Carleton University curatorial students take a critical look at the Museum
Naturally, we host visits from students every week. A major component of our mission is to educate young people about the functions of the Bank, the economy and the history of money. At the end of February, a selection of our staff each gave a presentation to an unusually attentive group of students.
Our visitors were students from the Curatorial Studies Graduate Diploma Program at Ottawa’s Carleton University. This program seeks to provide emerging curators with a clearer understanding of how exhibition development and museum design proceed in real-world scenarios. Actually, one or two of the students were already curators, but most were graduate students of history, archeology or art history.
The students had already visited, among other museums, the Canadian Museum of History and Ingenium (the Canada Science and Technology Museum), both of which have recently undergone enormous re-development projects, providing prime opportunities for students to hear directly from the foot soldiers of exhibition and museum development. So we were flattered when our rebuild was included in this initiative. These visits were organized by guest lecturer Trina Cooper-Bolam, a PHD candidate in the Cultural Mediations Program at Carleton.
A cold circulating at the office had just laid low our Director Ken Ross, so his presentation came live from his home via Skype. Ken spoke about the entire process of developing the new Museum from the perspective of the Bank’s communications strategists and the content developers. This led to an overview of the Museum’s extensive use of digital and physical interactives. Students were very interested in the Museum’s choice of using such an interpretive approach to explain the Bank’s functions and the economy. Because it seeks to make very difficult concepts simple, the Museum is akin both to a science centre and a traditional museum. It’s an interesting specimen to study.
Paul Berry, our Chief Curator, talked about the difficult choices his team had to make about what artifacts to include in our limited exhibition space. With the Museum’s new mandate, many highly informed choices had to be made that split the difference between items critical to the history of money and those that support the economic storyline of each zone. The very practical issues of artifact conservation and display were then dealt with by our dedicated Conservator, Patricia Measures.
However, the most critical points were made by our Graphic Designer Thu Phan when she took the stage to talk about the interpretive and exhibit development process of the whole Museum. It was from Thu that visitors heard how content could be driven as much by design as it was by curation, underlining the paramount importance of involving the full exhibit team in all stages of development. Every component, from design, to writing, to ergonomics, has a powerful effect on all other aspects of exhibition development—it’s a process every participant must understand is a negotiation.
The visit ended with a tour of the Museum and a chance to get personal with the interactive features. Already there has been talk of a greater partnership with this innovative curatorial program and we find that very exciting.
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