+ Paradigm Shifts: The challenge of Negotiating Governance
Presenters: Virginia Eichhorn, Director & Chief Curator, Tom Thomson Art Gallery & Owen Sound Museums; Catherine Richards, Manager Curator, Aurora Historical Society/ Hillary House National Historic Site; John Summers, General Manager, Canadian Canoe Museum
From L to R: Isabelle Geoffrion, Janik Aubin-Robert, Laura Gibbs, Henriette Riegel, Paulina Abarca-Cantin
+ Vital Museums, Engaged Community: Role-modeling change through the Kingston Culture Plan
Presenters: Paul Robertson, City Curator, Cultural Services, City of Kingston; Ann Blake, Managing Director, Kingston Association of Museums, Art Galleries, and Historic Sites, Inc.; Dr. Terri-Lynn Brennan, Program Coordinator, Community Engagement & Education, Cultural Services, City of Kingston; Tom Riddols, Curator, MacLachlan Woodworking Museum
+ Taking Charge of Culture and Taking Risks at Campbell House Museum
Presenters: Liz Driver, Director/Curator; Angela Wright, Historical Interpreter/Event Facilitator, Campbell House Museum; Alex Dault, Associate Artistic Director, Single Thread Theatre Company; Miles Collyer, visual artist, The Tin Type Studio
At the 2013 OMA Annual Conference, Tech Talks brought together museum professional interested in technology for presentations and Knowledge Sharing Roundtables.
Compiled HERE by Ryan Dodge, Social Media Coordinator at the ROM, you will find a growing number of resources that span the roundtable topics: Social Media, Web, Future Planning, Mobile, Getting Started, Digital Preservation and In-gallery Experiences.
+ Creating Interactive Experiences
Presenters: Dominique St. Pierre, President, Co-Founder and Yannick Gosselin, VP Interactive Technologies (SiMBioZ)
Ann Curley, Operations Manager/Curator and Mary Storey, Director, (Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre) @Simbioz_Media
Former Toronto Star reporter, writer John Goddard's review of OMA Conference 2013
ALL-ENCOMPASSING MASSIVE CHANGE
By John Goddard
He ordered coffee and food at a Starbucks drive-through, then realized he had forgotten his wallet. When he got to the window, he apologized profusely.
“Sorry, guys, there’s nothing I can do,” Moe Hosseini-Ara, director of service excellence at the Markham Pubic Library, told the Starbucks employees. “I’ll have to cancel my order.”
“No, no, wait,” came the reply, and a server handed him $12 worth of food and drink.
“But I don’t have my wallet,” Hosseini-Ara repeated.
“That’s okay,” said the server. “We just want you to have an awesome afternoon.”
Gasps of surprise rippled through the room as Hosseini-Ara told the story to a packed plenary session at the 2013 Ontario Museum Association conference in Markham.
Later, he said, he found that the Starbucks training manual specifically instructs servers to give away food that is cancelled. If it is going into the garbage anyway, the company reasons, why not use it to create goodwill?
“I’ve recounted this experience millions of times and I’m willing to bet that Starbucks does not have an epidemic of people pretending they don’t have their wallet,” Hosseini-Ara said. “The small minority might do it, but let’s not create rules around the small minority.”
The tale constituted one of the most memorable segments of the three-day event. There were others.
Royal Ontario Museum director Janet Carding dryly spoke of the challenges of “snippetization,” or how our society increasingly views the world in a series of snippets. Contemporary art impresario Janine Marchessault told of her daring collaboration with the Markham Museum on a show that included a rape scene. Campbell House director Liz Driver detailed the transformation of a historic-house museum into a centre for theatre, photography, sculpture, painting and music.
At the conference, OMA Special Projects Manager Pierre Bois asked if I might write up my experience as a delegate. I was an ex-Toronto Star reporter just finished a book about ten Toronto heritage museums. I was not a typical delegate, but liked the idea of writing up a few highlights, even if — because of concurrent sessions — I saw less than half the program.
Moe Hosseini-Ara’s Customer-Service Revolution
The Starbucks anecdote came partway into a talk about customer service at Markham’s seven library branches. The inference was that museum employees might also want to think about service levels at their facilities.
“We started to look at everything from the customer’s point of view,” Hosseini-Ara said. Entrances, parking lots, washrooms, telephone service, signage — every point of contact between the library and the library user came under review, as did established ways of doing things.
Instead of tweeking policies and procedures, managers and employees found themselves embarking on a two-year process of what they came to call a “customer-service revolution” and “all-encompassing massive change.”
In the past, a librarian needed a masters degree and library experience to get hired in Markham, Hosseini-Ara said. A masters degree is still required. Recently, however, one successful job candidate had no library experience but had been a Starbucks manager.
Janet Carding’s List of Trends Snippetization: With people checking smartphones 40 times a day, writing dispatches of 140 characters or less, and keeping blog entries to a single paragraph, museums must learn to deal with audiences that see the world in a series of snippets, the ROM director said.
Festivalization: Everything is becoming a special occasion. “People understand that they should join in because it’s just going to be here for perhaps a few days or a few weeks,” she said.
Personalization: People have access to an infinite amount of information. They are looking to personalize it. The buzz term is “curate,” Carding said. People are looking to “curate” their own journey or experience. For a museum, she said, “it is important to understand that our audience is not one-size-fits-all, but comes in many shapes and sizes.”
Beta-ization: Now everything is prototype, unfinished, released raw so that an audience can join in and make it better. Museums have always strived to create something perfect and timeless, to work for many, many months before finally releasing a work to the public. “I think that that is something that we should no longer aspire to,” Carding said. “And I think that if we get it right, collaborative, dynamic works-in-progress can be just as good and actually in many cases can be better.”
On March 19, 2014, the ROM turns 100. The museum plans a yearlong celebration, Carding said, “and there are going to be snippets aplenty.”
Ronald Holgerson’s Free-Publicity Tips
“Did you know that you can upload information about your museum for free on our website www.ontariotravel.net?” asked Ronald Holgerson, president and CEO of the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation. “And if you did know that, how recently did you update your information?”
Tourism Ontario no longer publishes its seasonal travel magazine in hard copy, he said. People looking up travel information for Ontario either go to a digital copy, or to www.ontariotravel.net for information. A museum can post a link on the website to send people to its own site.
Tip No. 2: Place your brochure at one or more of the eleven Ontario Travel Information Centres, most located near the Canada-U.S. border.
Janine Marchessault’s Land/Slide at Markham Museum
The York University media studies professor traced her career as an organizer of experimental public art, culminating in the fall of 2013 with Land/Slide: Possible Futures, a three-week takeover by 30 artists of Markham Museum’s heritage village.
“When I contacted Cathy [Molloy] to propose this kind of crazy site-specific exhibition about the future that would engage with the past, I was sort of lying a bit,” Marchessault told the conference. “I said the artists will not necessarily go into the houses, they will not disturb very much.” She recalled Molloy and curator Janet Reid replying: “We know who you are, we know what you do, and we like it.”
“That was just pure luck,” Marchessault said, “to actually encounter somebody who is willing to take the risk and allow artists to come into the museum and transform it.”
Cathy Molloy’s Willingness to Take a Chance
Since taking over as director of Markham Museum and Historic Village five years ago, Molloy has dropped “historic village” from the name and focused on pursuing Markham’s multicultural mandate. “We are now interpreting the history of the whole community by examining our shared technologies… things like pottery, textiles, metal working, printing — common to every culture across the world.”
Marchessault’s pitch fit right in, Molloy said. She detailed the legal and bureaucratic work involved to make such a project a reality. “I kept telling people, ‘These artists are going to do a project that’s different from anything that has ever been done, and engage as many people as possible,’” she recalled.
To the conference, she expressed one reservation: the installation in a log cabin of “Always Popular, Never Cool,” described by artists Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby as “a full-scale diorama about coercive sex and so called ‘slut-shaming.’”
The Globe and Mail reviewer ignored the work altogether. The Toronto Star reviewer called it “a disembodied diatribe” and “a disturbing treatment.” Molloy, with apparent relief, said it drew no complaints from visitors.
Liz Driver’s Transformation of Campbell House
The house was built in 1822 for William Campbell, who became Chief Justice of Upper Canada and presided over the colony’s first free-speech trial. When Liz Driver took over as director/curator five years ago, she set about transforming the place from a historic-house museum to a centre for freedom of many forms of artistic expression, at Queen St. W. and University Ave. in downtown Toronto.
“Taking Charge of Culture by Taking Risks,” Driver called her session. Visual artist Miles Collyer of the Tin Type Studio, talked of his experience exhibiting and taking tintype photographs at Campbell House. Alex Dault, associate artistic director of Single Thread Theatre Company, told of his adventures in writing and staging plays in the historic building. Campbell House staff event facilitator Angela Wright spoke of using the upstairs assembly hall to run her first season of folk music concerts, “The Listening Party.”
“The museum, instead of being static, is now constantly evolving through an engagement with Toronto’s cultural communities,” Driver said.
Her words sounded much like Molloy’s and Carding’s, and seemed to sum up one of the conference’s major themes. Audiences are changing. Take a chance and change with them.
John Goddard’s book Inside the Museums: Toronto’s Historic Sites and their Most Prized Objects is to be published by Dundurn Press on June 7, 2014.