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For Teachers: Using Museum Collections as Creative Starters

A huge ship in a bottle with patterned sales.

Nelson's ship in a bottle

© National Maritime Museum

    • Artists, writers, dramatists, film-makers – they all get their inspiration from somewhere. Whether it’s from something that happened to them, something or someone that captured their imagination or a story or poem they read, it’s all got to have come from somewhere. Artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper’s epic installation of over 888,000 ceramic poppies – Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

      Museums are full of weird, wonderful, mysterious and captivating things to ignite creative imaginations. Whether it’s dramatising a painting, writing a poem or a story about what might have happened to an object in its lifetime or creating an artwork inspired by another artist, museums and galleries can provide the perfect starting point. And there is usually so much to choose from that there will be something that appeals to everyone in some way or another. These writers were inspired by objects and themes relating to the sea.

      Ten steps to creative outcomes inspired by museums and galleries:

      1.    Decide on your focus – are you creating a story, poem, painting, piece of music, dance..?

      2.    Are you following a theme, perhaps to fit with a classroom topic?

      3.    You can choose one artefact as your creative source - paintings, films, artworks, objects, photographs, letters can all inspire. Or you can use a whole theme, exhibition or museum – dinosaurs, the sea, transport, war, Impressionists, planets. Book a handling session as part of a museum visit – using all your senses can really help you to make a connection with an artefact and the stories it might tell. Or look online – many museums and galleries have high quality images of their collections which can be used in the classroom. Whatever your source of inspiration, try to choose something that means something to you or that you like or find intriguing in some way and not something that someone else has chosen for you.

      4.    Whatever you have chosen, look at it very carefully, you can learn more about how to use objects to find out about the past on Show Me. The great thing about using museums and galleries to inspire creative responses is there are no right or wrong answers. Jot down your ideas or sketches in a book or using a tablet app. Take a photo of your chosen object or objects so that you can remember it after a visit.

      5.    Later, or back at school, look at the photos, notes or sketches you made. You can now develop your creative response. Take plenty of time to develop your ideas and hone them into your final work.


      Show Me has lots of ideas for creative starters - try recreating your favourite painting with VanGoYourself or using these mysterioushappenings’ to inspire imaginations.

      Here are some great ideas for developing writing, music, dance and art works using museum and gallery collections:

      Artist Yinke Shonibare MBE explores themes the Victorian age, the legacy of Empire and the global textile trade, putting his own unique stamp on William Morris’s family album and creating a reimagined model of Nelson’s flagship Victory in a giant Ship in a Bottle - but how did it get it in there?!

      Artists The Singh Twins are inspired by the Museum of London collections in their
      ‘Entwined’ commission by the Museum of London.

      TATE reimagined famous artworks using Minecraft for a special exhibition.

      Time & Tide Museum and the National Maritime Museum have some great ideas for using collections to support writing.

      The National Gallery explores ways in which just one painting can inspire learning across the curriculum.

      The National Maritime Museum responds to different themes through music and dance.

      Made with the British Library documents a number of people who have taken inspiration from the library collections and used it to make lean and develop.


      Curriculum links


      Creative and critical thinking
      -    Generating ideas
      -    Questioning assumptions and exploring possibilities
      -    Innovating, testing and adapting
      -    Creating

      Literacy
      -    Developing language and vocabulary

      Digital
      -    Effective searching
      -    Analysing
      -    Selecting
      -    Evaluating
      -    Presenting
      -    Repurposing
      -    Combining multiple applications

      Personal development
      -    Working collaboratively
      -    Taking responsibility
      -    Planning


      Artsmark and Arts award

      Artsmark is a nationally recognised sign of commitment to high quality arts and cultural education. It enables education settings to evaluate, celebrate and strengthen a quality arts offer and contributes to the cultural aspect of Ofsted’s requirement that a school promotes students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Using museums and galleries to support classroom work, or developing you own museum, gallery, archive or exhibition is a great way for your school to gain Artsmark. Find out more about Artsmark and its impact here.

      Arts Award is a range of unique qualifications inspiring young people to connect with and take part in the wider world of arts, heritage and culture through different challenges at different levels. Through Arts Award young people gain a nationally recognised qualification enabling them to progress into further education and employment. Find out more here and how museums and galleries can support young people in gaining Arts Award.

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