Tuesday, 7 February 2017


Yesterday, the Alberta Museums Association started a Twitter hashtag, #museumsdomore, dedicated to promoting and sharing the important and innovative work being done by museums throughout Alberta and beyond. We strongly believe that museums play a crucial role in contributing to the social, cultural, and educational fabric of our communities.

Spread the word and join our conversation on Twitter! Share the work happening at your institutions, the stories of your communities and your volunteers, and the many reasons why museums matter.

If you’re not on Twitter, or have more to say, we always encourage contributions to this ENGAGE: Museums and Communities blog.

Find us on Twitter at @AlbertaMuseums or contact communications@museums.ab.ca.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Museums @ The Mic: Psychological First Aid

The AMA is pleased to announce the launch of Museums @ the Mic, a five part podcast series focussing on stories of disaster response and recovery. The series will highlight Alberta museums during the flooding of 2013, mental health in disaster situations, and an earthquake response account from a New Zealand museum.

Museums @ the Mic Episode One Now Available: Psychological First Aid
The first episode of Museums @ the Mic, Psychological First Aid, is now available at museums.ab.ca. In the rush to recover and restore damaged objects, the physical and mental toll that emergency response has on those involved is sometimes overlooked. Debbie Grey and Catharine McFee from Alberta Health Services address the concept of Psychological First Aid and the importance of mental health care during and after a disaster. 

For more information on Psychological First Aid, check out the resources below, provided by Alberta Health Services, or visit albertahealthservices.ca. 

Images provided by Alberta Health Services. 

Museums @ the Mic is funded through the Museum Flood Funding Program. As a multi-year initiative supported by Alberta Culture and Tourism, the Program provides assistance to museums affected by the June 2013 floods, and ensures at-risk museums are able to mitigate potential damage in the event of future flooding emergencies. The AMA appreciates the Government of Alberta’s commitment to assisting flood-affected cultural institutions.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Community Visits: Musée de St. Isidore

A wonderful perk of working for the Alberta Museums Association is the opportunity to travel across the province and experience various communities and their regional museums. The site visits we conduct with member institutions allow us to meet people involved in all aspects of museums as staff, volunteers, or board members. Last year, Lauren Wheeler and I were fortunate enough to also meet the community members whose stories and passions are exhibited within the museum walls. At the Musée de St. Isidore, located very close to Peace River, the truly unique history of the township is shown throughout the museum and can be experienced in the attached community complex. At the time of our visit, the museum had not yet opened its doors to the public, but other tenants in the Centre culturel de St. Isidore could already see their lives and work directly reflected in the museum.

The francophone community of St. Isidore was transplanted from Quebec in 1953. The history of that move and the intervening years is interpreted through the artifacts and text panels in the museum. The fight for French language education in Alberta, which was spear-headed by the residents of this hamlet, is a key exhibition in the museum. Its lasting impact is evident in the school board that shares the building with the museum: the Conseil scolaire du Nord-Ouest. Marie Lindsay, a teacher in the district for many years, is one of the driving forces behind the museum. Our excitement over hearing this story encouraged her to take us across to the Centre cultural to meet the current professionals working to maintain the language and heritage for current students.

It speaks to the overwhelming pride of the residents of St. Isidore, and those operating out of the Centre culturel in particular, that before we had made it across to the building, we were introduced to several other people who were brimming with enthusiasm about the new museum.

Another highlight of the museum tour was the weaving exhibit, an artisanal industry in St. Isidore with a long history. We were thrilled to meet with and have a demonstration of the craft by two members of the Tisserandes de St. Isidore, the local weaving guild, another tenant of the Centre and another way in which history and the present day run parallel at the site. The weaving is done by hand using looms and the artisans are continually passing on their skills. We spoke to one weaver who described herself as ‘new to weaving’ despite being twelve years into her weaving education. There are several other groups who use the Centre culturel and each represents a key aspect of the heritage of St. Isidore. The stories of these groups, if not part of the permanent exhibits within the museum, are identified in a planned series of temporary exhibits which will occupy the entrance of the museum.  

The vibrancy of the museum is due in part to the overall vibrancy of the St. Isidore community, but it would not be possible without Marie Lindsay and others who have worked so hard to develop such an inviting space. I left the Musée de St. Isidore feeling that I had a better understanding of how this rich community came to be, and confident that it would continue to grow and share the stories of its people.

Raina Malcolm
Program Lead
Alberta Museums Association   

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Witness Blanket

The Witness Blanket, by Kwagiulth / Salish Artist Carey Newman, is comprised of hundreds of artifacts, each with its own story, from and relating to Canada’s residential schools. The pieces are mounted on cedar panels and are ‘woven’ together to create a blanket of shared memories.

How did a small, rural museum like the Peace River Museum, Archives, and Mackenzie Centre (PRMA) become a host venue for the nationally-acclaimed exhibit The Witness Blanket? It was all due to the collective resourcing of three partners: Sagitawa Friendship Society, Peace River Correctional Centre, and the PRMA. By building on existing relationships and acknowledging the diversity each partner brought to achieving this goal, we were able to accomplish something that just one could not. We began in January 2015, and over the next 18 months prepared to receive ‘the Ancestors’, the Witness Blanket, on June 28, 2016.

Dave Matilpi, Aboriginal Elder, artist and teacher, mentored us at our meetings and through cultural teachings and a workshop he calls My Broken Journey. We learned of his life experiences, including as a residential school student. Most importantly, he shared the optimism he holds today for the healing and reconciliation that began across Canada.

The artist, Carey Newman, requests of each host venue that admission fees be waived to ensure there are no barriers to anyone wishing to view the Blanket. With this in mind, we thought of the Aboriginal inmates at the Peace River Correctional Centre and asked Carey whether two of the thirteen exhibit panels could be installed at the PRCC. The exhibit was a natural complement to I Am A Kind Man, a program Sagitawa delivers to the inmates. It was an opportunity that could not be missed. The artist agreed.

Museum staff researched and created text panels about residential schools in northern Alberta featuring the two residential schools in our immediate area. As staff, we felt it was important to learn the historical context of the residential school system, so that we could better present our visitors with a full opportunity to think about the missing, forgotten, and edited voices and perspectives of this era.

Together, Sagitawa and the PRMA identified key organizations which have influence and opportunity to shift attitudes and understanding about Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations in our regions. Politicians, school personnel, social agencies, Aboriginal Bands and religious leaders were invited to attend an opening reception at Sagitawa Friendship Centre followed by the exhibit viewing at the museum. A sacred Pipe Ceremony, honouring the elements of the Universe, was smoked and shared by all to ensure a strong and successful exhibit. In the ways of local cultural practices, a feast was held with elk and saskatoons on bannock, smoked moose stew, rice pudding with cranberries, and bannock with wild berry jams.

Through the historical memory captured and preserved in the Witness Blanket, artist Carey Newman articulates the need to challenge long held beliefs and perceptions about the residential school system. We have been honoured to engage, along with our visitors, in this national conversation.

Laura Gloor
Peace River Museum, Archives, and Mackenzie Centre

For more information on the Witness Blanket, please visit http://witnessblanket.ca.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Congratulations to Leadership Awards Recipients: Edmonton Heritage Council, Fort Museum of the North-West Mounted Police, Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District

The Alberta Museums Association (AMA) is pleased to present the Edmonton Heritage Council, the Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District, and the Fort Museum of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) with Leadership Awards recognizing their exceptional work in creating value, accessibility, and relevance in their communities. The awards will be presented at the 2016 AMA Conference in Calgary as part of the Awards Ceremony on September 16, 2016.

The AMA Leadership Awards recognize excellence, innovation, and creativity in Alberta’s museum community in three categories: Engagement, Education, and Sustainability. Nominations for the Leadership Awards were adjudicated by the Leadership Awards Committee, comprised of individual members of the AMA. 

The Engagement Award will be presented to the Edmonton Heritage Council in recognition of the Edmonton City as Museum Project (ECAMP). ECAMP treats the city of Edmonton as its museum, interpreting through an interactive blog, podcasts, history tours, and pop-up exhibits. ECAMP pushes the boundaries of a traditional museum by taking a collaborative approach to content creation, engaging with citizens to write the historical narrative of Edmonton, and challenging assumptions about the city. 

Edmonton City as Museum Project Pop-Up Exhibit

The Education Award will be presented to the Fort Museum of the NWMP in recognition of the March of the Red Coats Program. For the past nine years March of the Red Coats has offered an interactive and participatory environment for students, incorporating perspectives from the NWMP and the Blackfoot Nation to help students understand the contemporary relevance of Treaty Seven negotiations, the whisky trade, and the arrival of the NWMP in southern Alberta.

March of the Red Coats

The Sustainability Award will be presented to the Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District, which draws inspiration from its industrial and entrepreneurial past to create a dynamic space that is a model of sustainability. The Historic District uses innovative solutions to build and maintain its long-term sustainability, including the expansion of student and artist in residence programs and the purchase of Plainsman Clay Ltd., the primary supplier of ceramic clays and related products in Western Canada. 

Medalta Clay Industries National Historic District

The AMA Annual Conference A Culture of Sharing: Inquiring Minds, Empowering Museums will take place September 15 – 17, 2016 at the Carriage House Inn, Calgary. For more information, please visit museums.ab.ca

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Hammer - In, Hammer - On!

The volunteers at the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop have invited blacksmiths from around Alberta to join them in a Hammer-In this year during Alberta Open Farm Days August 20 and 21, 2016.

During this special event, spectators can watch blacksmiths showcase their extraordinary talents while they make two benches and help a great cause! One of the benches made during the event will be donated to the community of Fort McMurray and the other will be auctioned during the September Lacombe Culture & Harvest Festival with proceeds going to the Canadian Red Cross.

Volunteers Karl Beller, Jennifer Kirchner, Henrietta Verwey, and summer student Seth Burnard at the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum. Photo credit: Tildy.

 The idea for the Hammer-in came from a blacksmith volunteer, Henrietta Verwey, as a way to bring together the blacksmithing community in Alberta together to help support a great cause.

The Lacombe Blacksmith Shop volunteers are continually working at engaging the local community as well as the blacksmithing community in Alberta through participatory programs and events. In September, they will be hosting an event called Blacksmith Alley which will feature live demos, including horseshoeing, during the Lacombe Culture & Harvest Festival.

For more information on the Hammer-In and the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum please visit lacombetourism.com/heritage-3/blacksmith-shop-museum or contact the Lacombe & District Historical Society at 403.782.3933 or info@lacombemuseum.com.

What: Hammer - In Event
Where: Lacombe Blacksmith Shop, 5020 49 Street, Lacombe AB
When: August 20 and 21, 2016 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Admission: FREE. Donations to the Museum are welcome!

Marie Péron
Executive Director
Lacombe & District Historical Society

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

AMA Conference 2016 Keynote Interview: Ryan Dodge, Digital Engagement Coordinator at the Royal Ontario Museum

As the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)’s Digital Engagement Coordinator, Ryan is focussed on digital content creation and campaign and community management as well as building digital capacity within the institution. Ryan is active in the global museum community and has volunteered with the Canadian Museums Association's Young Canada Works Project, the New Media Consortium's Horizon Report: Museum Edition and the board of ICOM Canada. Ryan is currently a board member of the Virtual Museum of Canada and the Museum Computer Network's part-time Digital Content and Community Manager.

In anticipation of his upcoming keynote and session at AMA Conference 2016, Lisa Making, Director of Exhibits and Communications at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, met with Ryan to discuss digital engagement in museums.

Lisa Making: ROM has taken a unique approach to managing social media by allowing multiple profiles for one organization. Can you share with us some of the strengths of this approach, as well as some of the challenges?

Ryan Dodge:The decision to open up multiple official twitter accounts was not one taken lightly and was in line with an overall strategic direction taken by the museum to organize our collections around Eight Centres of Discovery back in 2013. Before I came into the role in 2012, our @ROMPalaeo and @ROMBiodiversity teams had already started accounts with lively dialogue and engagement. The decision became whether to ask them to close those accounts or to start new ones for the remaining six Centres of Discovery once they were fully launched in 2014. In the end we chose to expand to give our public the opportunity to engage with the areas of the museum that they are most interested in. Our aim here was to allow people to self-select and engage with the content they want – more on that here: https://www.rom.on.ca/en/blog/the-roms-presence-on-social-media.

Some of the challenges include managing multiple accounts, keeping them active and lively but also finding staff who will volunteer to manage the accounts. We hold monthly social media training sessions for staff and volunteers to encourage them to incorporate social media into their day-to-day so it has been less challenging than it seems. If I had to go back I would make the same decision to expand but I would make sure we had proper staff coverage in place. There is an awful lot of capacity building that goes into a successful social media presence and one person cannot do it alone!

LM: Our sharing culture often means people take to social media to post both the good and bad things that happen in their day-to-day lives. This includes happenings during their workday. Should an employer have influence over how staff shares information about the organization on personal social media accounts?

RM: Influence, yes, but employers also need to provide training, support, encouragement. Most importantly they need to trust their staff if they want them to be active on social media!

From the start we have always encouraged our staff and volunteers to use social media to communicate their day-to-day. We never saw social media as a potential problem; rather we looked at it as an opportunity to communicate more effectively with our community. Our Online Content guidelines explain how to produce high impact content for use online, and the Online Engagement Guidelines outline things like dealing with copyright, online harassment, the blurred lines between personal / professional profiles, and your personal brand.

We provide regular training to give our staff and volunteers the knowledge they need to become effective and efficient communicators online. There is also a great deal of trust that enters into this equation. For the most part, staff are paid to handle priceless artifacts or lecture on behalf of the museum. Why don’t we trust them to tweet? 

We now have over 100 staff (more than any other museum in the world) tweeting on a daily basis, sharing everything from behind the scenes shots of collections to answering questions from teachers and classrooms. We’ve even identified specimens via Twitter and Facebook messenger.

LM: For many Alberta museums, the person who manages their social media accounts is the same person who gives tours, develops exhibits, stocks the gift shop shelves, and cleans the bathrooms. What skill (or skills) do you think should be prioritized for these organizations to be successful with social media?

RD: I think the main thing is to realize that social media is an essential part of what it means to run a museum in the 21st century. A good social media presence is as important as turning on the lights. The level of activity will be different for each museum, but being active online makes you relevant. It is essential to connecting with potential visitors and building lifelong advocates for your museum.

I tell my colleagues that I’m not asking them to do more work, I’m asking them to work differently. We live in an age of unprecedented technological change and we have to be aware of it and do our best to be a part of the world we live in. We look at ways that we can fit social media activity into our day-to-day. Everyone has a powerful content creation tool in their pocket these days and eventually, sharing on social media during their day will become second nature; it won’t take away from their regular duties, because it is the responsibility of all staff to help promote what is happening at their museum. So to answer your questions, being a lifelong learner helps, having a willingness to try new things and being flexible is important, and the ability to adapt and learn from your mistakes and successes is imperative.

LM: We all get excited when a photo on Instagram receives hundreds of likes, or a Facebook post has multiple shares. It’s wonderful to know we are engaged with our online visitors. But at the end of the day, for a museum to keep its doors open, attendance is critical. Have you been able to see or track a direct correlation between a successful social media campaign and attendance? Can you recommend any helpful tools to help measure success?

RD: I think it is important to note that measuring success by physical attendance only is outdated in the 21st century and the emphasis it receives needs to change. Physical attendance is only one measure of success but we need to stop focussing on it as THE measure. At the heart of your online presence, the reason that it is so important is that it ensures relevance and it builds long-term relationships with potential visitors and more importantly potential advocates for your museum. One tweet may not lead directly to one ticket sale, but it will lead to greater awareness about your museum. Social media isn’t about the short-term. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Engagement builds relationships, outreach builds awareness, and the best place to do these things is online.

LM: Have you noticed any changes in exhibit design or planning which acknowledge the impact social media has on museum visitors?

RD: The biggest impact is the change in photography policies. Every visitor coming through your door is a content creator and we must do what we can to encourage our visitors to share their experience of visiting our museums as much as possible. Simply placing a hashtag on the title wall of an exhibit or on the web page will let people know that there is a conversation happening online. Our Pompeii exhibition last summer is a great example of this. Photography was allowed for the first time in a special exhibition at the museum, and we also incorporated activation stations that encouraged social sharing so our visitors could create a “buzz” around the exhibition.

Our visitors began sharing their experience and sold the exhibition for us. They created their own content around the exhibition that they shared with their networks. That kind of word of mouth is more valuable than any ads you can produce / pay for.

LM: With the influx of different types of social media platforms how does a museum determine which ones to use?

RD: The important thing to remember is that your social media strategy should be integrated as much as possible with your overall strategy. If you stick to this, then choosing which platforms to deliver on your strategy should be an easy decision. That said, you should always be updating and experimenting and examining new platforms as they pop up to see how they can help you delivery on your strategy. For example, Snapchat isn’t for everyone but it is where a certain demographic (13 - 24 year olds) lives online.

LM: What do you feel are the three biggest mistakes an organization can make when embarking on improving social media engagement?

RD: Scheduling too much, being inauthentic, and posting content created for one platform on all platforms are the three things that make me unfollow, unlike, and tune out an organization online. People know when they see an ad and they tune that out, so scheduling too much promotional content is a no-no these days. Inauthenticity is also a major mistake for museums who are in the business of providing accurate information and real context around collections. Make sure your double check everything that goes out before you hit “tweet”! The last thing I would add is that connecting your Twitter and Facebook accounts is a bad idea, as well as your Instagram to Twitter. Try to create content for each platform; you will see the results in your engagement and data!

LM:  Let’s reverse that now, what are some of your favourite engagement strategies (or accidents) you’ve seen on social media?

RD: One of my favourite things to see from museums is the unexpected connections we can make to collections around larger conversations, news stories and major global events. Many in the industry call this newsjacking but it is a tactic we employ regularly with great success. Here’s an example from the Super Bowl this year:

LM: Younger users are getting savvier at avoiding overly commercial platforms. But those are the platforms many museums are most familiar with. What strategies can we use to better engage younger audiences?

RD: Be fun and conversational, it is called SOCIAL media for a reason. People are so media savvy now they know when they are being marketed to and we see less engagement on our “promotional” posts than we do on a nice image of an exhibit or a joke; people love T. Rex jokes! Think about it like this, we’re all at the same party and if all you do is talk about yourself, people are going to tune you out. Be relevant, conversational and have fun! This tweet reached over 3 million accounts and doesn’t promote an exhibition or program:

LM: What growing trend in social media are you most excited about?

RD: Live video and video in general. The potential to connect with your community through live video has greatly increased in 2016 and most platforms have favoured video posts in their algorithms since 2014. If you’re not making video production a focus this year you should figure out a way to make it happen! They don’t have to be Hollywood productions; most of the time my colleagues and I use a phone and a simple mic to produce live video. Here’s an example that was done on a phone that reached 1.3 million people:

Thank you to Ryan Dodge. We are looking forward to hearing more at his upcoming keynote address and session on Saturday, September 17 at AMA Conference 2016.

Lisa Making
Director of Exhibits and Communications
Royal Tyrrell Museum

To register for AMA Conference 2016 A Culture of Sharing: Inquiring Minds, Empowering Museums, visit the AMA Conference Website or museums.ab.ca

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of INFOrm.