“Healthy Museums, Vibrant Communities”

Sundeck in fog

The crowds tanning on the resort sundeck. A good time to stay indoors and attend conference sessions about community outreach.

Driving from Ottawa to Alliston to attend this year’s Ontario Museum Association (OMA) Conference reminded me of what I don’t miss about Toronto: being parked on an eight-lane expressway at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I was somewhat prepared for this and even with the tedious tire-busting construction experience through Newmarket, still managed to roll into the hotel parking lot at the designated hour. Smug with my time-management success, I headed for the conference hall to help Enrica and Louise-Anne, our two overworked reps, assemble the Museum kiosk on the tradeshow floor.

Two women

Louise-Anne Laroche (Project Manager) and Enrica Schwilden (Marketing Manager) on their feet for an eight-hour day at the Museum kiosk.

People and tradeshow booths

Crowded tradeshow floor during a trivia game played with high-tech mobile devices.

People and tradeshow booths

Two dozen museums, suppliers, lighting experts, high-tech display designers, storage experts, art movers and case builders populated the tradeshow floor.

This year’s conference was held at the Nottawasaga Inn Resort and Conference Centre. For those familiar with the GTA’s summer day-trip destinations, that’s an hour or so north of Toronto on the way to Wasaga Beach. As usual, the schedule was jam-packed, so no time for golf. This year’s theme is a popular current in the museum biz these days: the museum’s role in promoting a healthy and happy community. To this end, session topics included ecologically sustainable museum practices, promoting wellness through outreach, development of accessible programming, partnerships between museums and healthcare, moving the museum out into your community and socially responsible museum practices. The keynote speaker this year was Maurice Davies, a museum-sector mover and shaker from the U.K. He’s a museum adviser, consultant and writer just finishing a 25-year stint with the (UK) Museums Association as, most recently, Deputy Director.

People at conference tables

Maurice Davies presents to a full house during his keynote address.

Mr. Davies’ address touched on ways of making a museum more relevant to visitors; to look at the community in which your museum is situated and recognize the needs of the people in that community. Museums have to realize that they too can contribute to people’s well-being while promoting personal connections with history and a sense of place. Davies stresses linking the past with current issues and sees collecting and preservation no longer as ends unto themselves but rather as tools of communication. Museums need to bring objects to life, to go beyond mere display and historical inventory. He wants to bring museums up to the standards of libraries and cinemas in their ability to provide rich, exciting content.

Davies wants museums to matter more; something that involves both recognizing their societal impact and enlarging upon it. With that comes the responsibility to be a good member of society: being part of the solution for problems concerning sustainability, diversity and promoting a fair and just society. These are major, long-term ideas, but wonderful food for thought and inspiration as we consider the new Bank of Canada Museum and how it will fit into Canadians’ ideas of a great museum experience. Take a look at the Happy Museum Project of which Davies is one of the founders.

In the next blog, I’ll chat about some of the OMA’s conference sessions.