Tuesday, May 5, 2009

CMA Conference Follow-Up Report - Part 3


Toronto, March 25-28, 2009

Follow-up Report

What Road Will We Take?

Presenter: Chantal Hébert

Ms. Hébert delivered a poignant dissertation on the position of culture and heritage in today’s political scene, intertwining political jabs with remarkable insight for a self-proclaimed outsider. The following was the theme of her discussion:

Without political alignment with all parties at all times, culture and heritage will always remain an attractive item for the chopping block. Building bridges with politicians will reinforce the sector’s importance, and you will be less likely to be forgotten when a new party comes to power.

Engaging Communities through Preservation

Presenters: Richard Fuller, Brian Laurie-Beaumont, Gayle McIntyre

Richard discussed the various ways in which Doon Heritage Crossroads engages both their local and extended community. On a small scale, Richard hosts and mentors interns from Sir Sandford Fleming College. The interns inevitably build ties to the local community, and continue to stay engaged after they have moved on with their careers. Not only does this bring support at an individual level, but interns friends and families connect with the museum as well. On a larger scale at the local community level, one of Doon’s most successful methods of engagement is an annual Seed Saver’s Workshop that is carried out in partnership with Seeds of Diversity Canada. For the younger crowd, they have a Junior Interpretor’s Summer Day Camp, which partners children with various museum tasks so that they can experience real museum work. Many of these children later become summer staff and/volunteers, as the experience engages them and allows them to take ownership of their community’s heritage.

Gayle provided an overview of Sir Sandford Fleming College’s three museum studies programs, focusing on the important combination of theoretical and hands-on work. The programs culminate with a 4-month internship that provides the student with valuable real-life experience and provides host organizations with some much-needed assistance. The internships are unpaid, but are a credited course and so have certain requirements such as the completion of a substantial research project. This research project must be of benefit to the host organization, but beyond that the student has the freedom to choose the topic and direction of the work. Students work with their internship supervisors to determine their topic, and must be given dedicated time during work hours to complete the project. Beyond the research project, host organizations are encouraged to include their interns in a wide variety of tasks and provide them with opportunities for networking and professional development whenever possible.

Brian’s talk focused on the fact that people learn best when they are involved, and when they connect emotionally with the message. It is up to museums to provide their visitors and audience with this opportunity. They must be all-inclusive, and engage their public, staff/board/volunteers, funders, non-profit partners, and private sector partners. There has been a change in the core markets of museums. Changing immigration patterns have seen a shift from European to predominantly Asian immigration. This shift can potentially translate into a different approach to cultural and heritage preservation. Members of Generation Y have different methods of information acquisition, predominantly through a limited number of online networks, and without meeting them at these websites museums will become lost. Visitors are focused on cultural tourism filled with experiences and activitie; a need that again must be met by museums. In conclusion, consider how your audience perceives you. It is imperative that you stay on mission, but it might be time to change the mode of delivery to connect with and engage your community. This can be as easy as broadening your definition of heritage preservation.

Engaging the Past: A Cross-Canada Portrait

Presenters: Jocelyn Létourneau & David Northrup

The plenary session was the presentation of the results of a survey and study on the topic of Canadians and their Pasts. Engagement was measured in two spheres, family activities and more general activities related to public history. Participants were asked to select which methods they use to engage in their past. Following is a breakdown of answers:

Family Activities

Public History Activities

Look at Family Photos


Watch Movies


Look at Family Heirlooms


Read Books


Visit Familial Places


Visit Historical Sites


Create or Look at Scrapbooks


Visit Museums


Research the Family Tree


Watch Movies


Play Games


Visit Archives


Almost all respondents claimed to engage in their past in some way or other. 50% of respondents engaged in more than 5 activities.

65% of respondents said museums are very trustworthy, for the following reasons:

  1. stewards of important material culture
  2. reverence for artifacts and truth of the past
  3. sense of connectivity
  4. can’t afford to ‘get it wrong’
  5. trained staff & volunteers who are dedicated to the pursuit of information about the collection

The majority of Canadians go to museums in order to understand the past and how they connect to it through their own history. They want an individual perspective to see how they fit into the grand scheme of things. They are no longer interested in learning a general national history, but want to see how their own family connects to the larger picture.

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