The Art of Creative Thinking: Cade Museum’s Patty Lipka Inspires Creativity for All

The faces in the Cade Museum’s Facebook video said it all.

As about a dozen fourth to fifth grade students looked on, a demonstrator at the Porters Community Center showed the principle of heat rising by setting a teabag on fire.  The youngsters gasped as the flaming paper rose slowly toward the ceiling.


That reaction is exactly what Patty Lipka was hoping for. Lipka, a recent Wisconsin transplant, is the new program director at the Cade Museum for Creativity + Invention. She works with schools and other groups to encourage creativity. Whether it is presentations like the one at the Porters Center, or workshops on topics ranging from polymer putty to furniture refinishing, her goal is to get what she calls people’s “creativity quotient” to kick in. That, she says, is the first step to innovation.

Lipka’s emphasis on promoting students’ creativity comes as no surprise, given that she came from the Building for Kids children’s museum in Appleton, Wis., where she was the studio manager and art coordinator, creating art and science programs. She is continuing to promote the link between art and science in her new role at the Cade Museum.

Her focus is setting up an art and science lab in a building across from the planned location for the permanent Cade Museum in Depot Park. The facility (which, Lipka notes, will include the original lab tables used by the museum’s namesake, Gatorade inventor Dr. Robert Cade), will allow people to indulge their creative side in ways they may not be able to do on their own. She is also busy setting up a “Mini Maker Faire” for this April, aimed at the Gainesville do-it-yourself community.

It is an ambitious undertaking—but not unexpected from someone whose motto is, “We go big, or we go home! And we’re not going home!”

We talked to Lipka about her role in bridging creativity and innovation in the community.

What is your role with the Cade Museum?

I was brought on to make connections in the community, to promote programming within and without. That means outreach. And I want to ensure that everybody gets a really great opportunity to roll up their sleeves, put on those safety goggles, and figure out why molecules behave the way they do, or how molecular structure can be formed into art forms. We don’t separate art and science. Art and science are one.

What’s your target audience?

Our target audience is age 9 to 119. (Chuckles) And pretty soon we’re going to have to raise it up to 129 because I hear people are living quite long, the statistics are showing.

Why so varied?

Because when we are adults, we basically stop becoming creative. And we get pigeonholed in careers and obligations that we’re forced into daily, and we forget the joys of picking up a paintbrush, mixing things up. We want people to stop that and become creative again.

You don’t have to be the next Jonas Salk, or the next Einstein or Edison. Everybody is creative and they don’t know it. We have an intelligence quotient in this country, and we have a creativity quotient. The intelligence quotients—our IQ’s—are skyrocketing. However, the creativity quotient is sinking. And when our creativity quotient sinks, that means that our happiness level, and the joy we find in daily life, starts to diminish and go a little lower.

How do you inspire creativity?

Simply with art and science. Letting them loose, with a little facilitation of course, but explaining, “This is how this works,” and then asking, “How do you think we could make it better?”

And no answer is a wrong answer. I’ve had kids when we made polyvinyl alcohol putty, for instance—I was at the Porters Community Center, and we did a two-day outreach in polymerization and science and art, and I said to the kids, “What can we do that would make this even cooler?” And one boy said, “Well, if it could change color and be on fire and have different colors.” Another girl said, “What if it became invisible?” And I said, “Like the stealth technology?” And she said” Yeah!” And everybody got excited.

So kids, at 9, can come up with some great ideas. And that’s what I want to do.

What do you look for in ideas?

Things that they don’t want to do at home. Things that they think about, and they’ve seen maybe on TV, or as a special effect or on a science channel—but they have not done it. And maybe they don’t have the facility. Not everybody has a lab with fire extinguishers and all the art supplies. But this is what we’re going to offer.

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