Meet the Board: Seema Rao

Seema Rao, Principal, Brilliant Idea Studio


Tell us a little bit about where you work and what you do there?

I have worked in museums for nearly 20 years at the interstices of visitor experience, education, and technology. I head Brilliant Idea Studio, a firm that helps museums develop the best experiences for their visitors. Additionally, I employ my drawing and teaching skills to develop books that blend meaning-making, creativity, and visual appeal. My third book, Self-Care for Museum Workers, was released in November 2017.

What is your earliest museum memory?

As a little girl, I used to visit the art museum regularly. I used to love looking at the paintings almost as much as I enjoyed visiting the café for melba toast and hot chocolate.

What led you to go into the museum field?

In high school, I was once so mesmerized by the Robert Campin artwork Merode Altarpiece in the Cloisters that I couldn’t speak. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to spend a life thinking about and being with art.

What is your workspace like?

I work any where and everywhere. I am starting this consulting business so I travel a lot. Basically, any place that I can sit and type is my office. The portable office mentality is great for productivity but a challenge for work-life balance.

What item in your office can you not live without?

My stylus! I do all the illustrations for my books and blog on a tablet with a stylus. Without them, I would be lost or else way overworked cleaning up scanned drawings.

Describe your favorite work memory. What was your best day like?

I have a theory that every job has a moment that feels perfect, but you only know this when it is over, like Camelot. I don’t have one favorite memory, but many, many ones. I will say that many of my favorite memories occur at conferences. (I even wrote an ode to my work friends).

What does your dream museum look like?

A place where everyone understands that everything from the outdoor sign to the galleries are part of the experience—and where everyone in the organization is happy and collegial about making that experience worth it for all visitors.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

“Do it better tomorrow.” My first boss was a super chill woman. She used to sort of shrug off problems and then plan how to fix things. I loved her attitude (and class), and hopefully I live her philosophy. 

What are you currently reading?

As my family says, “I read everything.” I am a textual omnivore enjoying everything from mysteries to juvenile fiction. I am about to read “The Word is Murder,” by Anthony Horowitz and I just started “We are Taking Only What We Need,” by Stephanie Powell Watts. I am advocate of sharing reading lists. Mine is at Goodreads.