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:

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Conference Panel Preview: "Museums UNITE to Improve Communities" with Dr. Robert R. Janes

Dr. Robert R. Janes has worked in and around museums for over 40 years as an executive, consultant, editor, author, board member, archaeologist, instructor, volunteer, and philanthropist – devoting his career to championing museums as important social institutions that can make a difference in the lives of individuals and their communities. Dr. Robert Janes 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 tell us about the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice and its overarching goals?
The Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice (CMCJ) is a network that mobilizes and supports Canadian museum workers and their organizations in building public awareness, mitigation, and resilience in response to climate change.
In order to do that, the Coalition will:
  1. Help build awareness of the importance of, and capacity for, climate change responses within the museum community;
  2. Help to mobilize museums as participants and activists in public discourse and action on climate change;
  3. Support museums in strengthening public awareness and mitigation of climate change;
  4. And lastly, we want to empower museums to lead by example.
What was your motivation for creating the CMCJ?
There are two personal reasons underlying my interest and concern in climate change, and my commitment to the activist role that museums can assume in addressing this critical issue. The first reason is that I’m a sentient being on planet earth, and I believe that I have a personal responsibility to confront the reality of climate change and try to protect the planet upon which we depend.
The second reason is that I am part of a family – I have parents, brothers and sisters, a spouse, a son, a daughter, grandchildren, cousins, etc. – each one of us is part of the web of life born of a deeper sense of time. With the consequences of climate change mounting daily, I am reminded of the words of ecologist, Joanna Macy: “If the next generation matters to us, and the children born to it do as well, then what about their children, and their children’s children?” It is time for all museum workers to assume their personal agency and take action in the world to address climate change – born of this deeper sense of time.
Climate change is clearly our civilization’s most serious challenge. Last year, 2016, was the hottest year ever measured. The previous record was set in 2015; the one before in 2014. Fifteen of the 16 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century. It is this thinking that led to the formation of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice.
Why did you decide that a coalition of interested individuals would be the best means for creating awareness, mitigation, and resilience around climate change, specifically in museums?
Museums are ready to become involved in the climate change issue, but to do so they must inform themselves of the issues; determine what they might do in response; assemble the necessary resources; and consider how they can collaborate with other museums, government, and environmental organizations. To support museum involvement in promoting climate change awareness, dialogue, and mitigation, a coalition of Canadian museums is required to provide contacts, ideas, projects and some degree of coordination.
Our hope is that the Coalition will serve as a trustworthy broker to facilitate healthy and respectful dialogue among different points of view on issues confronting museums and their communities as they address climate change.
Why is public discourse about climate change an important topic for Alberta’s museums?
Museums are uniquely qualified to contribute to climate change awareness, mitigation, and resilience, as they have several exceptional characteristics:
  • They are expressions of community and locality;
  • They are a bridge between science and culture;
  • They bear witness by assembling evidence based on knowledge and they make things known;
  • They are seed banks of sustainable living practices that have guided our species for millennia;
  • They are some of the most free and creative work environments in the world;
  • They enjoy an unprecedented degree of public trust;
  • They are skilled at making learning accessible, engaging and fun.
  • Museums employ over 24,000 Canadians and contribute $650 million in direct salaries and wages. Museums educate 7.5 million school children annually and receive over 59 million visits per year.
Museums are also highly qualified to contribute to the issue of climate change because they are civil society spaces where substantive issues can be aired, discussed, and acted upon. These unique qualities must now be put to work in combating the increasing challenges of climate change and its impact on Canada and the biosphere.
Museums and galleries must assume a broader sense of stewardship for the world around them. The potential for museum engagement in this critical issue is vast and a support system is now required to enable museums to fulfill their potential. No social institutions have a deeper sense of time than museums, and museums by their very nature are predisposed to exercise their larger view of time as stewards of the biosphere.
How does the Coalition hope to unite museum professionals around this topic?
Presently, we have convened a national Advisory Group of six Coalition members to provide overall governance and share the work. Members of the Advisory Group are Christine Castle (Ontario), Joy Davis (BC), David Jensen (BC), René Rivard (Quebec), Naomi Grattan (Alberta) and myself also representing Alberta.
The Coalition welcomes participation from people who support the goals outlined above and who are employed within Canadian museums and other cultural institutions along with those who work in support of museums in Canada and around the world including, among others, board members, volunteers, consultants, students, scholars, and public servants.

For more information about the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice please the CMCJ blog or follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Keynote Interview: "If Not Here, Where? The Museum as Bridge in Polarized Times"

Tony Butler is Chair and Founder, the Happy Museum Project and Executive Director, Derby Museums, UK. Tony Butler will be presenting the Keynote Address titled “If Not Here, Where? The Museum As Bridge In Polarized Times” at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 21, 2017 at our upcoming conference

Can you describe the Happy Museum Project and how it helps museums address pressing social and environmental issues in new ways?

As Director of Derby Museums, I love looking at Joseph Wright’s painting A Philosopher giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun in Derby Museum. Painted in 1766 at the height of the British Enlightenment, it shows a group of children and adults listening attentively to a learned man explaining the wonders of the planet and the universe. The people in this picture are curious, eager to learn and attentive to the teller. Our museums, inspired by the human instinct to acquire, categorize, and show off objects, help us to make sense of our place in the world.

The Happy Museum Project looks at how the museum sector can respond to the challenge of creating a more sustainable future. It provides a leadership framework for museums to develop a holistic approach to well-being and sustainability. The project re-imagines the museum’s purpose as steward of people, place and planet, supporting institutional and community well-being and resilience in the face of global challenges.

The project has worked with 35 museums in England and Wales to undertake small interventions exploring these ideas. Commissioned projects included: • In Canterbury - A ‘pharmacy’ made of recycled paper dispensing well-being treatments in the museums suggested by local people. • In the Garden Museum, Lambeth - A community run winter cutting garden exploring the ethics of the flower trade. • At the London Transport Museums - A safe space, conversation hub with homeless charity in London. • At Woodhorn Colliery Museum - A comedian in residence exploring how laughter, humour, and comedy can be used in interpreting historic collections.

These museums form a community of practice through which the program creates, tests, and shares practice, fosters peer-learning, and creates spaces for deeper and more innovative thinking. This is all backed by programs of research and advocacy which underpin and share thinking within and beyond the museum sector.

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

As open and public spaces, museums must be mindful of our environment and the need for a more equal society. They should also seek to change perceptions of the world so that people look at their own places differently.

The function of museums as social spaces is significant. With recent trends seeing city space being increasingly transferred to private ownership, museums are an important bulwark against the erosion of the public realm. For many people, a museum visit is not a solitary activity but an opportunity to spend time with family or to meet up with friends. Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre in London, has described the centre as, first and foremost, ‘a place for encounters.’

We want museums to encourage active citizenship; challenging individuals to be more active within civil society (and includes individuals working in museums as well as their communities). Using what they learn from connections within their communities, the work of museums should better reflect current trends and issues which affect people’s daily lives. Active citizenship also relates to awareness and understanding of connectivity across the world, seeking international associations to contextualize local issues (and vice versa).

Museums encourage visitors to be psychologically ‘present’, with attention focussed completely in the here and now, and on the aesthetic qualities of things. Experiencing this kind of involvement is not only enjoyable in itself, but is associated with wider psychological benefits.

How do you think this work fits into our Conference theme or the work of the AMA?

Having read the recommendations from AMA’s sustainability report, many of its principles resonate with Happy Museum thinking. When we began Happy Museum back in 2011 we talked about sustainability as a three-legged stool of Social, Financial and Environmental qualities. The prominence you place into culture and into health and well-being adds two vital, extra legs.

I was especially drawn to the stages of organizational life in the report, which makes them appear like organisms which might evolve, expand, plateau and sometimes die. I think there is a dangerous ‘myth of permanence’ about museums which leads to many not being prepared to be useful or relevant to their communities. A few years ago, Mark Robinson wrote extensively about adaptive resilience, which though not quite Darwinian in scope, suggested that the most resilient organizations were the ones which could adapt their mission and values to external conditions.

The same could be applied to how communities (or countries) adapt to external shocks. The most resilient are the ones that are able to moderate their behaviours through sharing and giving. I’d suggest that in the light of the Brexit vote – the UK is showing all the signs of very ‘unadaptive’ behaviour!

For more information about the Happy Museum Project, please visit:

Tony Butler will present the Opening Keynote If Not Here, Where? The Museums As Bridge in Polarized Times at the Alberta Museums Association / Western Museums Association Joint International Conference UNITE 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta. For more information about Tony's talk or UNITE 2017, please visit

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

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 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 

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.