspired by unexpected discovery and exploration, play that allows for experimentation and mess-making, and play that is prompted by sharing stories, make-believe, and imaginings.

What I first noticed about Lorena and Daniel’s families is their intuitive and urgent drive to play – to invent, to explore, to experiment, to pretend.  From across the room I first watched as Lorena and her family crawled into the dark crevices under the treehouse, discovered the sleeping sculpture, and took off on their adventure.  From afar I watched Daniel, his mother and girlfriend, make bird nests, draw trees, and then, set out to build the marvelous arched tree.

For good reason, there are very few signs in the gallery currently.  I’ve learned that people don’t seem to notice signs in museums, so I spent the first few weeks watching and listening to determine what kind of signs visitors of all ages would need to encourage their creative play — to give them permission to play.

I admit that even I am surprised at how much imagining, experimenting, and storytelling has erupted spontaneously here already.  And for me, that is the icing on the cake.








Gaming and Creativity

Seriously now, roll a d20 and add your Creativity skill. Ok, I have no idea what that means, but my husband, an avid gamer, sure does. We have been married for seven years and I have had to listen to groups of people in my basement talk about skill checks, initiative, characters, and a multitude of other strange things that frankly I try to ignore while I watch chick-flicks on TV. My home has become overrun with the accoutrement of “The Gamer.” We own an entire library of books on how to make characters from any number of fantasy races – from elves to gnomes to dragons. There are little plastic figures to represent monsters and giant erasable maps to place them on. I have learned that not all dice are six sided and cubical. I have seen triangular dice, hexagonal dice, dice that let you roll yes-no, and dice that go all the way up to 100. I find them on my floor after the cat is finished playing with them. Now as someone who will not play a game if the directions do not fit on the inside-lid of a cardboard box, this entire world has been very confusing to me. I used to tease him that I couldn’t understand how a group of adults could just sit around a table and play pretend for hours like they were children; then he told me about LARPers and I shut my mouth.

But the longer we are together the more I learn about gaming and creativity. There have been many a car ride where out of the blue I will be asked questions such as “How can someone from the future go back in time and not just kill everyone with superior technology?” or “If a planet were all land on one side and all water on the other, would that throw off its rotational pattern?” He has even told me about a rather successful novel series that was inspired by playing Dungeons & Dragons, called Dragon Lance.

Recently my husband and a group of his friends went to one of the largest gamer conventions around: Gen Con. While he was at this magical land of geek I got a few days of peace and quiet, but when he came back he showed me a few things that I found rather impressive. He attended sessions on how to plan better games, how to build interesting characters, basically how to be more imaginative. He showed me a picture of someone who took a board game, and to make it more fun, reconstructed it three-dimensionally. He told me about this fund raiser where anyone could come and build elaborate creations out of playing cards and on the last day of the conference people could try and destroy the constructions by throwing change at them (the change is collected and donated to charity). It was amazing to see what was built. Attendees of the conference were exploring many of the concepts that we try to highlight in the Center for Creativity, including imagination, creative problem solving, and play. So although you won’t ever find me in the basement with “the group” I can now enthusiastically say go ahead and play pretend!

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Amanda Kepner, Education Coordinator

Over the past 18 months, in preparation for opening CMA’s new Center for Creativity (on Jan. 1, 2011), the entire education staff immersed ourselves in research on creativity, particularly what is necessary to cultivate creativity.  Musings from the Center for Creativity is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts on this topic.  Please share your views and resources with us, as well.

Travel Musings from a Museum Nerd

I am a museum nerd. I work at an art museum and I love museums of all kinds – art museums (of course), history museums, house museums, science museums and on and on. Whenever I travel I search them out… and sometimes they find me. Over the past week I travelled to Boston for a wedding and much to my elation the wedding took place at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, a cool little car museum. During the trip I made the time to go to three museums and found myself getting excited each time I saw a road sign, map marker, or billboard advertising another museum on my journey. It was when I found myself swooning over a billboard for a Zippo museum that: 1) I realized I need to get this museum fascination thing under control and 2) I began wondering exactly what is it that makes my heart skip a beat whenever I see a museum.

Then I had my aha moment. It’s curiosity. Museums not only allow me to explore my existing curiosities (such as art museums), they also allow me to build new curiosities and discover things about the world that I may otherwise never be interested in or exposed to (did you know there was a car built in 1906 that included a drawing room and a toilet?)

The capability of museums to spark our imaginations, new interests, questions and curiosities is not only exciting but essential. Tony Wagner author of The Global Achievement Gap, lists curiosity as one of the Seven Survival Skills for today’s students. Wagner states that employees “have to be new and improved knowledge workers—those who can think in disciplined ways but also those who have a burning curiosity, a lively imagination, and can engage others empathetically. Clay Parker, the president of the Chemical Management Division of BOC Edwards states “I want people who can think—they’re not just bright, they’re also inquisitive. Are they engaged, are they interested in the world?”

Regardless of whether it is at an art museum, science center or your local historical society get out there, go to a museum and be curious.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

-Jessimi Jones, Educator for Teacher and School Partnerships

Why We Need Harry Potter

Harry Potter Festival

I’ll admit it; I was a long-time resistor of Potter Mania. I simply didn’t buy that any youth book could possibly be so great as to live up to all of the hype and the OMG-this-is-the-best-thing-EVER attitude that permeated American popular culture in the early 2000s. However, in 2002, one of my figure skating friends would not drop the issue and insisted that I at least give the books a try. I caved. I read. I fell totally, head-over-heels in love. I instantaneously became one of many million worldwide Harry Potter addicts and I devoured books 1-4 as quickly as I could manage. Over the next half-decade, I continued my HP love affair with all-day line-ups at book stores for the midnight releases of books 5-7, Harry Potter festivals, midnight movie showings, and a homemade Gryffindor cloak. Yes… I’m a full-on Harry Potter nerd. I’m cool with that. And yes, I was at the midnight showing of HP7.

I often wonder just what it is about Harry Potter than has spawned such a huge mass of rabidly devoted fans. The stories themselves are riveting and the characters are full of life and easy to relate to, but the same could be said of many other series whose draw is not nearly as intense. I believe what really sets Harry Potter apart is the world that J.K. Rawling so painstakingly crafted—the highly creative, imaginative, magical existence of Harry Potter and his fellow witches and wizards. Excepting for, perhaps, the most mundane of Muggles, who doesn’t want to jump on the Hogwarts Express and spend their school year learning how to cast spells and whip up potions, wandering through a castle with ghosts, enchanted armor, moving paintings, and magically appearing rooms? It is such a beautifully described and thought-out world that it seems like it must really be only a brick-tap away. It ignited the sense of wonder of a generation and is likely to live on in our culture for many more generations to come.

Now for my plea: we need Harry Potter! Or, more accurately, we need to foster and encourage the imaginative development that leads to cultural phenomenon like Harry Potter. Here at CMA, we have had preschoolers tell us that they are not allowed to use their imaginations because to do so would be lying. We were shocked; how could parents come to associate imagination with dishonesty? But, sadly, our current education system is one that focuses on facts and figures, memorization and regurgitation. It measures success and intelligence through closed-ended answers recorded on bubble sheets. Parents, while having the best intentions for their children, encourage them to study hard, focus on homework, and engage in structured after-school activities (see the film “The Race to Nowhere”). When do these children have the opportunity for exploration and play? Where is the imagination in their lives? How can we ever expect another Harry Potter—or Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or Lemony Snicket– to develop from Scantron-imbued, drone-like students?

Our culture and humanity depends on imagination in order to grow, learn, create and innovate, as discussed by Seattle’s Parent Map. All of us—educators, parents, Harry Potter fans, and concerned citizens alike—need to embrace the importance of imagination and demand that it play an important role in our own lives and those of the next generation. If that begins by donning a black robe and grabbing a stick-like magic wand, so be it, and 10 points to Gryffindor!

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Dayna Jalkanen, Educator for Family Programs

What If?

What If

I like mantras.  Every once in a while I adopt a new personal mantra and litter my world with it; tacking it to my refrigerator, my computer, and my office walls.   I’ve had the same mantra for several years now:

What if?

Those two words are staring at me now from the wall beyond my computer.  I cut them out of a glossy brochure I discovered at a science museum years ago.

What if?


It’s a short phrase, but powerful. Being mindful of this motivational tagline keeps imagination at the center of my daily thinking habits.  It’s so easy to forget about imagination; I don’t really need it at the grocery store or dry cleaner.   I can pull weeds, swim laps, do loads of laundry, and drive to work without an ounce of imagination.

The problem is when I ignore imagination during more significant and consequential moments of my day – while contemplating the Helen Frankenthaler painting at our museum, problem-solving with my teenage daughter, or tackling a new project at work, for example.

Asking What if? is like opening the window to a cabin boarded up for the winter.  All of a sudden you see the cobwebs in the corner and the dust heaping on the tables.  So often in our daily lives, we take those cobwebs for granted.  Remembering to ask What if? forces me to thrust open the window and shine some light on them.  Asking What if? reminds me that I have the capacity to make change.  Asking What if? provokes me to think in a new way.  Asking What if? challenges me to acknowledge that some of those old cobwebs are not doing a darn thing to enhance my life or work or relationships.

What if I let all of the weeds grow this year!

What if I go to a museum I’ve never visited before to discover a new mantra?


Happily, I am not the only one who espouses the benefits of asking What if?  The Lincoln Center Institute is a champion of imaginative thinking habits.

What if you start asking What if? periodically today?  I’d love to hear about the cobwebs you discover and choose to sweep away.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Merilee Mostov, Manager for Creative Initiatives

Why Boredom Matters

What happens when boredom sets in

For our first “Musings from the Center for Creativity” I wanted to focus on an aspect of creativity that has been the catalyst for some of the greatest ideas in history… boredom. Two years ago I began asking adults to recall moments of great creativity from their childhood.  Story after story would recall fort building, bridges across creeks, traps intended for younger siblings etc., but most of those ideas began from a place of boredom.  These were kids forced to fill their summer with ideas all of their own.

As an educator obsessed with the diminishing creative opportunities for students in school I am constantly considering the ways we as teachers can foster question development, curiosity and risk taking. But as a mom with a 7- and 3-year-old, I realize I may be hindering their creativity. We live in a society where children are used to being entertained by television, electronic games and overly structured time.  So this summer I vowed, I would make way for BOREDOM.

Kids need practice with unstructured time, or they’ll never learn to manage it. As a mom, I address boredom in three ways…

1.  Actively engage – demonstrate creative ways to fill time.
EG: Build a bus in the living room (see above), or visit the Wonder Room together.
2.  Provide a challenge.
EG: Make a scooter obstacle course  or make a dozen Lego ships with special powers (see above).
3.  Encourage idea generation.
EG: Read below.

Over the long weekend, I strategically decided to engage my children in #3. I desperately needed to work in the yard. I booted the kids outside, and my mere instruction was to play. When I went to check on them, I found them standing inside two tubs filled with water from the hose.  The mom in me screamed, “Don’t you know you can drown in just two inches of water!” But, I calmed down as I deconstructed their process.

My kids had a problem.  They were bored and hot.
They activated a number of creative thinking skills as they worked through the boredom.
1.  Solving the problem started by spraying the hose and filling buckets with water (fluency of ideas).
2.  Realizing that the garage organization tubs could be made into mega buckets (flexibility of ideas).
3.  Finally realizing that the tubs were big enough to be personalized… swimming pools! (originality).
This simple example demonstrates the type of thinking kids are going to need in the future.  Neuroscientist and author, Jonathan Lehrer, tells us that during the boredom, the brain is busy generating new connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. The brain, rather than going quiet, is actually growing!

So this summer, make way for boredom and see what happens.

Over the past 18 months, in preparation for opening CMA’s new Center for Creativity (on Jan. 1, 2011), the entire education staff immersed ourselves in research on creativity, particularly what is necessary to cultivate creativity.  Musings from the Center for Creativity is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts on this topic.  Please share your views and resources with us, as well.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Cindy Foley, Director of Education