Thursday, 18 June 2015

Demonstrating Resiliency to Maintain Relevancy

By Charleen Davidson, Operations Lead, Alberta Museums Association
At the 2015 Canadian Museums Association Conference: Public engagement… not a trend, but the future, Jack Lohman, CEO of the Royal British Columbia Museum, cautioned delegates in his keynote address that museums must engage with their increasingly diverse communities or risk becoming irrelevant. We must be flexible and adaptable in our efforts to connect with our communities, while ensuring museums continue to strive towards meeting their mandates and missions.  
At the conference, which was filled with innovative, inspiring, and challenging examples of community engagement, it was easy to identify the theme of resiliency weaving throughout the various sessions. Richard Sandell’s Fellows Lecture, Ethical Engagement (Or… ‘Who’s invited to the party and, more importantly, what are we celebrating?), encouraged transparency, responsiveness, mindfulness, and a willingness to nurture the considerable trust the public places in museums. Sandell, Professor at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, England, argued that because museums have a unique capacity to shape ways of seeing and thinking, they need to address current events and educate the public to engage in informed debates.
Similarly, Jasmine Palardy, Director of Programs at Beakerhead, discussed Beakerhead’s focus on inclusiveness and encouraged museums to create space for everyone. Palardy stressed that by learning something new and participating in the event, visitors are transformed from onlookers  to participants, which creates a sense of ownership and pride, and simultaneously creates a more inclusive and sustainable space.
Ensuring accessibility is also crucial to ensuring that museums are welcoming to all visitors. At the Conference, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) discussed their efforts to create a fully accessible facility by forming a committee of community members to help inform the planning stages of the museum. This committee provided feedback to museum personnel throughout the planning and development stages, and brought to their attention accessibility factors that had not been previously considered. Ultimately, this led to the publishing of a Braille Gallery Guide, the addition of Universal Key Pads with tactile controls and voiced instructions, the use of signers from the Deaf community on videos with audio content, and even a re-design of the building’s entrance. According to CMHR representatives at the conference, sharing ownership ultimately helped them develop a much better final product.
There are many ways to help community members become active participants in telling their stories, and it is important to ensure that our spaces are accessible and available. The message is universal: as museums travel along the path towards resiliency, we need to make sure that we do so hand in hand with our communities.  
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Alberta Museums Association INFOrm. 

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