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: