This year’s CMA conference was held in the lovely city of
. The theme was intangible cultural heritage, which is very appropriate for St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador.
Since the provincial association staff members rarely get to see each other, we kicked off the conference with a little meeting to find out how everyone else is doing. While not everyone could attend, representatives from six provinces and territories were at the table with CMA reps John McAvity, Monique Horth and John Tupper.
Newfoundland & Labrador has just completed a 5-year strategic plan that takes a strong marketing slant. A consulting company is currently redesigning the MANL website, and they have partnered with
in order to make sure all member museums can be found on Google maps. Memorial University
has just completed a 5-year plan for working with museums on marketing, which includes the Territorial marketing department providing social media training to museums. They are working with arts groups to develop cultural bus tours, with the pilot project taking place in Yukon . They are also working on a passport program that will have visitors swiping cards so the association can collect data on visitor trends. Whitehorse
The CMA is currently in year two of its 5-year strategic plan, and is undergoing its 5-year audit by Canadian Heritage. They are working on a new website, and recently conducted a salary study which will be released in January 2011. In terms of advocacy, they are recommending an overhaul of the Museum Assistance Program, and want to establish a new museum sponsorship fund which would have the government matching dollar for dollar of donations. Hill Day will be held November 22-23. This is when museum professionals and advocate go to
to meet with and discuss issues with politicians. Ottawa
Intangible Cultural Heritage Panel
Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) is transmitted from generation to generation and is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, interaction with nature, and history. It provides groups with a sense of identity. UNESCO has identified five domains in which ICH is manifested: oral traditions and expressions, performing arts; social practices, rituals and festive events; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship. Not included in ICH are contemporary arts such as dance and theatre, as well as folkloric manifestations or oral traditions that are no longer alive, and arts & crafts.
Intangible Cultural Heritage is important because it provides practicing groups with a sense of identity and continuity, therefore the practicing of the traditions is integral. There are many threats to ICH in the current world, such as globalization, migration, and assimilation policies. There is also a lack of means and appreciation or understanding of ICH, particularly in the younger generation, which is leading to an erosion of functions and values.
The purpose of the UNESCO Convention (adopted in 2003 and ratified in 2006) is to safeguard, ensure respect, raise awareness, and provide for international cooperation. The Convention seeks to ensure the viability of ICH, fostering the continuous recreation and transmission of knowledge and practices through the recognition of the associated groups. To date, 130 countries have signed the convention and are contributing to an ICH fund.
has not signed. Canada
The Urgent Safeguarding List asks parties to submit nominations for ICH elements that are facing imminent disappearance. There is also a Register of Good Practices that provides a platform for sharing ideas on how to safeguard ICH.
The Intangible Cultural Heritage States Party is essentially a league of nations that have signed the convention. They have been tasked with ensuring the safeguarding of ICH, identifying and defining elements of ICH, and creating an inventory. They have adopted a general policy to promote ICH and are fostering studies with the widest possible participation of communities and groups.
As heritage organizations we must ask ourselves how we can represent ICH without objectifying it, while still maintaining links between the displayed objects and their associated ICH.
Dr. Richard Kurin of the Smithsonian spoke of how that organization approaches the intangible. As he put it, “we’ve tried to document what was, before it is “was””. To do this, they’ve hosted a folklife festival to let cultural groups and people speak for themselves. The Smithsonian is not the end, but the means by which culture can be celebrated in a real way. Gerald Pocius of
Memorial University is conducting his ICH work in Newfoundland as though had signed the Convention. He has seen a shift from the museum as authority to community forum as all activities should begin with the community. Curators operate as community advocates; curators of knowledge, not things. Laurier Turgeon of Canada sees a growing interest in living cultures. Society is moving from the 1950s heritage regime in sites, authenticity, and conservation of things to a regime of people, performances and the transmission of knowledge. We are now documenting material culture through oral histories. Cultural institutions are discovering that famous artist exhibits are less popular than the sharing of local stories and traditions. Museums should be using new technologies to capture and transmit ICH, such as a multimedia database that can be used for virtual exhibits, 3D dioramas, guided tours, etc. Most importantly, once the information is captured it has to be returned to the community from whence it came. Laval University
Objects on Shelves and Cultures that won’t stand still
In a 2001 grand proposal to the Canadian Foundation of Innovation, the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia stated that “collaborative museology is founded on the believe that originating communities should have a major voice in shaping research questions, and should benefit from the new knowledge produced.” The first step was to create a memorandum of understanding between MOA and first nations groups of BC. Both sides view this as a lifelong arrangement, and while it is legally legless, it is very morally and ethically strong. In studying objects, they are viewed as instigators of events and are classified by indigenous systems, focusing on their function and use in ceremonies. The project allows young native artists to easily research their cultural heritage and bring the knowledge back home to the community.
The culmination of the project is the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN) (rrnpilot.org), a website that connects geographically dispersed communities with their geographically dispersed material culture. Google Earth is used to mark the originating community. The museum has positioned itself as a neutral space for the display and research of objects, storing helpful knowledge for the community. The RRN website provides users with the ability to carry on research and work at home and according to their own schedule. It also allows users to add information or ask questions about the objects, operating as a true community forum.
Plenary – Wade Davis
Wade Davis works for the National Geographic Society as an “explorer-in-residence”, which he freely admits is an oxymoron. He spoke of his experiences as an anthropologist, learning about different societies and their way of life. He was quick to point out that while colonial
Europe focused on technological innovations as being important, other cultures focused on oral histories and memory capacity. As globalization continues, we are losing this variety of knowledge, along with the languages in which it was traditionally shared. He cautions that this is a dangerous trend and as heritage organizations we must do what we can to preserve this traditional knowledge. He has written a book on the subject called Wayfinders.
Development of Stories
In order to build passion and commitment for the museum in your own community, the museum’s vision must resonate with the people. The museum must position itself as a hub for diverse voices, a centre for debate where people can become involved and empowered. As such, the museum can tap into greater diversity, and new skills and knowledge, overcoming preconceived notions. In order to achieve this, the museum must lead cultural change to embrace public participation and collaboration with community-based groups. We need to overcome our nervousness about being in control at all times.
The goal of such activities is to collect local while thinking about the global context. Build community by celebrating the full history, using the museum as a welcoming community and social space. Look beyond the institution walls to what is happening and connect with the entire community. One way to do this is to have a kids collection on display, where children can bring in interesting items to obtain points. This is essentially a trading post, because as children bring in an item, the more information they can tell the staff person about it, the more points they get. All objects are rated, and so if a child has something worth 5 points, they can trade their object for another object in the kids collection worth 5 points. This way there is an ever-changing display of what the community’s children view as being important and interesting, and the children see the museum as a fun place.
In looking for partners to create broader community initiatives, don’t assume that they will go along with you. It is absolutely imperative to talk with these groups before a project is started. For instance, one museum in
identified local artists who were interested in trading studio space for teaching kids about various art media and techniques. Philadelphia
From a funding perspective, the impediments to transformative change can be economic, political, or simply related to timing. Museums must build their constituency up before building out, and understand the funder’s needs and problems. In asking for funding, focus on how you can help the funder move an agenda forward or solve a recognized problem. Governments want to see success immediately and are risk averse, so link to their policies for a better argument. They want to be in line with the public wants and needs, so focus on incremental work that will be sustainable and welcomed by the community. In dealing with funders one should expect resistance to change and manage it. Nurture and educate your stakeholders to see the benefits of embracing new, exciting, and better ways of working. Communication barriers are often difficult, but don’t be afraid to ask for or offer extra clarification to ensure that both sides are understood.
Plenary – Future for Museums?
Is there a future for museums? Studies show that museums must present contemporary issues in an unbiased, non-partisan and engaging manner instead of focusing solely on the past. This panel discussed societal trends and how museums need to respond to these trends.
Demographically speaking, society is shifting. We are a graying population, and within 25 years 1 in 4 Canadians will be over the age of 65. This means that there will be a strain on government for medical, retirement, and associated obligations. So what is the future of museums with such important economic demands on funding? On the plus side, there is a dramatic increased in older adults entering peak years of museum engagement, but this will require a shift in how museums traditionally engage this age group.
Another trend we see is what some call a “reverse gender gap”, meaning that women in their 20s are 50% more likely to have a post-secondary degree than men. This means that they are single for a longer period of time, and fewer children are being born to young parents. There is also the changing face of society to consider. In the
, the population is currently 65% white, while 88% of museum visitors are white. Within 25 years the white population will drop to 54%. In US , by 2031 33% of Canadians will be a visible minority, so what are museums doing to reflect the various cultures and groups in our communities. Canada
Parks Canada has recognized the above shifts, and are undergoing a paradigm shift to address these facts. After conducting audience research, they are now proactively targeting individuals and organizations in a strategic and focused approach to figure out how to increase appreciation in the national parks system.
The final panelist was Marc Mayer, who made a few predictions about how museums will exist in the future. While much of his talk was light-hearted and received laughs from the audience, there was a lot of truth to his words. He suggested that since people are increasingly living in a 2-dimensional world, we will see an escape to 3D. There will be a rise of for-profit specialized museums, and an increase in museum membership by Canadians. There will be an increase in relevancy, with guest curators from diverse communities, and broad stories told through local or other specific lenses.
Doers & Dreamers
As we’re all aware social media is huge and museums can add some great education content to discussions and use the forums to learn more about their collections and how to better meet audience needs and expectations. At the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), they have embraced social media and have garnered a large following in the process, expanding their previous audiences. They liken social media to jazz in that once you learn the skillset you can improvise and excel. Moderation of online forums then shifts to being responsive rather than authoritarian.
What the AGO discovered is that the simpler, the better. After spending $6000 to create a video for their first YouTube experiment, no one was interested in the video. As a second experiment they brought in a local hiphop artist to show how to “tut” as a promotion for their King Tut exhibit. It didn’t cost anything, and was immensely successful.
The information from this session has been incorporated into the ANSM’s new internet marketing report & recommendations that will be released in the near future. It is hoped that this document will help museums navigate the online world and figure out how they can use it to their advantage.
Another way that museums can enhance their interpretation is through the use of augmented reality. This is a new technology that merges the real and virtual worlds. For example, the Ontario Science Centre has a fog screen that displays digital content that can be touched and even walked through. Living postcards is another new feature, which allows people to embed video files on a coded card to send to relatives or friends as a postcard. Why write when you can send a video message instead? In the future it is highly likely that we’ll see more visualization and crowd sourcing strategies, as well as more natural interfaces. This will have broad application in the humanities and fine arts fields.
Plenary – Jeffrey Simpson
At every CMA conference there is a plenary session with a speaker who is not from the museum field, and whose task it is to offer an outsider’s view. Jeffrey Simpson is the Globe & Mail’s national affairs correspondent, and spoke largely about the Canadian identity.
Our story is one of tolerance, and isn’t this a much better history to share than the violent histories of so many other nations? We have a very political history of which interpretation and re-interpretation is often controversial and constantly taking place.
Canada was a political construct, not based on unity but as a way of preserving the British colonies from the . United States
Cultivating Collections Responsibly
Traditionally, curators collected what they were interested in. The 1990s saw a shift in attitudes and museums began to develop collection plans and research projects. They recognized that the collection is for the benefit of the public. For the Canadian Agriculture Museum (CAM), the mandate is to introduce science and technology to Canadians. To do this, they require benchmark artifacts that show the technological progression of agricultural practices. This includes examples of trade literature and period print that portrays agricultural practices. In order to best meet their mandate, they conducted a collection development project.
In creating a collection development plan, several key analyses must be done. The first is a historical assessment or intellectual framework. This is a major research project that lays the groundwork for understanding the scope and key areas related to the museum’s mandate. For
CAM, factors included in the study were geography, development, associated science and research, and labour. For other museums, the focus may be more on the social history context, using primary and secondary sources to make local connections. If you are a large institution, this work is often done on a contract basis by post-doctoral students or professors on sabbatical. For smaller museums, the study can be broken into sections as time and resources allow instead of studying everything at once. The nice thing about this kind of a project is that the research can be reworked into a variety of other documents and communications, not to mention exhibit text.
The second step to a collection development plan is to do a collection assessment. This is another research document that connects objects in the collection to the findings of the historical assessment. It places the object(s) in the context of the technology that preceded and followed. This is a description of the ideal, focusing on key pieces and support materials. Using an annotated list, identify each object and justify its inclusion in the ideal collection. Once the existing collection is analyzed, the curator reviews the collection to ensure that all technologies mentioned in the historical assessment are represented in the collection. Where duplication exists, artifacts are assessed based on completeness, condition, and degree of provenance.
The third step is to create an acquisition proposal that aims to shape the ideal collection, filling the holes that were discovered during the previous two steps. Comparing the existing collection to the idea collection, comparisons can be made, and priorities and strategies can be developed. Considerations for acquisition should include whether or not the object fits the collection requirements, has its original integrity, has documented provenance, and whether or not the museum has the resources to care for it. Acquisition is often tied to deaccessioning due to space requirements. As the project continues, tension will become evident between objects of great value and insignificant objects with little relevance.
The goal of any museum is to have a collection of objects and documents that reflect the mission and mandate of the museum, and be used to tell related stories and foster understanding and engagement. It must be properly cared for, documented and made accessible to the public. Collections management should be the combination of intelligent collecting and thoughtful pruning. The collection should be dynamic, undergoing a continuous process of acquisition, management, and renewal.
The challenges in such projects include finding specialized researchers to do the job, and being able to pay them a reasonable wage. This is not a full-time job, and research funds are often difficult to come by. While some organizations rely on students or volunteers, the quality of this work can sometimes be questions. At a board or senior staff level, there may also be resistance to undertake such a project as it may challenge the fundamental mission and operations of the museum.
In order to make the process easier, check and see if applicable research already exists. Considering partnering with students, interns, and volunteers to better train them on how to complete the project, but if at all possible a professional researcher should be hired. In terms of the time involved, be committed to moving forward and be sure to get the support of the board and management. Time should be built into work plans for collection development. Identify manageable sections and coordinate the work with other collections-based activities.
Collection Conundrums: Solving Collections Management Mysteries by Rebecca A. Buck and Jean Allman Gilmore
Study Tour – Colony of Avalon, Ferryland
For those who haven’t spent a lot of time in the
, there is a remarkable archaeological site and interpretive centre about an hour south of the city. The Colony of Avalon was one of the first permanent English settlements in St. John’s North America, established in 1621 by Sir George Calvert who later became Lord Baltimore. A wealth of material culture continues to be excavated from the site, which is processed and treated in the on-site conservation lab or at ’s archaeology lab. Visitors can walk along the 17th century cobblestone street and watch the dig, check out what artifacts are being worked on in the lab, and see the display of finds in the visitor centre. Memorial University
For a small community, the site has become a staple in their economy. The Colony of Avalon Foundation’s annual budget is twice that of the town of
. The gift shop is of particular interest as it raises 50% of their operating budget. While this is an amazing statistic, on visiting it is easy to understand why it’s so successful. The shop is filled with locally made reproductions of ceramics, jewelry and other objects from the archaeological site, as well as other locally produced items that are totally unique. Buying something from the gift shop means that the visitor has a real souvenir of this particular site, something they couldn’t get anywhere else. Of course, postcards, books and the like are also available. For breakable items, the gift shop will ship items (provided the visitor will pay the shipping costs), scheduling the arrival with the end of vacation if necessary. Ferryland
CMA Awards Banquet