Jen Lehe

About Jen Lehe

Jen Lehe is CMA's Manager of Strategic Partnerships, overseeing programs for learners throughout their lives. Jen directed the IMLS-funded Making Creativity Visible initiative and launched the Leaders in Creativity fellowship to build teachers’ capacity to advocate beyond their classrooms. Jen holds an Masters in Arts in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a BFA in Photography from NYU. When she’s not at CMA, she’s gardening with her pit bull, Chompsky.

Cultivating Creative and Civic Capacities

On March 5, a remarkable group of public school teachers from across central Ohio convened at the Columbus Museum of Art. We explored how creativity can help us not only to solve problems, but to better identify and understand them. We didn’t know that less than ten days later CMA and the schools would suspend in-person experiences, and that we would all be facing a fresh set of problems in need of better understanding and solutions. 

One thing that makes this group so remarkable is its shared commitment: this is the group of educators who comprise the Cultivating Creative & Civic Capacities collaboration between the Columbus Museum of Art, Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, and Battelle. 

Nearly 40 teachers from several districts, elementary through high school, have come together over the course of the year to explore how to teach for an unknown world. Through experiences at the museum and in their own classrooms, we are all investigating how to cultivate imagination, critical thinking, and agency in a complex world. 

At no moment in my life has it been clear how absolutely crucial it is to foster these dispositions in our youth and our teachers. Moreover, it is clear that the work of creative and empathetic world-building should inspire and empower teachers to articulate and manifest this bold vision. 

When CMA launched C4, we did not know that a global pandemic would soon spotlight the tenuousness, complexity, and interconnectedness of our lives and social systems, and demand a radical reimagination of public life. However, we did know that we were already confronting complex global and local challenges demanding completely new approaches. We knew that we needed creativity – the process of using imagination and critical thinking to generate new ideas of value. We knew that we needed to illuminate how creativity and civic-mindedness interact to shape the worlds we want to live in. 

To find, understand, and address the challenges of the world we must wonder, imagine, and act guided by questions of “why,” “for whom,” “for when and where.” In other words, we must act at the intersection of the creative and the civic.

We don’t have “the answers” but we’re investigating the questions together. So much about our investigation so far this year has been about learning together – physically together – as collaborative partners. Then March yanked the collective rug out from all of us. Like all of you, we asked How we could connect while apart? How might we turn this challenge into an opportunity? What do we need at this moment of uncertainty, fear, distance, and civic crisis?

As artists have always done, we stepped into the ambiguity with a spirit of purposeful experimentation. We launched our first virtual gathering by closely looking at a work of art in CMA’s collection,  Lunch by George Tooker, which evokes isolation and social power. Using the chat window, we wrote a collaborative poem inspired by the work. 

We then considered “repair” as a creative and civically-relevant act. Jason Blair, a public school art teacher and co-lead on the C4 project, showed us examples from kintsugi, the Japanese art of resealing broken pottery using gold so that it becomes more beautiful for having been broken. He also showed more whimsical examples of transformative repair, such as Dispatchwork, the brainchild of artist Jan Vormann in which people all over the globe use Legos to fill in cracks in buildings and sidewalks. We then challenged the group to take a “noticing stroll” around our homes or (safely) in public spaces, searching for broken things to repair in ways that give them new value. You can browse their repairs on Twitter. Some of our repairs were restorations or upcycles, acts of sustainability. We fixed zippers instead of replacing sweaters. We turned wooden pallets into herb gardens. Some transformative “repairs” were designed to put some joy into public spaces, like a tree wrapped in festive rainbow ribbon and a guerilla gardening project in a crummy curb-side patch. We asked and acted on questions at the intersection of creative and civic: “What if? How might we? Why? For whom? What else?” 

Next, we have challenged ourselves to prompt others to play in the creative and civic space: Inspired by CMA’s participatory, in-gallery engagement and past C4 experiences, teachers will create bingo cards, menus, and other playful tools to engage an audience in creativity toward positive civic ends.

There is much repair, healing, and reimagination ahead of us, both in response to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and in response to all the challenges (visible and invisible) we were confronting before COVID19 hit the shores of our species. If we are to get through this, and be stronger for it, we will need to collectively cultivate and activate our creative and civic capacities. I am proud to work with educators committed to doing just that.

– Jen Lehe is CMA’s Manager of Strategic Partnerships, overseeing programs for learners throughout their lives. Jen directed the IMLS-funded Making Creativity Visible initiative and launched the Leaders in Creativity fellowship to build teachers’ capacity to advocate beyond their classrooms. Jen holds an Masters in Arts in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a BFA in Photography from NYU. When she’s not at CMA, she’s gardening with her pit bull, Chompsky.

 

Celebrating Teachers

Teacher Appreciation

CMA’s 2017 Leaders for Creativity teacher fellows, Patrick Callicotte, Emily Reiser, and Becky Coyne, making a creativity public service announcement.

At CMA we embrace artists as models of creativity. Artists embrace the ambiguity that is a given in life, they ask “what if?” and “how can this be different and better?” They experiment and persist through vulnerability to courageously bring new ideas into the world. This describes teachers, as well. Amazing artists and amazing teachers stimulate our curiosity and connect us to something bigger than ourselves. They help us see things we’ve never seen and help us wonder our way into the future.

Across our communities, teachers continue to foster creativity while learning new ways of being – and educating – in these strange times. As ever, teachers set an inspiring example of how to turn a challenge into an opportunity. In these past weeks, we have seen incredible innovation, courage, and imagination. We’ve seen teacher-led drives to provide their kids with supplies and meals, safely-distanced parades through students’ neighborhoods, grassroots resource-sharing for online instruction, social media exchanges about how to support the social-emotional needs of children and families, and critical reflection on what matters most in education. We are seeing creativity – critical imagination applied to building new worlds. Teachers are modeling and cultivating creativity even as many of them grapple with technological challenges, the logistical and psychological strain of caregiving in a crisis, and the heartbreak (yes, I’ve heard just this word from numerous teachers) of not knowing when they will see their students next.

As many parents are discovering as they navigate crisis schooling at home, learning is not “content delivery.” Learning is an ecosystem that requires intentional nurturing. This week, and every week, let’s remember that teacher appreciation is about gratitude for so much more than the noble decision to enter the field. It’s about respect for an incredibly challenging profession that demands empathy and alchemy, expertise and humility, courageous curiosity, remarkable patience, and so much more. Teachers, thank you. There are many, many hugs and high fives waiting for you on the other side of this.

– Jen Lehe is CMA’s Manager of Strategic Partnerships, overseeing programs for learners throughout their lives. Jen directed the IMLS-funded Making Creativity Visible initiative and launched the Leaders in Creativity fellowship to build teachers’ capacity to advocate beyond their classrooms. Jen holds an Masters in Arts in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a BFA in Photography from NYU. When she’s not at CMA, she’s gardening with her pit bull, Chompsky.

Learn at Home Creativity Challenges

Learn at Home Creativity Challenges

At Columbus Museum of Art we love collaborating with teachers. It is so exciting to see the remarkable ways that educators support purposeful learning, and we love to amplify the amazing practices happening in contexts all over our communities. In this time of #learnfromhome, we’ve been sharing just some of these exciting ideas to cultivate creativity with #teach4creativity and #myCMAatHome – if you are a teacher, we invite you to use those hashtags on twitter to find ideas and to share how you are sparking imaginative and critical thinking.

We are also sharing a resource packet developed by artist, art teacher and CMA’s first teacher-in-residence, Jason Blair. Jason has been one of CMA’s thought-partners for years, first by joining and later helping lead our Teaching for Creativity initiatives. 

When Ohio schools moved to online instruction, Jason was ready with these dynamic ways families can foster creativity. Each week we will share one of his creativity challenges on Twitter, and you can find the whole resource packet here

While Jason’s audience is children learning at home, you may find these challenges are a great family bonding experience – or a fun way to add interest to your next Zoom happy hour! 

What is a creativity challenge?

What: Creativity challenges are short prompts inviting imagination. They are often playful or contain unexpected juxtapositions (e.g. Design a feast for dragons). Creativity challenges are generally meant to be completed quickly (5 to 10 minutes) so that no one feels too intimidated to create. However, you might also think about how to build on a challenge prompt, especially if the creators want to take the idea further.

Why: As a recurring routine, especially when coupled with regular reflection, creativity challenges foster a culture of creative thinking and problem solving. They are quick and often fun; whimsical prompts set an unintimidating tone to help people “dive in.” Over time, they help people build comfort with ambiguity. While playful, challenges prompt us to do a lot of wondering and figuring out, and push us to represent ideas in different ways.

How: Begin with a collection of prompts (some Creativity Challenges can be found at makingcreativityvisible.edublogs.org) and open-ended, non-precious materials such as clean recyclables and scraps from craft projects. Keep work time short to emphasize that this is to be a draft rather than a finished product. Over time, you and others will get the hang of what makes a good challenge and you can devise your own.

For more about creativity challenges, including downloadable lists of prompts, check out CMA’s Making Creativity Visible resources site.

– Jen Lehe is CMA’s Manager of Strategic Partnerships, overseeing programs for learners throughout their lives. Jen directed the IMLS-funded Making Creativity Visible initiative and launched the Leaders in Creativity fellowship to build teachers’ capacity to advocate beyond their classrooms. Jen holds an Masters in Arts in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a BFA in Photography from NYU. When she’s not at CMA, she’s gardening with her pit bull, Chompsky.

 

Creativity and the Age of COVID-19

You’ve probably seen the quotation going around social media: “If you think artists are useless try to spend your quarantine without music, books, poems, movies and paintings.” It’s pithy and it rings true – how many of us are getting lost in books that have long sat on our shelves, watching that show everyone’s been talking about, or playfully recreating museum masterpieces in our living rooms? These experiences provide us with much needed diversion and stimulation at a time when we are cut off from many of our standard outlets.

This, however, is only part of the story of why we need art and artists now more than ever. The bigger reason has to do with what creativity can do for us.

Experiencing and creating art enables us to see the world in different ways. When we look at a painting, or listen to a piece of music, or attend a performance, we are experiencing a momentarily different world. The artist is showing us something we have never seen. In turn, we bring our lives and experiences to that moment, creating something totally unique. Artist and viewer, connecting across time and space, create a temporary world with its own rules. If just for a moment, we feel as much as see that the world could be otherwise.

To be sure, creativity lives in all domains, not just the arts. Creativity is the process of using imagination and critical thinking to generate a new idea of value. When we create— whether a painting, a poem, a new recipe, or a solution to a daily challenge – we are imagining a possibility and applying critical thinking until we find the right way that bring that idea into the world. At Columbus Museum of Art, we embrace artists as models of creativity because they constantly imagine and create in the face of ambiguity and with a desire to shake off status quo ways of being. To “think like an artist” is to question everything, embrace complexity, attend to human needs and impulses, and have the courage to forge a new path through – and into – uncertainty. And we are living in very uncertain times indeed. Happily, we are surrounded by examples of people making new paths by walking, with creativity, through this ambiguity.

Creativity is musicians livestreaming powerful performances from their homes or playing curbside concerts from the backs of pick-up trucks;

Creativity is photographers creating quarantine porch portraits in exchange for donations to non-profits;

Creativity is neighbors creating signal systems  to help communicate with those who live alone – and creating sidewalk chalk obstacle courses to bring each other cheer;

Creativity is the grocery clerk devising a zero-contact system for elderly patrons to get what they need;

Creativity is teachers staging socially-distanced parades  around their students’ neighborhoods to say “we miss you;”

And creativity is everyone from scientists at Columbus-based Battle coming up with a new way to sterilize PPE masks to the quilter next door to asking, How can my talents help protect those on the front lines?

Through creativity we not only imagine new possibilities, we create something out of that vision. We ask “what if,” we embrace a guiding “why,” and we act. It is our individual and collective creativity that will see us through this storm. Art, artists, and our own creative impulses give us hope and agency to build new worlds around purposeful possibilities. What could be a more remarkable gift and a more worthy provocation for our times?

– Jen Lehe is CMA’s Manager of Strategic Partnerships, overseeing programs for learners throughout their lives. Jen directed the IMLS-funded Making Creativity Visible initiative and launched the Leaders in Creativity fellowship to build teachers’ capacity to advocate beyond their classrooms. Jen holds an Masters in Arts in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a BFA in Photography from NYU. When she’s not at CMA, she’s gardening with her pit bull, Chompsky.

 

Art and Poetry: Playing with Words

A lot of people tense up when they hear the “p” word, but poetry is just another way to play with words, sounds, images, and ideas. At Columbus Museum of Art we have a special tour called Art and the Language of Poetry. We love to help people who may not think of themselves as poets to look closely at art to think differently, wonder, imagine, and write poems inspired by art. (If you really want to impress your friends, there’s a word for poetry inspired by visual art: “ekphrastic poetry”).

There is no wrong way to write a poem, but this is a method I like to use to just dive in. You don’t need any poetry knowledge or prior experience to use this approach.

In honor of National Poetry Month try it out and share your creation on social media with #myCMAatHome so we can see how you are playing with words!

Step 1: Pick an artwork. At the bottom of this post, we have some visitor favorites from the CMA collection, or you can browse the CMA collection to find another.

You may also choose an artwork in your home – by you or by another artist. I chose John Sloan’s Spring Planting, Greenwich Village because it makes me think about how I am re-starting my own garden right now.

Step 2: Observe, Describe, Interpret, Question We always start museum experiences by looking closely and describing what we see. One way to do this is to take a sheet of paper and divide it into 3 sections and write “I Notice…” at the top of one. Look closely at the artwork you’ve chosen and describe what you see. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, complete sentences, or writing something that sounds like poetry. Just write what comes to mind.

Once you’ve written a lot of noticings, start a new section with “I Think…” Start piecing them together and fill in the “I Think” section with what you think might be happening, or what the work makes you think about. Then, write “I Wonder…” and record what questions the artwork brings to your mind.

If you are trying this out in a group, you can also do this out loud, but be sure to have someone jotting down what people say.

Step 3: Select Read through what you wrote, and circle the words or phrases that seem most juicy, important, or interesting.

Step 4: Arrange and Rearrange Once you’ve selected the juicy words, recopy them onto scraps of paper so that you can easily rearrange them. You might also change the words slightly so they flow differently.

Take some time to physically move the words around, playing around with different sequences. Don’t worry about rhyming or grammar – that’s not what poetry is about! You don’t have to use all your juicy words.

And viola – it’s a poem!

Watcher in the window, watcher on the fence
Smiling, supporting; leaning, indifferent
Lone tree in the corner
Nothing but dirt.

Many visitor-poets like to title their creations (maybe I’ll use the discarded phrase “Not Dressed for This”). You might also like to recite your poem to others, remembering that the way you read your poem aloud adds a new layer of meaning.

And yet more poetry
As I was observing this artwork, I realized that although it is an urban scene, nature plays an important role. This made me think of a haiku, which evoke nature and follow a structure of three lines — two lines of five syllables and one line of seven syllables sandwiched in the middle.

Since you’ve already looked closely at, thought, and wondered about the poem, try writing five phrases of five or seven syllables on slips of paper, so that you can mix and match them. Remember: writing a haiku is not just about the syllable count, but theme. Haikus should evoke nature.

So, after creating, sorting, and rearranging five- and seven-syllable phrases evoking nature, you’ve got a haiku!

Big city quiet
Flap, gaze, bask, grow–unaware
Trees rise, unperturbed

So try this way of playing with words, and share your creation with us on social media by tagging us @columbusmuseum and using #myCMAatHome.

Ready to try? Here are some CMA visitor favorites if you’re looking for inspiration to get started.

– Jen Lehe is CMA’s Manager of Strategic Partnerships, overseeing programs for learners throughout their lives. Jen directed the IMLS-funded Making Creativity Visible initiative and launched the Leaders in Creativity fellowship to build teachers’ capacity to advocate beyond their classrooms. Jen holds an Masters in Arts in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a BFA in Photography from NYU. When she’s not at CMA, she’s gardening with her pit bull, Chompsky.