Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Opening and Closing Plenary Presenter Preview with Joe Vipond

Joe Vipond has worked as an emergency physician in Calgary for eighteen years. In 2012, he became one of the key organizers for the successful Alberta Coal Phase Out campaign and the subsequent Canadian Coal Phase Out campaign. He currently is involved with The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), the Alberta Wilderness Association, and the CAPE-Alberta Committee, a regional group of physicians, nurses, and other health professionals who successfully negotiated the creation of Alberta Health Services first Office of Sustainability. When not doctoring or trying to change the world, he does his best to be a good husband and dad to his two amazing children, Sadie and Willa.

Please provide a brief overview of your role and the work that your organization does. How do you see your work connecting to the museum world?
Museums have two important connections to climate. First, they are institutions of communication. Through museums we learn. And we desperately need to learn more about the science of climate. It has become the undiscussable topic...who really wants to talk about the possible end of the world, and our role in it? But we desperately need to talk about it. Because by ignoring the subject, we also make it impossible to fix it.
Second, like all other institutions, museums need to rapidly decrease their Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, at least by 2%, some say 6%, per year. These are drastic reductions in a short period of time. Strategic, well organized, economically sound transition plans need to be developed, and fast. As museums have the advantage of being very visible, they may be inspirational models of GHG reduction for other societal institutions.

Why are you interested in participating in the AMA’s 2018 Conference?
The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) is a small, national organization comprised of physician volunteers and a small cadre of employees. Despite our tiny size we have managed to achieve some huge accomplishments: pesticide bans in numerous provinces and cities, a national asbestos ban, an Ontario coal phase out, the Alberta Coal Phase Out, and shortly thereafter the Canadian Coal Phase Out. These will combine to decrease Canada's GHG emissions by about 66 megatons by 2030 (depending on what the electricity generation is replaced with), or about 9% of Canada's total emissions.
What I bring to the AMA’s Conference is the power of advocacy. The simple action of standing up for something is powerful, and can change the inertia of institutions big and small. Combine advocacy with organization and you've got an unbeatable power. We need to all be climate leaders now, and I hope to share my learnings with nascent advocates.

Opening and Closing Plenary Presenter Preview with Cathy Molloy

Cathy Molloy is the Director of Markham Museum. She was born in Toronto and grew up in the Rouge Valley, specifically on the edge of one of its wonderful ravines. Before returning to Markham Museum and becoming its Director in 2008, Cathy worked as a Curator at both the Oshawa Museum and Markham Museum, and was instrumental in raising funds to build the Aurora Cultural Centre. Cathy’s interest in environmental issues goes back to her teen years where she participated in the Boyd Conservation Archaeological Summer Field School, which was the start of a life-long desire to better understand how humans interact with the natural world.

Please provide a brief overview of your role at Markham Museum and the work that your organization does.
The Vision of Markham Museum is to "inspire a life-long curiosity, pride in, and care for, the people, tangible heritage, places, lands and waterways of the City of Markham: past, present and future.” Our mission is to “examine Markham by engaging technologies developed and used by all human cultures to live in the natural world; agriculture and food; material culture; engineering and environmental. We will engage science, industry, history and the arts to understand how Markham became what it is today and what its possible futures could be”.
Markham is, demographically, the most diverse city in Canada. It is vital that the museum connect to the community as a whole. Additionally, protection of the environment is a strategic priority of Markham Council, and many of the city’s sustainability initiatives relate directly to the goals of the Museum.
While the new LEED Gold building that houses Markham Museum was being constructed, an archaeological excavation discovered a wealth of pottery had once been on the land. The land sits on a clay bed of the Rouge Watershed. The study of the pots eventually led to the development of the environmental program direction at Markham Museum.

Why are you interested in participating in the AMA’s 2018 Conference?
The Strategic Plan of Markham Museum is dependent on partnerships with community groups, academic groups, other government agencies, and local businesses. The theme of this Conference is Cultivating Connections, so the discussions are very relevant to our work. As the program direction of Markham Museum is rooted in our natural environment, I am interested in learning about the work that other museums and organizations are doing.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Museums and Environment

One of the questions that repeatedly comes up when museums are asked to think about how they can engage with environmental issues is “our museum is about [insert subject here] - how do we engage in discussions around the environment when it does not apply to us?” When museum professionals look at their institutions through a different lens, however, it becomes obvious that there are many connections to the environment. By highlighting these connections, museums can be agents of social change by engaging their communities in timely discussions around this vitally important topic.

Still not sure how your museum might fit? Consider the following broad examples:

Historic House Museums

§  Historic houses are an opportunity to explore construction techniques, modes of heating, and how lessons from the past can help modern homes be more energy efficient. They also present opportunities to examine the micro-history of the area around the home, and can provide a rich source of information about how human relationships with their environments change over time. This can help confront current questions about our changing climate, environmental degradation, and sustainability.

Topic-Specific Museums

§  Like historic houses, it is not always obvious how topic specific museums can engage proactively with environmental issues but the potential is there. For example, dinosaur museums are rooted in science and can relate the dramatic environmental changes that occurred millions of years ago to similar changes happening in the modern world. Sports Halls of Fame can connect the sports their inductees participate in with the environmental necessities that make these sports possible; for instance, shorter and warmer winters will make snow and ice based sports harder to pursue. Ethnic and immigrant group-specific institutions that interpret the pioneer experience can re-frame their distinct cultural practices as lessons that will help future generations reduce energy consumption and live more sustainably. Even a museum about something as specific as rodeos can engage with contemporary environmental issues by asking different questions.

§  Location Specific or Geographically defined museums

Museums that are based in a geographically-specific location can ask different questions about how their area has changed over time to consider the role of people in that change. Reframing exhibits and interpretation to look at how agriculture, industry, and settlement change the environment encourages people to think about how their daily interactions affect future generations. Historical photographs are a great resource to compare what a place looks like today with how it looked in the past; this approach can also be used to look at how nature reclaims spaces after people stop using them.

No matter how topic-specific a museum, there is a connection to the environment. Museums and other cultural institutions have an important role to play in engaging the public around these issues, as they are a trusted source of information that help promote a culture of inquiry and exploration.

Lauren Wheeler
Program Lead

Monday, 8 January 2018

The Lougheed House's Beltline AlTOURnative Project

The Lougheed House received the 2017 Leadership Award for Engagement for the Beltline AlTOURnative Project. In this post, the project team shares their story of engaging Calgary's Beltline community in a new and different way. 

The Lougheed House is known for traditional Victorian grandeur, and as a sandstone sentinel of the prairie. The House offers interpretive tours that contextualize its historical and current place in the growing city of Calgary throughout its’ 125 years of history. However, there are many additional stories that could be wound through and around this local landmark; stories that are challenging yet necessary to tell.  

The Beltline AlTOURnative Project was an experiment in museum voice. The project involved inviting four local Beltline residents to present an interpretive experience in the House based on their own research and personal perspective. Access to the house, library, and archives was provided as they developed the tour. What they presented was up to them. Postcards were sent in the mail to every Beltline resident, inviting them to come to a free tour given by one of these four participants. The Beltline AlTOURnative Project was unique because it expanded the realm of the House’s history. It allowed the House to share stories that are not traditionally part of the organization’s public offering.

Staff learned how pervasive the institutional qualities of the museum are. We are subject to assumptions and prescribed behaviors because of the popular notions of museums. It was challenging for the participants to overcome their perceptions and to trust in their own right to interpret the space. The Beltline AlTOURnative Project represents the first time that Lougheed House invited individuals with different types of expertise in to interpret its stories. The resulting four experiences were unique gifts to everyone involved. The majority of visitors at the series had never been to Lougheed House; they reported a desire to return, as well as increased interest in exploring Alberta history and their places within it. The experience of exploring history from their own perspective, and their subsequent public communication of their knowledge and experience, was empowering for both guides and visitors who were able to see stories like theirs reflected in the House.

“I’m grateful to have had the time to do this research and to share what I found with the community. Women’s stories have continually been left out of the museums and official histories; which over time left me less than enchanted with the establishment as it not so subtly cut out the contributions of my gender in history. In my lifetime there has been a great call to include women’s accomplishments as young, motivated women look for the hidden role models that came before us. I hope that more museums could open their doors to more research and showcasing of the actions and contributions of women and minorities.” – Camille Betts, Participating Artist

This was truly a community project and it couldn’t have been carried out without the participant guides to whom the Lougheed House is profoundly grateful. Funding for the project was provided by Calgary Arts Development Association’s Small Experiments Grant. Additionally, the House is grateful for the AMA’s Operational Staffing Grant which helped support this project. Finally Lougheed House is indebted to the communities that it serves, who propel us to do our very best in stewarding their grand House.

Amanda Foote and Caroline Loewen
Beltline AlTOURnative Project Team
Lougheed House
For more information about the project visit:  

Thursday, 21 September 2017

A Welcome from The Alberta Legislature

The Alberta Legislature is not a conventional museum. At first glance, its only artifacts seem to be a building and portraiture of long-forgotten lawmakers who maintain an air of solemnity (despite visiting schoolchildren making fun of Speaker Wilson’s prodigious mustache).

It is much more than that, however.

Our mandate is broad: to educate the public about the functions of government, to share the province’s political and social history, and to let Albertans know that the handsome Beaux-Arts building in the river valley isn’t just a landmark or an office for politicians. It belongs to the people of Alberta.

The Legislature lacks a “Friends of the Museum” society. Our Board of Directors is made up of 87 highly-motivated people selected specifically for their capacity to command attention, argue their points, and Get Things Done. Each is answerable to about 40,000 others throughout the province and nearly all of them tend to disagree with each other. Said Board tends to change every 4 years, often subtly, sometimes dramatically. Furthermore, they do not consider themselves a museum board.
The actual museum activities of the Alberta Legislature are conducted by the Visitor Services branch of the Legislative Assembly Office, headed by the Sergeant-at-Arms and answerable to the Speaker of the House. The Legislative Assembly Office itself is the oft-overlooked non-partisan body that provides services to Members of the Legislative Assembly. We keep the gears of the provincial bureaucracy turning smoothly so that our elected legislators can focus on what they’re here for: legislating!

That non-partisan part above is important. They make us swear an oath! We take it very seriously (our boss has a small force of armed men and carries a sword; we’re not crossing him!)
Visitor Services hosts exhibits, develops activities, and delivers programming to the public 362 days per year. Visitation and programming  occur across the entire 53 acres of Treaty 6 Land that make up the Legislature Grounds (where you can try our new Augmented Reality game: Agents of Discovery), as well as the magnificent Legislature Building itself, a dedicated subterranean Education Centre (more pleasant than it sounds!), and a Visitor Centre nestled into the ground floor of the Edmonton Federal Building (the name’s a long story – ask us!). We welcome approximately 224,000 people annually, most of whom are greeted by our ace team of highly skilled Heritage Interpreters (identified by their charm, fetching splashes of Alberta Tartan, and the fact that they’ve probably already approached you. We’re not subtle. Or shy.).  

Just less than 30,000 of those visitors are booked school tours and programs. Our site school, School At The Legislature, offers up to 35 schools a full week of on-site learning every year for students to really dig into the ins and outs of Westminster Parliamentary Democracy. Nearly 100,000 of our visitors come to the Legislature for special events. For instance, we have the second biggest Canada Day celebration in the world (yes, in the world. Ex-pats have Canada Day parties too, you know!). Our summer Fridays @ The Legislature concert series are a hit, and the Building’s superb acoustics delight visitors during our Celebrate the Season festivities (several hundred thousand lights, site-wide holiday music, and a skating rink don’t hurt either).

Within the Visitor Centre, travelling and curated exhibits are hosted in our Borealis Gallery. The Dream We Form By Being Together, draws on Indigenous practices and understandings and is focused on the theme of reconciliation. Next door is our Pehonan Theatre which shows an immersive film called “Our People Our Province.” This space can be transformed for concerts, film screenings, or talks and panels. The Visitor Centre also houses the Agora Interpretive Centre, an interactive museum space that explores themes of tradition, participation and citizenship. Our retail space, Alberta Branded, is also housed in the Visitor Centre and showcases crafts and artwork by Albertan artisans.
Sometimes art, sometimes history (usually a bit of both), the Borealis Gallery is our world-class space that brings quality exhibits to the people of Alberta. From Magna Carta to works from the Group of Seven, there’s always something interesting on display. Our current exhibition,

We here with Visitor Services at the Alberta Legislature sincerely hope that the delegates from the Alberta Museums Association and the Western Museums Association find their conference time to be engaging, thought-provoking, and professionally useful. We hope that it will also provide ample opportunity to experience the many excellent museums and other amazing sites that Edmonton has to offer. And we hope you get the chance to swing by and see what the Alberta Legislature has to offer!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Greetings from the Art Gallery of Alberta

The Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) is a centre of excellence for the visual arts in Western Canada, connecting people, art and ideas. Located in the heart of downtown Edmonton and on Treaty 6 territory, the AGA is focused on the development and presentation of original exhibitions of contemporary and historical art from Alberta, Canada and around the world. Founded in 1924, the Art Gallery of Alberta maintains a collection of over 6,000 objects and is the oldest cultural institution in Alberta. The AGA is the only museum in the province solely dedicated to the exhibition and preservation of art and visual culture.

The AGA’s iconic building is a local landmark and serves as an inspired tribute to the city. The previous building was built in 1969 and designed by Architect Don Bittorf. The building was a shining example of Brutalist Architecture, which is characterized by its use of concrete and strong geometric forms. By the early 2000s, due to out-dated mechanical systems and external envelope, a new building was needed. An international architectural competition was launched in 2005 with design submissions coming in from all over the world. Architect Randall Stout from Los Angeles won the competition with his thoughtful and inspired design. Upon entering the competition, Stout visited Edmonton and was inspired by two key things about the city. The largest source of influence was the Aurora Borealis. The ribbon of metal that runs through the main atrium of the building has been called the “Borealis” as a nod to this influence. The second source of inspiration is Edmonton’s river valley. The ribbon of steel cuts across the grid of the glass in the same way that the river cuts across the rectilinear grid of the city streets and avenues.

The AGA presents a diverse array of visual art from Alberta and around the world. In recent years, the AGA has presented major exhibitions of internationally known artists such as Edgar Degas, M.C. Escher, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol.  The AGA is equally committed to producing large exhibitions of Canadian contemporary artists, which in the past have included Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Chris Cran, Geoffrey Farmer, Alex Janvier, Brian Jungen and Lyndal Osborne. Since 1999, the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art exhibitions have also been a major component of our contemporary program. In 2016, we were proud to present the exhibition, 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., which featured work by this ground-breaking Indigenous artists’ collective one of Canada’s most important early artist alliances. Our ongoing commitment to showcasing art by Indigenous, First Nations and Metis artists will be a highlight of our 2017 and 2018 exhibition programs.

This fall, we will be presenting Turbulent Landings, a component of the 2017 Canadian Biennial that we have co-organized as part of our ongoing partnership with the National Gallery of Canada. This will be the first time that the Canadian Biennial will be presented in a venue outside of Ottawa and in two discrete and concurrent parts. The exhibition at the AGA will feature work by internationally acclaimed artists such as John Akomfrah, Mark Bradford Chris Ofili and Wael Shawky, as well as remarkable Canadian artists that include: Shuvinai Ashoona, Rebecca Belmore, Edward Poitras, Kelly Richardson and Hajra Waheed.

The AGA warmly welcomes all the delegates from the Alberta Museums Association and we hope you enjoy your time in Edmonton.  

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Conference Panel Preview: "Museums UNITE to Improve Communities" with Laura Huerta Migus

Laura Huerta Migus is Executive Director of the Association of Children’s Museums, the world’s largest professional society for the children’s museum field. She previously served as Director of Professional Development and Equity Initiatives at the Association of Science-Technology Centers. In 2016, Laura was named a White House Champion of Change. Laura Huerta Migus will be a panellist at the Closing General Session and Panel: “Museums UNITE to Improve Communities” taking place at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at our upcoming conference.

Can you describe how the Association for Children’s Museums is working to address social issues in your community?
The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) serves as the collective voice and platform for action for the children’s museum sector worldwide. Children’s museums are unique in the museum world in that the universal content focus is on the audience (children and families) rather than on a specific content area or discipline.

This focus lends itself necessarily to taking into consideration the entire social environment the children our members serve in all areas of museum function. Through intensive dialogues with our board and members, as well as attention to the national and international landscapes, ACM has developed a variety of initiatives over the years to support our members taking positive action in their communities on social issues affecting children.

An example of how ACM works to empower our membership in their work on social issues with respect to inclusion and unity is our 90 Days of Action campaign, which just ended in May ( In response to the current anti-immigrant and refugee rhetoric in the United States and around the world, we saw an opportunity to celebrate and amplify the work of children’s museums in serving immigrant and refugee children and families. For 90 days, we implemented a social media campaign sharing case studies and statistics on how children’s museums work in this space, as well as new efforts launched by our member institutions. The campaign garnered a number of media hits, and also served as a platform for individual museums to launch efforts through their own social media channels.  

Another example of how we tackle social issues is through strategic partnerships. Our current work as the administrators of the IMLS Museums for All Initiative – a campaign to encourage museums to offer free or reduced admissions to anyone receiving food assistance subsidies – showcases our membership’s commitment to serving all children and families, regardless of financial resources. Thanks to a successful pilot with the children’s museum community, this effort has now expanded to reach all types of museums. Currently, nearly 200 museums are participating in the campaign and have served more than 630,000 patrons since October 2014.

How have you approached the challenges associated with this important work?

When seeking to empower and encourage museums to take action on social issues, knowledge is the ultimate tool. In each one of the efforts mentioned above, there has been a significant amount of effort dedicated to research on the central issue before taking action. I have found that the biggest challenge to taking action is not knowing what to do, which can sometimes manifest as a fear of “doing the wrong thing.” Regardless of the topic, there are a few central questions that must always be examined:

·         What do we know about the issue?
·         What do we NEED to know about the issue? Who is affected? Who are the players?
·         What can we contribute to the dialogue around the issue?
·         What do we hope to achieve through our action?
·         What’s the risk if we DON’T act?

These questions do not have to be answered perfectly to take action, but there must be strategy that underlies any action for it to be effective for both the museum and society at large. For example, with the 90 Days of Action campaign, I received a number of messages from members asking what, if anything, ACM was going to do in response to the executive orders causing difficulties for some refugees and non-citizens. Rather than jump to issuing a statement or other immediate action, we instead launched a quick survey of our membership to learn more about what their current and / or planned activities were. It became clear that what would be most meaningful to our membership and to the larger world would be to design an action that would confirm and highlight the existing commitment of children’s museums to serving immigrant and refugee families. This resulted in the 90 Days of Action campaign.

Why do you think it is important that museums take on the role of agent of social change?

Museums are critical resources of cultural and social narratives. By nature, they are formed and shaped by current and historical social issues. They are also one of the few “third spaces” where the general public convenes for leisure, learning, and interaction. There are few, if any, other types of institutions that can bring the resources, status, and space to important social issue dialogues. In short, I can’t think of a good reason why a museum wouldn’t be active on social issues. What is critical is shaping the how and the why of a particular museum’s approach.

How do you see the ACM’s work relating to this year’s theme, “UNITE”?

I think the answer to this question is best represented in the ACM’s vision statement, approved in October 2016: A world that honors and respects all children and respects the diverse ways in which they learn. This statement represents the change children’s museums collectively seek to make in the world. It is a bold vision that intentionally and explicitly calls for inclusion and purposeful positive social action, core values of the children’s museum community from its inception.

For more information on the Association of Children’s Museums please visit: