Ontario Museum Association Conference
November 2016, Mississauga, Ontario
The final stop in this year’s push to promote the Bank of Canada Museum’s travelling exhibitions was at the Ontario Museum Association (OMA) Conference in Mississauga, Ontario. The event was held at the Novotel, Mississauga, across the street from the appropriately curvaceous Marilyn Monroe Condos towers—the most notable landmark in the area.
I have been to many OMA conferences since I graduated from the OMA Museum Studies program—20 years ago, as a fellow regular attendee who now works for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport pointed out to me. Since the OMA fosters learning, many students from the Sir Sandford Fleming College Museum Management and Curatorship program were invited, as were students graduating from the OMA program.
The Bank of Canada Museum’s kiosk was situated by the front door so in promoting our newest exhibition, Decoding E-Money, we were able to catch delegates both coming and going. But we generated our own stream of traffic by giving out pens stuffed with shredded money. When we explained that the shredded money was made up of $100 bills, we really got visitors’ attention. This raises an interesting point. We are now promoting our latest travelling exhibition, Decoding E-money, which explores how money is becoming increasingly virtual. Most people rarely handle $100 bills and, when handling the pens, visitors reacted with awe at the thought of all that money shredded to pieces. Yet many people don’t think twice about whipping out a card to pay for things that cost a great deal more than $100.
The theme of this year’s conference was building vibrant and engaged communities. This comes as no surprise given that museums are becoming much more interested in the visitor experience. Since the level of funding museums receive is generally related to their attendance figures, many institutions are increasingly under pressure to generate revenue. Millennials have become a primary target market, and there are many competing interests to attract their attention.
While working at the conference, I took the opportunity to attend a presentation by one of the plenary speakers, Frank Vagnone, who has co-authored a provocative book titled “The Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums.” The book has recently become a best seller in the museum community. His radical approach, born out of extensive work and research in the field, has led him to the opinion that many museums have become too professionalized. Such museums place too much emphasis on adhering to best practices in preservation and conservation, have restrictive mandates and are consequently losing ground as places of learning. They lack relevance for young audiences who are attracted to more responsive offerings created through pop-up museums, or supported by crowd sourcing and social media. There are exceptions of course, and Vagnone keeps a running list of global initiatives that capture new and diverse audiences, bring to light previously untold stories, represent minorities and present alternative views of history.
In a spirit of innovation and renewal, it is necessary, although sometimes painful, to challenge the status quo. When the new Bank of Canada Museum opens next summer, it will be quite different from the former Currency Museum. Our primary target market, identified as between 15 and 25 years old, is going to keep us on our toes. Our tasks will include monitoring and evaluating how our interactives are used, and working to stay responsive and relevant in a rapidly changing environment.