Tuesday, 20 February 2018

ALUMNI IN THE SIX: LAURA ROBB & CARA VAN DER LAAN

ALUMNI CHECK-IN

BY: EMILY WELSH

For this week’s edition I check-in with two of our alumni who are situated in the home of our MMSt program, the vast city of Toronto.


Laura Robb graduated with her MMSt degree in 2012 and previously with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in 2006. Laura is currently employed as one of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)'s Assistant Interpretive Planners and has recently worked on exhibitions such as Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters and Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood. She nicely summarizes her duties as such:

“In a nutshell, interpretive planning is articulating the big ideas and key themes that an exhibition will tell, and deciding what vehicles – such as text, video, hands-on activities – will best relay these ideas and themes. As an IP, I advocate for visitors: how can I relate material that may (or may not) be unfamiliar to visitors in a meaningful way? How can I guide you to have a personal connection to our exhibitions?”

Laura’s past work experiences include her time as a tour guide at the Textile Museum of Canada, as an audience researcher at the AGO, and as a content developer in Vancouver for a dinosaur interpretive centre based in Macau. Laura also worked under a paid internship at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles where she developed and tested mobile-based games and activities.

Laura Robb, MMSt 2012, Art Gallery of Ontario Assistant Interpretive Planner. Photo courtesy of Laura Robb.


Cara van der Laan is currently employed as the Ontario Science Centre (OSC)’s Artifacts Coordinator. She graduated with her MMSt degree in 2010 and previously with a Joint Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History and Physical Anthropology at the University of Waterloo in 2007.

Cara is responsible for managing, inventorying, cataloguing and curating the OSC’s artifact collection of over 20,000 objects of diverse materials; scheduling, supervising and completing installations of all objects of incoming, temporary and permanent exhibits; managing incoming, outgoing and internal loans; and developing and installing internal rotating exhibits with artifacts.

Before working at the OSC, Cara was employed in the Education Department of the Toronto Zoo where she worked with volunteers and the zoo’s biological collection. She was also a volunteer coordinator for the Luminato Festival, for which she was responsible for a team of 500 volunteers, and a part of TheMuseum’s floor staff, for which she led tours of exhibits as well as developed and led public programs.

Cara van der Laan, MMSt 2010, Ontario Science Centre Artifacts Coordinator. Photo courtesy of Cara van der Laan.

Laura and Cara kindly answered the following interview questions for us here at Musings.


1. What is your favourite memory from your time in the MMSt program?

Laura: Honestly, it was probably the classroom debates around where we saw museum work going in the future. I love picking apart the idea of a museum and what it means to display, interpret and program objects from a philosophical point of view.

Cara: My most vivid memories are from Hooley’s Curating Science course. His course really challenged the way I thought about learning and the definition of science. I remember him talking about abstract concepts such as huge astronomical distances and learning about them in hands-on ways. (We went out in the hallway with string!) The course content has proved useful in working at the Ontario Science Centre but I also enjoyed finding methods to explain concepts in diverse ways to teach multiple audiences.


2. What course or subject matter has been of most use to you in your current role?

Laura: Museums and their Publics and Interpretation and Meaning-Making were certainly key. There’s a duality between those courses because evaluation tends to study what interpretive planning is trying out, to figure out what worked, what needs adjusting and what needs abandoning. Both courses provided me with a great introduction to constructivism, which is how we approach exhibition development. I wouldn’t be where I am today without those two courses.

Cara: In the most direct way, Sue Maltby’s class [Museum Environment]. I still find myself consulting notes I took from her class and trying to channel her when I’m educating others about relative humidity or active corrosion. Indirectly, I’ve found I’ve used so much of Barbara Soren’s Museum and their Publics in ways I wasn’t intending. It has created a love of quantifiable metrics of evaluation that I didn’t realize I had. I find myself talking about evidence based decision-making on a regular basis and utilizing technical skills from her course in very useful ways.


3. What advice would you give to museum professionals entering the sector today?

Laura: Say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way, no matter how small or hard it is and no matter how loud your “I-don’t-think-I-can-do-this” voice screams. Everything is a chance to meet people and pick up new skills or even just figure out what you really don’t want to do in life.

Cara: Be flexible - career paths do not have to be linear. Find things that you enjoy doing and find ways to do them as much as you can. Keep engaged in the museum sector, even if you find yourself taking jobs outside of the field. Find a mentor. Keep learning.


4. Which object or exhibit, in your current institution, do you enjoy the most? Why?

Laura: Barry Ace’s “trinity suite: Bandolier for Niibwa Ndanwendaagan (My Relatives); Bandolier for Manidoo-minising (Manitoulin Island); and Bandolier for Charlie," which was part of Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood. Ace’s work is incredible and I love art and ideas around futurism.

Cara: I love objects that tell great stories. We have two one thousand-year-old skeletons, one which may have been a pituitary giant, both of which have multiple bone breaks that can tell you what an interesting life they must have led in Anglo-Saxon England. We have a calcified rat skin that was used in an experiment at the University of Montreal. We have two beautiful flea traps that were worn around women’s necks in 17th and 18th century which greatly influenced research done at the Science Centre on hormones and entomology in the 1970s. We have the patent model of the first carbon fibre violin and the donor now works at Bombardier. There are too many great stories to pick from!

Here Cara weaves on the Ontario Science Centre's 150-year-old Jacquard Loom! Photo courtesy of Cara van der Laan. 

Many thanks to Laura and Cara for taking time to speak about their experiences and work!

Monday, 19 February 2018

THROUGH DARKNESS AND LIGHT: CURRENT EXHIBITIONS AT THE ART MUSEUM AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

EXHIBITION REVIEWS

BY: SADIE MACDONALD

This week, I decided to take a break from studying and visit the exhibits up for offer at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto. At the moment, there are two major exhibitions: Figures of Sleep and Morning Star. One exhibition, dimly lit and shadowed in quiet darkness, investigates concepts of sleep; the other, located on a brightly-lit upper floor, focuses on illuminating Indigenous artists.

Figures of Sleep is on display at the University of Toronto Art Centre location. Curated by Sarah Robayo Sheridan, this exhibition “considers the cultural anxieties manifest in the popular and critical imagination around the collapsing biological function of sleep under economic, social and technological transformation.” I must say, as a graduate student with an utterly wrecked sleep schedule, the topic of sleep has been a personal concern for me for a while, so I was interested in visiting this show.

When you first walk into the Art Museum, you'll notice that the the gallery has black walls and very little lighting, creating a unique exhibition experience as you explore the space in darkness. This is an interesting and highly appropriate design choice for an exhibit that's all about sleep. This strategy does have its drawbacks, however, as some of the labels are faintly lit. In any case, even if you are able to read them, they will not tell you much about the context of the works on display. 

Insomnia Drawings by Louise Bourgeois. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

Some of the images may not need context, and will be bolstered by the visitor’s own interpretations. Louise Bourgeois’s Insomnia Drawings certainly evoked for me the feelings of an overactive, tired mind struggling to fall asleep. For other works, I was keen to learn more about what I was seeing. On Kawara’s I Got Up series consists of a collection of postcards, written and sent between 1968 to 1979; in this series, Kawara recorded the times he woke up each day as he travelled around the world. I recognized that the postcards on display in this exhibition were collected in Halifax (one even featuring my alma mater!). I wish that more in-gallery context had been provided regarding the artist’s journey and goals, which certainly intrigued me as I examined the postcards.

Dream Catcher by Rebecca Belmore. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

Lack of context aside, the exhibition will make you think as it offers explorations of other themes branching off from the basic topic of sleep. Rebecca Belmore’s Dream Catcher caught me in my tracks. This textile image depicts an Indigenous person sleeping on a concrete sidewalk, and has several details speaking to the urgency of current Indigenous activist movements such as Idle No More.

Figures of Sleep features many works that confront ideas related to sleep, from many different times and places. This exhibition may be all about sleep, but it certainly will not put one to sleep.

Untitled (old woman in bed) by Ron Mueck almost gave me a heart attack. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald

If you want to visit Morning Star, you will have to make a journey to the Jackman Humanities Institute. The exhibition is so called because it “ascends to shine light on presence, visibility and collective Indigenous agency to renounce naïve impressions of (re)conciliation that continue to be discussed throughout much of the settler culture across Turtle Island.” Curated by Jason Baerg and Darryn Doull, Morning Star features the works of established Indigenous artists such as Alex Janvier and Garry Todd as well as contemporary artists like Adrian Stimson. My colleague, Amy Intrator, will write about this exhibition in depth later this week, but I will briefly introduce it here.

ᐁᑳᐃᔹ ᓀᐯᐃᓸ (ēkāwiya nēpēwisi) by Joi T. Arcand. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

Joi T. Arcand
’s neon channel signs capture one’s eye immediately. They are not translated for non-Indigenous comfort of viewing. As such, the illuminated text perfectly encapsulates the exhibition’s themes of “shining a light” on Indigenous agency. The photography of Nadya Kwandibens, which features Indigenous people fearlessly walking the streets of Toronto, likewise challenges settler perceptions. 

One captivating work on display is Bracken Hanuse Corlett’s animated film Ghost Food. There is no dialogue, just a soundtrack of haunting music, but the story of two characters attempting to hunt for food in an urban wasteland offers an intriguing visual journey nonetheless. You can view the video below.


Morning Star was created in partnership with the Jackman Humanities Institute, but the 170 St. George Street location may not have been the most visible space for displaying this exhibit. Housed on the tenth floor of the building, it is only open from 9am to 4 pm from Monday to Friday. Fortunately, Morning Star has a long run, ending later this summer, which does provide more opportunities for seeing it. The Jackman Humanities Institute is also not a typical gallery space; you might have to squeeze past chairs and tables to get a closer glimpse at some of the work on display, which gave me reason to worry about its accessibility. Once you are able to engage with the works on display, the results are worth it.

Though both exhibits have logistical flaws, the works that compose the exhibit are powerful and captivating. Figures of Sleep’s run will end on March 3rd, so I suggest that you see it sooner rather than later. Drop-in tours are offered every Friday at 2pm. Morning Star will run until August 14, 2018.

Friday, 16 February 2018

NEW MUSEUMS IN THE LAST YEAR: A GLOBAL LOOK

MUSINGS ABROAD

BY: KRISTEN MCLAUGHLIN

We may hear a lot about new museums opening in Toronto (like the old city hall turning into a museum, anyone?), yet I find that perhaps we are a bit out of the loop as museum professionals in Canada--especially Eastern Canada, where we tend to focus on the more local--when it comes to museums around the world. As was discussed at length in the Museum Studies Student Association's Women in Leadership panel earlier this month, getting global experience can be vital to our growth as professionals but also as globally aware human beings!

So I decided to make a small article this week listing some of the museums that have opened across this world of ours in 2017 and one to look out for in 2018; be sure to look out for some that will be opening over the coming years!

1. Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, South Africa

An image of the ceiling dome of the new contemporary arts museum. Source.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is not just a landmark for South Africa but for the world. It will be the biggest museum to open on the continent in over a century. The art inside has only been created since the year 2000 from Africa and its diaspora. This is a new cutting edge museum with over nine floors of work; if anyone is headed for Cape Town this will be a must see! 

2. 2017 World Expo, Astana, Kazakhstan


The 2017 World Expo at night. Source.


The world at large is generally familiar with the idea of the world expo: a large gathering of exhibits from around the world demonstrating a variety of cultures, scientific innovations, art, and more that began in 1851. The act is still going strong, with last year's debuting in Kazakhstan in modern buildings. This expo took place between June and September 2017, focused on the question "how do we ensure safe and sustainable access to energy for all while reducing CO2 emissions?". The question of sustainability has been very popular in museum groups in the last year or two, so it is important to look at this world expo to see what was shown. We also know that World Expo buildings frequently outlive the expo itself and take on second or third lives as other types of museums. Let's keep our eye on Kazakhstan to see what they do with these grounds!

PS: Canada did not participate in this world expo.... despite all of my Googling I couldn't find a reason, so any info is appreciated!


3. Louvre Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


It's finally open! Source.

Despite the difficulties this museum has run into--it was originally meant to open in 2012--it finally opened in November of last year. The UAE are well known for eye-catching gimmicks to catch the world's attention, such as the World Islands initiative in Dubai, and this latest iteration of the Louvre may be along a similar vein. However, it may be worth the visit just to see the architecture, meant to imitate sunshine through palm leaves and its collection; it showcases art from the Louvre, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musee d'Orsay, and the Palace of Versailles, as well as a new photography collection. The museum, created through an agreement between the French and UAE governments, is important for future considerations of new international museum creations. 


4. Beit Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon


A new urban cultural centre focused on the civil war. Source.

Beit Beirut (or "the house of Beirut") is a museum and an urban cultural centre focused on the history of Beirut and specifically, the civil war. The original building, also known as the "Barakat building" or the yellow house, is a historic landmark from 1924. The civil war took its toll on the building when Christian militants moved in and took it over. It was sentenced for demolition in 1997 but saved by heritage activitists. The new museum traces the 7000-year history of the city. It has run into some problems: it was supposed to open in 2013 but didn't open until 2016, and then closed again with temporary re-opening in 2017. The significance of this building and its bullet-peppered walls is a symbol of the civil war in Lebanon and what that means for a nation still in turmoil. The museum contains documents, records, and the municipality's archives, all accessible to the public

5. 2018 to Look For: Grand Egyptian Museum (Giza Museum), Giza, Egypt

The facade of the new museum. Source.

This coming year has many exciting museum openings, but one that should be at the heart of the global interest is the Grand Egyptian/Giza Museum in Giza, Egypt. Described as the world's largest archaeological museum, it should exhibit the full Tutanhkamun collection with many pieces displayed for the first time. The museum is within 2 km of the Giza pyramids, making for a great day trip where one can see the pyramids through the glass walls of the museum. It should display over 100,000 artifacts and open in late 2018. Objects on display will be from all over Egypt and will be a place of national pride for Egypt, which has undergone heavy political upheaval in the last several years. It will be interesting to see how this museum, poised between the pyramids and the city of Cairo, will act as a balancing act between the history and the future.



Museums around the world are on an exciting precipice: one of intriguing architecture, global collection sharing, and national importance. As museum professionals it is necessary that we look outside of our own bubble to take note--and visit!--what is happening outside of our country and around the world. 

Thursday, 15 February 2018

FASHION ITEMS

SEW WHAT

BY: JESSICA SVENNINGSON

The MoMA’s exhibit Items: Is Fashion Modern? profiled 111 fashion items from the 20th and 21st centuries believed to have had significant long term impact on the world. Showcasing clothing and accessories, Items explored the
“many relationships between fashion and functionality, culture, aesthetics, politics, labor, identity, economy, and technology.” 
If you missed the exhibit, MoMA has published a catalogue available for purchase.

Items has inspired me to explore 11 fashion items whose histories I am unfamiliar with, and see their place in the world.

1. Denim Jeans

Jeans were created by fabric manufacturer Levi Strauss, who made the thick cotton  denim, and tailor Jacob Davis. When Jacob designed and constructed the first pair of denim jeans by using copper rivets in places pants normally rip and tear (pockets and flies) Levi saw an opportunity for working class Americans. Levi and Jacob became partners and opened a factory in 1873. Jeans have held a strong place in western culture for over 140 years, first as a working class item, then an item of rebellion, and now a high fashion item. Source
Zoot Suit Source


2. Zoot Suit

Zoot suits were popularized by African American jazz musicians in the 1940s, worn as a rebellious statement against the formality of fashion of the time. Unfortunately, materials and tailoring required to create zoot suits were so extravagant and costly that they were banned. Zoot suits were considered unpatriotic and their removal was intended to save raw materials as part of the 1940s war effort. Source


3. Bowler Hat

Bowler hats were created in 1849 by Edward Coke, designed by Thomas and William, with the intention of creating a gentleman’s hat that could be worn by gamekeepers to protect their heads from low-hanging branches while out hunting. It became a part of the London businessmen’s uniform, now standing as a symbol of an upstanding conduct, a person of style, and semi-formal fashion. Source

Coco Chanel, Little Black Dress Source


4. Little Black Dress

The Little Black Dress, LBD, was designed by Coco Chanel in 1926. It made a big splash in American Vogue as a key dress piece of the 1920s, standing as a symbol of practical yet fashionable dress design for the modern woman. The LBD now holds a social position of “effortless elegance”, preventing the wearer from hiding behind any distractions and letting the woman shine through. Source
Persian Riding Shoe Source




5. High Heel

The high heel has a long history, dating back to the Persian Empire. Skilled horsemen attached a wooden peg to the heel of their shoes to better stabilize themselves so they could fight with both hands while riding. This was adapted by Europeans into several forms of heels, such as stacked leather heels for men, and chopins for women in Italy during the Baroque period (a sign of wealth). The invention of the stiletto heel, supported by a steel rod in the core of the heel for weight support, changed the way shoe designers could create a heel. The removed risk of a heel cracking or bending from the weight of the walker meant heels could go as high as the wearer designered. Heels have been worn by both men and women during the 20th century, mostly for fashion, but also as a tool for particular dance styles like Vogueing and Burlesque. Readers can learn more at the Bata Shoe Museum’s Men in Heels exhibit.

Ivory Folding Fan Source

6. Hand Fans

Archaeologists uncovered remnants of hand fans dating back to the 4th century BCE. The presence of fans have appeared in cultures all over the world such as Japan, Russia, Persia, ancient Greece, pre-revolutionary France, and most colonial countries. Their intended practical purpose as a means to stay cool and drive away insects has kept them alive through most of history, including today. Their near-constant presence in fashion has resulted in numerous designs and materials like ivory, bone, feathers, jewels, mica, parchment, paper, leather, silk, lace, and other forms of fabric. In the 17th century, fans were considered high status, similar to exotic gifts and elaborately decorated gloves. Although folding fans were popular in Europe and Japan, rigid non-foldable fans were more common in China. Source

Source

7. Silk and Nylon Stockings

The word “sock” has existed for almost as long as men have been wearing fabric on their feet. The word “stump” used to refer to the bottom part of a man’s leg and ankle, so the material covering that part of the body reflected the body part it was addressing. Before the 1920s, stockings were primarily used for warmth or protection from the elements; however, after women’s hemlines rose in the 1920s, stockings soon became a necessary part of a woman’s fashion wardrobe. Stockings were soon made of rayon and nylon, much like today. The technological invention of nylon revolutionized the status of stockings from one once very high to an ordinary object. Stockings were once very expensive, fragile, and difficult to replace when made of silk. However, once stocking manufacturing used rayon and nylon, stockings became both cheap and more durable than silk, making stockings such an affordable fashion item that they fell from a luxury item to an every day object. Source
Source


8. Turban

Evidence of turban usage dates back to a sculpture from 2350 BCE in Mesopotamia. Turbans have been used throughout several histories around the world for religious, fashionable, and practical purposes, such as cleanliness, social position, religious orientation, method of protection from physical elements, or a sign of respect to others, just to name a few. Turbans are, at their core, draped unstitched cloth used as a head covering, making them one of the most versatile items of clothing for meaning making globally. Source
Romantic Tutu Source


9. Tutu

Before the French Revolution, ballet dancers wore clothing as a reflection of their contemporary audiences. This meant early ballet dancers wore long skirts referred to now as Romantic. As ballet dancers began to dance more on their toes, leading to ballet point, skirts began to rise to show off the leg work, eventually landing on the very stiff Classic tutu style commonly seen today. Source

Classic Tutu Source

10. Backpacks

The creation of what we consider now to be a typical school backpack has only been in existence for approximately 46 years. Prior a school backpack, children would use a belt to strap their books. In the 1960s, school children might put school supplies in a cross body bag, called satchels, more commonly thought of now as shoulder bags. Canvas draw string or square leather bags with buckles could be found for carrying school supplies, but the first backpack with a zipper was created in 1938 by Gerry Outdoors for hikers and mountaineers. JanSport sold the first lightweight nylon backpack in 1967. When students at Washington University began using them to carry school supplies instead of hiking equipment the school communicated the change in use to JanSport who then tailored backpacks to the needs of students, creating what we now consider the modern day backpack. Source

Gerry Outdoors Backpack Source
Garters in action Source


11. Garter belts

Despite the garter belt’s long association with nudity and sexual desire, the intended use of garter belts was to keep one’s stockings up, and not down around the wearer’s ankles. Before the invention of nylon or spandex, stockings were held up with straps called garters. Garter belts, in all forms, were either part of corsets or belts, strapped under shirts and skirts, or tied around the legs, then clipped to the top of the stockings. The tension between the stockings and whatever the garter was secured to kept the stockings up and wrinkle free. Although the use of spandex now has removed the usefulness of garters, their long association with sexual appeal and undressing has kept them alive as a decorative piece in sex culture. Source

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

IN THE BACK RIGHT CORNER

COLLECTIONS CORNER

BY: KATLYN WOODER

This time, for Collections Corner I decided to go literal. I went to five institutions in Toronto: The Onsite Gallery at OCAD, The Art Gallery of Ontario, the University of Toronto’s Art Centre, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Gardiner Museum to see what they put in their back right corner (to find out what are the things that I might overlook when visiting one of these fine establishments.)

I was curious about the corners. When I think of a corner I think of something being stuffed in it. It’s not really a power position for artwork to be placed in. The back corner just highlighted this power position because it is the farthest from the entrance.

The Onsite Gallery (a Contemporary Art Gallery associated with OCAD)

The Sunshine Eaters, January 10 to April 15, 2018
https://www2.ocadu.ca/event/the-sunshine-eaters

Jessica Karuhanga being who are there is no other 2017 (a dual screen video produced with the work of Jessica Karuhanga , Xin Lio, Serene Husni and Aaditya Aggarwal, Joyful Joyful and Ahlam Mohammed).
 
                                                                         Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder

                                                                        Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder


Art Gallery of Ontario (a Large National Art Gallery)

AGO’s Marvin Gelber Print and Drawing Study Centre, containing over EIGHTY THOUSAND prints, drawings and photographs.
http://www.ago.net/marvin-gelber-print-and-drawing-study-centre-overview
http://artmatters.ca/wp/category/prints-and-drawings/
Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder

The actual Artwork in the corner is Summer, 1878 by James Tissot from the Four Seasons

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder.


The University of Toronto Art Centre (a University Gallery Space featuring both ancient and contemporary work)


Figures of Sleep, January 17, 2018 - March 3, 2018
http://artmuseum.utoronto.ca/exhibition/figures-of-sleep/
 

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder.        


The Royal Ontario Museum (Michael Lee-Chin Crystal Entrance) (an Encyclopedic Museum)

Gallery of Korea: Ceramics
https://www.rom.on.ca/en/exhibitions-galleries/galleries/world-cultures/gallery-korea
 

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder.
Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder.

The Gardiner Museum (a Ceramic Museum focusing on objects and art made out of clay)

Mesoamerican objects in the Ancient Americas
https://www.gardinermuseum.on.ca/collection_type/mesoamerica/
On the Right Intellectual Accomplishments of the Classic Maya on the Left and Zapotec 500 BC-AD 800
Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder.
Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder.
Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder.

The Onsite Gallery and U of T’s Art Centre had contemporary art videos in their corners. Both pieces focus on creating a visitor experience through the adoption of new media rather than traditional art practices. While the ROM and Gardiner, both museums, had ceramics (not surprising in a ceramic museum but still) both display exhibits of material culture, and humans' ability to transcend practically to develop aesthetic value. The AGO corner was a practical use of space (NO natural light that would damage the artwork) and presented a sampling of work that is most of the time locked behind the closed doors.

All the corners had something interesting in them, and by concentrating on the corners I spent my time with pieces that I would not ordinarily focus on. Thus I present you all with a challenge: look at what's in the corners. It’s usually something interesting and new, and it is a way of changing up your museum experience.


Many thanks to my Mother for agreeing to a mother-daughter day of visiting museums and gallery spaces in a blizzard! Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

FINDING NEW OPPORTUNITIES IN CLOSED MUSEUMS

HERITAGE MOMENTS

BY: AMY INTRATOR

This December, Torontonians and CBC-lovers from all over the country received some sad news: the small CBC Museum was closing its doors for good. Many Canadians weren’t even aware of this tiny gem of a museum in the CBC headquarters, but many others loved the small museum dedicated to Canadian broadcasting and radio history. The museum housed everything from historic microphones to puppets from beloved Canadian television shows.

Vintage sign from the now-closed CBC Museum. Source.

Museum closures aren’t frequent news. Lately, it seems like Toronto is full of new museums. Last month alone, we received two exciting announcements: the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) will open its doors in May, and City of Toronto staff recommended that Old City hall be converted into a museum. In a time of museum openings and expansions, the closure of smaller museums sometimes goes unnoticed, but what does it mean to lose institutions dedicated to representing pieces of our national heritage? In this edition of Heritage Moments, I will be exploring a couple of the recent museum closures in Canada, and trying to find hope in the sad fate of these institutions.


The CBC Museum (permanently closed on December 22nd, 2017)


The CBC Museum opened its doors in 1994, but the collection was started decades before, as early as the 1960s. The small museum housed important pieces of broadcasting history, but the space was also home to some beloved Canadian characters. The museum included several iconic props from Canadian children’s television shows such as Mr. Dressup’s Tickle Trunk and The Friendly Giant castle set. You may not be familiar with these shows, but many generations grew up with these Canadian classics.

Exterior shot of the former CBC Museum. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.

The museum's closure was announced rather suddenly, but the collection wasn’t left in limbo. The group Ingenium, which oversees three museums including the Canada Science and Technology Museum, will take over the collection. In many ways, it makes sense to house part of the collection in this museum. Visitors of the Canada Science and Technology museum will have the chance to see pieces from the CBC collection alongside other historic technologies. A new home for part of the collection might allow the collection to remain relevant, but breaking up a collection is always risky. If the technology in the collection is separated from the collection's props, sets, and characters, the objects might lose some of their value as icons of Canadian cultural development.

Image of the microphone collection displayed at the CBC Museum. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.


The Museum of Inuit Art (permanently closed on May 29, 2016)


The Museum of Inuit Art was founded in 2007 and remained a small but active museum in Toronto for nearly ten years. The museum filled a gap in the heritage sector by promoting awareness and support for Inuit art. The museum ran workshops organized by Inuit artists, and maintained a large collection of pieces created by Inuit artists.

Image of the now-closed Museum of Inuit Art. Source.

The museum’s closure in 2016 left a significant void in the heritage sector. While museums are beginning to recognize the importance of including Indigenous voices, the Museum of Inuit Art was unparalleled in its dedication to Inuit culture and heritage. The loss of the museum is enormous, as the museum did not just exhibit Inuit art, it also helped visitors engage with Inuit culture and heritage. There is, however, potential for institutions to help fill the void left by the loss of the institution. The Winnipeg Art Gallery recently unveiled its plans to create an Inuit Art Centre, a “world-class cultural landmark that is home to the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art on earth.” The closure of the Museum of Inuit Art means new organizations, like the Inuit Art Centre, are under increased pressure to represent and preserve Inuit art in Canada.

It is hard to find opportunities in the loss of heritage institutions. When a museum closes, the public doesn’t just lose access to the space, they lose access to history, art, and culture. I never made it to the CBC Museum or the Museum of Inuit Art, and I’ll always be left wondering what I missed because no picture will stand in for the experience of visiting those museums. I am hopeful, however, that museums can work collaboratively to carry on the legacy of closed institutions, whether that means assuming ownership of a museum’s collection or taking on the museum’s mission to support under-represented voices in Canadian arts.

Monday, 12 February 2018

UNLOCKING THE DINING ROOM AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART

A MUSE BOUCHE

BY: JENNIFER LEE

The Dining Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, formerly the Members Dining Room, opened to the public for the first time in mid-2017. If you were not aware that the Met had a members-only dining room, then you are not alone: it was notoriously well-hidden, requiring visitors to navigate several extensive galleries on the ground floor and take an elevator from the European Sculpture Galleries to the fourth floor. Members who successfully completed this odyssey through world art were treated to a meal in a quiet dining room whose huge glass windows overlook Central Park.

The restaurant, rechristened the Dining Room at the Met, will now take your money whether you have a membership or not, from 12-2:30 on weekdays, on Friday and Saturday nights, and for Sunday brunch. By all accounts, opening up the restaurant and the resulting press has livened up the dining room considerably.

Was it ridiculous for a twenty-first century public institution to maintain a separate restaurant for its members? Arguably, yes, so opening the restaurant might be taken as more pragmatic than political: a statement for economics, not access. But what’s changed since the restaurant’s inception in 1991 to make a members’ dining room untenable, and what does this move say about the Met and the way we think about museum visitors?

Grilled octopus from the Dining Room menu, now available to any visitor with $21 (plus tax and tip) and a blazer. Source. 
This development comes at an interesting time in the Met’s history; it’s been dogged by deficits as it undergoes a sea change in institutional culture, and recently announced in a spectacularly unpopular move that it would introduce mandatory admissions fees for out-of-town visitors. Previously, admission to the museum was pay-what-you-wish at the door: anyone willing to stand in line could enjoy the Met at whatever price point they felt was appropriate.

It’s important to read the existence of the Members’ Dining Room in this context. Providing a service limited to members only is a good way to convince people to pay for membership when they know that they can get in for free. (Annual membership to the museum currently starts at $100 USD, more or less on par with institutions like the ROM or the AGO but higher than other New York institutions such as the Whitney, MoMA, or the Guggenheim, which all charge for admission.) 

The few other major institutions that maintain exclusive food and drink facilities for members – the British Museum and the V&A among them – work on a free-admission model and are crowded with visitors, so offering a quiet place to sit can help to justify buying a membership to a nominally-free museum. The Met, indeed, continues to maintain a member’s lounge and rooftop bar. However, ending a perk which was underused even by members seems like a natural move for a museum which struggles to stay both relevant and solvent.


The Dining Room at the Met. Does the stunning view save the restaurant’s otherwise humdrum décor? Source. 

The Dining Room is the only one of the Met’s dining options with a designated dress code (smart casual), and the most expensive by far. Brunch, available through a prix fixe menu only, will run you $55, and dinner for two could easily cost several hundred. This is not, of course, astronomical for a meal in New York, but it does raise the question: is this restaurant really so much more accessible than before? How many people are going to eat here who would be unable to afford a museum membership?

Perhaps it’s the optics of exclusivity, rather than the economics, which makes for inaccessibility in this case. The democratic rhetoric of the twenty-first century is that museums are there for everyone to enjoy, and the more exclusive the perks available to – let’s be honest – rich people, the more uneasy we feel about them. This is a problem for institutions which are trying to balance wide public accessibility with the feeling of exclusivity and belonging that drives membership sales.

Millennials, in particular, invest in non-profit membership for completely different reasons to the generations before us: we’re interested in seeing the impact of our money and supporting a cause, while those born before 1980 want VIP treatment.

The primary benefits of aquarium membership, according to millennials and non-millennials. Source.

So opening up the Dining Room makes a statement that this museum is, in fact, for us; it recognizes that young audiences want a different experience at the museum than their parents and grandparents, and that it's possible to love and support a museum without investing in membership. 


Time will tell whether young patrons take to the restaurant, although I suspect that the museum might need to consider a gentle redesign if it wants to attract an Instagram-happy crowd. The Dining Room’s décor is fairly underwhelming: beige walls, beige carpet and rather dowdy wall sconces make it feel more like a mid-1990s hotel lobby, or the Scarborough dim sum restaurants of my youth, than an exclusive Manhattan hotspot. Like an astonishing number of museum restaurants, it is devoid of the very thing patrons have come to see, i.e. art. If it can find the money, the Met might want to take a leaf from the books of art museums like the Guggenheim, the Centre Pompidou, or the new gallery on the block, the National Gallery of Singapore, all of which boast restaurants which are attractions in their own right. 


National Kitchen by Violet Oon, a ridiculously beautiful restaurant serving Singaporean favourites at the National Gallery of Singapore. I mean, can you even. Source.
While older patrons may be content with beige carpet and a good view, the combination of good food and beautiful surroundings are especially important to the 20- and 30-somethings that museums are desperately trying to attract. People visit museums to be surrounded by beauty, and also to take pictures and put them on social media so that other people know how cultured they are, and they visit high-end restaurants for the same reasons. The Met has yet to catch on, but at least they've got good natural light.