Friday, 24 November 2017




Stop for a moment and think of Toronto. Which images flitted across your subconscious? Were they different today because you were conscious of the process? Are there specific things you think about every time you conjure the city? Two of the most prevalent images of Toronto that continually pop up for me are these (and I'm certain I'm not alone in this):

Of the gazillion pictures of the Sam the Record Man sign and Honest Ed's, I chose the above images because they remind me of what it was like as a child visiting the city from the eastern suburbs. My family and I weren't so far away, and traffic in the GTA was MUCH better in the 1990s, so we would  pop into Toronto fairly often. One of the best parts of these day trips was the drive home, where my parents would detour through busy streets so we could drive a bit slower and see a bit more of the city before we got back on the highway. These pictures are not far off from what it was like driving by those signs.

Then this happened...

And this:

Those signs were such an integral part of Toronto's history, and made such an impression on people visiting the city for the first time. It wasn't even about the stores themselves for me, though I'm sure it was for many other people. For me it was about the experiences I connected to those signs, partly because the signs are by definition advertisements, and marketing is all about positive associations. 

A few years ago The Atlantic published an article called "Why Good Advertising Works (Even When You Think It Doesn't)" that discussed the subtle ways that advertising influences people over the long run. I really liked this bit:

                                         Successful advertising rarely succeeds through argument
                                         or calls to action. Instead, it creates positive memories and
                                         feelings that influence our behavior over time to encourage
                                         us to buy something at a later date. No one likes to think that
                                         they are easily influenced. In fact, there is plenty of evidence
                                         to suggest that we respond negatively to naked attempts at

We consciously resist people's blatant attempts at telling us how to live our lives. But how are we to curate our lives without outside influences? People who struggle with mental illness know all too well that our brains are constantly searching for connections. Everything is a trigger, and the joy and tragedy lie in distinguishing which we subconsciously favour. Some people are blessed with a healthy balance of good and bad memories, some are extraordinarily blessed with mostly good ones, and some people suffer through an incessant shuffling of the worst moments of their existence. Huge signs like Sam the Record Man and Honest Eds weave themselves into our lives at various points, happy and sad. In a life where we are at once privileged and robbed of real autonomy, we can look at an iconic sign and choose which memories and associations we want to revisit.

Were we gloriously frittering away our youth with friends?

Were we buying music after a long, cold day?

I've written about the allure of nostalgia before, but this is different. This is local history, and how we as citizens and visitors of Toronto conceptualize and define a location that is always changing. There is indeed a market for pointless nostalgia, but people genuinely cared about preserving both of those signs as part of our shared cultural heritage. Ryerson has plans to mount the Sam the Record Man sign near Yonge and Dundas again, and there are plans to move the Honest Ed's sign to the Victoria Street entrance of the Ed Mirvish Theatre. 

Watching our city evolve so rapidly brings to the surface our underlying unease about change and our own mortality. Those signs were seen as permanent fixtures of Toronto, so how should we then define a city that changes what is part of its core essence? Witnessing the end of an era is scary because it means that we have crossed over from one era to the next, and that we are getting older. But if we move forward with an eye on the past, we have the opportunity to change our perspective in exciting ways. 

I'll bid you farewell with a poignant quote from The Birth House by Canadian author Ami McKay, "...if you don't talk to your ghosts from time to time, they'll make you crazy." 


Hollis, Nigel. "Why Good Advertising Works (Even When You Think It Doesn't)." The Atlantic, August 31, 2011. works-even-when-you-think-it-doesnt/244252/.

McKay, Ami. The Birth House. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2006.

Thursday, 23 November 2017




I'll warn you: if you clicked on this article hoping to find out the absolute truth of who assassinated President John F. Kennedy (and why), you'll be sorely disappointed. I'm not writing this edition of Museum Mysteries with the intention of telling you everything, since I don't actually have the answers. Rather, I'm going to examine why we're morbidly obsessed with the Kennedy assassination and why I think we'll never let it rest.

On November 22, 1963, JFK was shot while riding in a presidential motorcade at Dealey Plaza, outside what was then the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas. He was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead that same afternoon.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy sits next to his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, in the presidential motorcade on November 22, 1963. Source.
Just last month, the release of documents from the U.S. National Archives reignited an interest that's been burning steadily since the assassination. It's been 54 years since that historic day in Dallas - yet many are still unsatisfied with the official conclusions of the Warren Commission Report:
  • That Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President Kennedy;
  • That he acted alone in doing so;
  • And that Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner, also acted alone when he killed Oswald a mere 48 hours later. 
Nevertheless, Oswald denied having committed the murder and claimed he was a "patsy", fuelling conspiracy. He was killed so soon after Kennedy's death that he could neither be questioned in depth nor testify at a trial. Theories quickly emerged that Jack Ruby had been hired to "silence" him.

Truth buried with him: the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald only two days after the Kennedy assassination has helped perpetuate mystery, intrigue, and conspiracy. Source.
So if the 888-page report still doesn't convince legions of conspiracy theorists or even some casual followers of the case, what evidence will ultimately prove the truth, whatever that may be? And why does the obsession with countless conspiracy theories live on? 

Personally, I think it's because so many aspects of the assassination can be picked apart. Some details don't seem to line up, and unanswered questions persist. From an FBI cover-up, to a link between Oswald and the CIA, to possible mob involvement, to possible Russian involvement ... the proliferation of theories is so cumbersome that proving or disproving any one story (whether it's the "official" narrative or one of the conspiracies) becomes very difficult. Even attempting to narrow my own topic for this post was nearly impossible! 

Through Kennedy-related collections alone, we can observe a morbid fascination with the assassination that goes beyond a search for direct conclusions and lies instead with a feeling of awe. 

Recently, auction houses have sold artifacts of Lee Harvey Oswald's, including his wedding ring (purchased by the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in 2015) and a toe tag removed from his body at the morgue, with a lock of his hair attached (it sold for $56,000 this month).

Why do we seek these objects out? The Sixth Floor Museum's curator Nicola Longford rationalizes that owning Oswald's ring - and learning that he left it on his wife's nightstand with $170 on the morning of the assassination - helps enlighten us on his background and possible motives. These artifacts provide a nuanced understanding from a micro-historical perspective, but they don't offer concrete answers. Yet, we're still obsessed with viewing and collecting such fabled items.

The Historic Auto Attractions museum has the 1962 Ford Ambulance that transported Oswald to Parkland Memorial Hospital, the same place where JFK had been taken just two days earlier. Do artifacts like these have a dark glamour about them that captivates visitors? Source.
Take Historic Auto Attractions, for instance. This Illinois museum has a Kennedy collection including upholstery from Kennedy's limousine, reportedly stained with his blood; Jack Ruby's jacket, hat and shoes he was wearing when he shot Oswald; and the window adjacent to the sniper's nest vantage point on the sixth floor. These artifacts are darkly captivating in the sense that viewing them transports us back in time to the horrific event - but what do they tell us?

Similarly, the Sixth Floor Museum has set up a Dealey Plaza EarthCam at the exact sixth floor window of the building where the sniper's nest was located. While I could likely write a whole other post discussing the ethics of such a chilling installation, I'll instead inquire as to what our interest in re-imagining the event using visual prompts says about us. Do we linger on this macabre narrative because of the mystery attached to it? Would our fascination diminish if all the Kennedy conspiracy theories were concretely debunked?

November 22, 2017 view of Dealey Plaza looking down from the sixth floor window of the former Texas School Book Depository. Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot President Kennedy from this window; the cars in the lanes above the trees to the right of the image are on the site of the assassination. Source.
So how do we handle historical narratives that are steeped in controversy? As the Sixth Floor Museum is located on the exact floor of the building from which Oswald was said to have fired the shot(s), they operate with a daunting challenge in front of them: overcoming sensationalism in favour of responsible interpretation. How do you retell a history that is so convoluted that it's hard to condense into a cohesive narrative? 

Much like the objects that enthrall people but don't always offer factual clarity, the museum doesn't necessarily need to provide answers. However, its staff have the painstaking responsibility to distill excessive information into exhibitions that provide the public with a thoughtful approach to a contested history.

Recreation of the sniper's nest at the Sixth Floor Museum (formerly the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository) in Dallas, TX. Photo courtesy of Google Maps. 
Even if we do receive some shocking new information from the still-unreleased files, I doubt the lid will be closed on the Kennedy mystery any time soon. There is too much dissent as to what happened, and too many skeptics who place the numerous and sometimes contradictory pieces of evidence under scrutiny. Many museum visitors approach the topic of the infamous Kennedy assassination with existing biases, and in the case that they're learning about it for the first time, the information overload is enough to confuse even the most lucid thinkers.

If we somehow learned the complete and unadulterated truth about the Kennedy assassination tomorrow, with tangible evidence to support each detail ... how many of us would believe it? 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017




Welcome to the December edition of What's Happening Wednesdays! As snowflakes begin to flutter and chilly weather sneaks its way into the forecast, holiday preparations in Toronto are in full swing! I personally think it’s never too early to start planning for the most wonderful time of the year and I am so excited to spend the holidays in the city. Here's a selection of festive-inspired events, from markets to exhibitions, to celebrate the end of a very busy semester!

A Roaring Twenties Christmas at the Spadina House Museum


This holiday season, the Spadina House Museum is hosting 20s era-inspired guided Christmas tours! Experience the holidays through the memories of the Austin family grandchildren and see the historic house fully decked in festive décor. The tour includes Christmas treats from original family recipes and traditional mulled cider.

This event is presented as part of the Toronto History Museums Holiday Programming.

When: November 21, 2017 - January 7, 2018
Every Tuesday - Friday, 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Every Saturday & Sunday, 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm
(Museum Closed on Mondays)

Where: Spadina Museum, 285 Spadina Rd

Cost: Child: $5.75, Adult: $8.85, Youth: $7.08,  Senior: $7.08

12 Trees: Let There Be Light Exhibition at the Gardiner Museum


Since 1990, the The Gardiner Museum has reinterpreted the modern Christmas tree through its annual exhibition, 12 TreesThe theme of this year’s exhibition is Let There Be Light. Curated by Canadian writer and artist Douglas Coupland and Vice President of Public Art Management Ben Mills, it captures how light is used as a symbol of hope by many cultures during the holiday season. Some of the installations include a disco ball Christmas tree and a tree made up of illuminated blocks!

The featured 12 Trees artists are: Evan Biddell, Julia Callon, Connor Crawford, Christine Dewancker and Katherine Strang, Amit Kehar and Kanika Gupta, Alex McLeod, Polymetis, Jon Sasaki, Jordan Soderberg Mills, David Trautrimas, Julia White, and Vivian Wong.

In addition to the twelve artist installations, there will be a 42-foot white spruce bedazzled in neon lights on the Gardiner's front plaza. The tree is designed by the Presenting Sponsor, Nordstrom, and donated by Ontario Wood and Forests Ontario.

When: November 17, 2017 – January 7, 2018; 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Where: The Gardiner Museum of Ceramics, 111 Queens Park, Toronto

Cost: 12 Trees: Let There Be Light is included in general Museum Admission : $15 Adults, $9 Students, $11 Seniors, Members free. The museum is half price admission every Friday, and FREE on Tuesdays for post-secondary students with a valid photo ID.

Swedish Christmas Fair

There are always a multitude of Christmas fairs to enjoy in Toronto during the holidays. A special one to check out this year is the Swedish Christmas Fair. The fair is a two-day extravaganza where you can experience all the charming traditions of a Swedish Christmas. Listen to choirs singing carols at the Lucia Pageant, learn about Sami culture, folk dance, and sample Scandinavian food, such as 'risgrynsgröt', a rice porridge that's eaten with 'hallonsylt' (raspberry jam) and glögg, a special Swedish sweet mulled wine. This is also the perfect opportunity to pick up unique, specially imported gifts such as Swedish décor and textiles.

When: Saturday, November 25, 11am–5pm and Sunday, November 26, 11am–4pm

Where:  Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto

Cost: Free

Nazar by Turkwaz at the Aga Khan Museum


Experience a beautiful concert at the Aga Khan Museum that unifies a myriad of cultures. This concert series features Turkwaz, a group of four vocalists, Maryem Tollar, Brenna MacCrimmon, Sophia Grigoriadis, and Jayne Brown, who take inspiration from Arabic, Balkan, Macedonian, Turkish, and Albanian folk songs. The quartet is joined by four guest musicians, Demetri Petsalakis (oud), Naghmeh Farahmand (percussion), Ernie Tollar (sax, flutes) and Andrew Downing (cello).

The concert is linked to the museum’s contemporary art show HERE (which runs from July 22nd 2017 to January 7th 2018).  The exhibition reflects the complexity and multifaceted ideas of Canadian identity.

When: Saturday, December 2nd, 8pm

Where: 77 Wynford Drive, located one light north of Eglinton off Don Mills Road.

Cost: $40, $36 for members. You can purchase tickets here. This event includes same-day Museum admission.

Create Miniature Scenes in Glass Globes at the Toronto Botanical Garden


The Toronto Botanical Garden is a beautiful place to explore year-round. This December, visit the gardens in Don Valley Ravine and discover a new skill as well! On Saturday, December 2nd, learn how to design miniature Christmas scenes inside a glass globe. Taught by Gabriela Delworth, a lifestyle Blogger, DIY author and crafts industry designer, these globes will make the perfect ornament for holiday decorations or unique gift for a loved one. All materials are included in the cost!

When: Saturday, December 2, 2017, 10:00 AM – 12:30 PM

Where: Toronto Botanical Garden, 777 Lawrence Avenue East, Toronto, Ontario

Cost: Public $48, Members $40. You can purchase tickets online here

Celebrating Hanukkah 2017 with Light Up the Night 


This year, Hanukkah begins on Tuesday, December 12th and ends on the evening of Wednesday, December 20th. On its first night, attend a Menorah Lighting at Mel Lastman Square, hosted by the Jewish Russian Community Centre of Toronto. Festivities include a fire show, live music, hot latkes, donuts, Chanukah Gelt (chocolate coins), a dignitaries greeting and a giant menorah lighting. For more information, checkout Public Menorah Lighting.  

When: Tuesday, December 12th, 6pm

Where: Mel Lastman Square, 5100 Yonge St.

Cost: Free!

Hot Docs Free Screenings of Holiday Classics

One of my favourite holiday movies, White Christmas Source.

One of my favourite holiday traditions is to curl up with a hot chocolate and watch some of my most-loved seasonal films. This year, I'm switching it up by catching the classics on the big screen! Hot Docs is showcasing free screenings of iconic holiday movies, such as A Christmas Story, Love Actually, and National Lampoon’s Christmas. The first of the free screenings is my all time favourite holiday movie, Michael Curtiz’s White Christmas. I watch this timeless musical every year at home, so it will be a treat to see it in a cinema.

When: White Christmas plays on Saturday, December 16th, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM

The rest of the classics play between December 17th – 24th at various times. Click here for the calendar listing of showings

Where: Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, 506 Bloor Street West, Toronto

Cost: Free! Hot Docs will be accepting donations to The Stop (dried beans, rice or monetary donation).

Members: tickets are available for pick up at the box office and online now. Tickets for non-members available for pick up at the cinema box office beginning December 3 at 1 p.m. Maximum of two tickets per person. A limited number of same day tickets will be available.

Pick up a Christmas Tree at the Distillery District Christmas Market 

A Torontonian's holiday to-do list is simply not complete without checking out the Christmas Market at the Distillery District. This year, start a new tradition at the market and cut down your own fresh tree! Forests Ontario will sell trees at the market during the first two weekends in December (Friday December 1st - Sunday December 3rd, and Friday December 8th - Sunday December 10th).
For every tree that’s purchased and cut at the Toronto Christmas Market, a new tree will be planted. You'll also get one free entry into the market and a locally crafted reindeer ornament to decorate your new tree! For more information, visit

When: Dates to get a Tree: Friday, December 1, 2017, 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Saturday, December 2, 2017, 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM, Sunday, December 3, 2017, 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM Friday, December 8, 2017, 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Saturday, December 9, 2017 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM, Sunday, December 10, 2017 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM

The Christmas Market runs from Thursday, November 16 - Saturday December 23, 2017

Where: Distillery District, 55 Mill St Rd, Toronto, ON.

Cost: The Toronto Christmas Market charges a $6 admission fee on weekends, starting at 5pm on Fridays. You can buy tickets online in advance here .

Jane Austen’s Birthday Ball

To commemorate Jane Austen's 242nd birthday in December, The Jane Austen Dancing Group is hosting a Regency-era ball! The elegant ball will be as authentic as possible, with live music, historical refreshments, door prizes and toasts to the King!

The Group is offering a pre-ball dance workshop, clothing and hair makeover for those lacking nineteenth century attire and dance skills. No partner or dance experience needed, but the pre-ball basics workshop is a prerequisite for those new to English Country Dancing. The workshop is designed for all skill levels. For more details, registration forms and to buy tickets, visit the Jane Austen Dancing website .

When: Saturday, December 16, 2017, Ball prep session: 1:00  – 5:00 PM, Ball: 6:30 - 9:00 PM

Where: Afternoon (1:00 -5:00): Clothing and hair session, dance workshop: Trinity St Paul Centre, 427 Bloor St W one block west of Spadina subway.

Evening (6:30 – 9:00) : Ball with live music and refreshments: Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Ave in Yorkville

Cost: Ball package (includes both afternoon workshops, ball and refreshments): $55 / $45 students and seniors. Ball-only tickets for experienced English or Scottish Country Dancers (available only by prior arrangement): $35 / $30 You can purchase tickets here. Payment can be made either by cheque or electronic transfer.

New Years in the 6ix
The year is drawing to a close, and there is certainly no shortage of New Year's Eve parties as Toronto prepares to ring in 2018! Here are two cool NYE bashes to check out if you're downtown:

ROM New Year's Eve


will be extra chic this year, inspired by the glamorous Christian Dior exhibit (running from November 25, 2017 to March 18, 2018). Guests have the option to enjoy a three-course gourmet meal, wine service with dinner, and a complimentary welcome cocktail, as well as early entry at 7:00 p.m., exclusive cash bar service in c5 all night long and exclusive access to Christian Dior from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. The entertainment includes performances by the St. Royals and DJ Matthew Romeo.

#ROMNYE also includes a Christian Dior-inspired photo booth, party favours, hors d’oeuvre, complimentary sparkling wine toast at midnight and complimentary coat check.

When: Sunday, December 31st, 2017, 9:00 PM – 2:00 AM Christian Dior exhibition access from 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.

Where: ROM, 100 Queen's Park, Toronto

Cost: Party only: Early bird tickets are $90 for General Public. Members receive a 10% discount. Regular Tickets are $100
VIP Dinner and Party: $250 for General Public. Members receive a 10% discount.

#ROMNYE tickets must be purchased in advance online at; there will be no tickets available at the door.  #ROMNYE is a specially ticketed event for adults 19+.

Dwayne Gretzky Infinity Ball: New Year's 2018


Ring in the new year with amazing musical performances and art installations of mirrors and diamonds at the Dwayne Gretzky Infinity Ball! Dwayne Grtezky is “a super group party band”, or a collective of Toronto musicians that remixes contemporary and classic music. Some of the artists featured are lighting designer and creative director Matt Mansion and media artist Karl Skene.

The Enercare Centre will be transformed into a large reflective dance floor for guests to waltz the night away. There will be plenty of food, drinks and special 'photo opps' to celebrate 2018. Head to for more information.

When: December 31, 2017, Doors open at: 9PM

Where: Enercare Centre @ Exhibition Place, 100 Princes' Blvd #1, Toronto

Cost: $75. You can purchase tickets online here.

With the stunning 100 ft tree finally revealed in the Eaton Centre and the opening of the Toronto Christmas Market at the Distillery District, Toronto is truly in the holiday spirit! I hope you enjoy the festive events in the city along with all the light, warmth and hope that this season brings. Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday with family and friends. See you in 2018!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017




We all have our own strategies and preferences for touring museums, but if someone came up to you and said they had the "BEST" way to tour a museum, would you take them seriously? Would you be willing to step out of your comfortable traditions to try something different?

When the statement comes from CEO of Museum Hack, Nick Gray, I personally am willing to give it a try and see what we may learn for museum practice.

The Strategy: 

Gray outlines his strategy in the following video:

The four steps:
  1. Get a map
  2. Walk the entire museum floor plan and do not stop! Notice things that interest you but don't read the text. Gray warns you are going to feel like you are missing things, but not to worry! You will come back. 
  3. Take a break. Decompress and build a plan of areas you want to visit when you re-enter. 
  4.  Go back and explore the museum. Spend some time with your favourite objects and look closely. 
But don't simply take it from me! Watch the video for Gray's comical delivery and best explanation.

The Night Before:

I've chosen a museum I have never visited before, the Textile Museum of Canada (TMC). I just watched Gray's video and I am mentally preparing myself. Honestly, I have never been more anxious about a trip to a museum.

Well said, Luke. #badfeelingaboutthis Source.

I am, as I expect many museum-goers are, very set in my own ways. Depending on the visit, I typically wish to see the entire museum start to finish, reading as much text as I can. Unless it's a large museum, I usually don't pick out beforehand the galleries that I wish to see or ignore. I expect walking the entire floor plan will make me worried about the time I am losing.

Upon re-entry, Gray says to explore the museum at your own pace and spend time closely with the objects you like. Will I feel stressed if I can't see it all, working the museum in this fashion? Or will the touted benefits of less fatigue, better retention, and memorable experiences make this an enjoyable strategy?

The Visit:

At the front desk I was unable to receive a map of the space, but I was given two rack cards, one for each exhibition currently on display. I started on the third floor and made my way through the exhibition galleries without stopping, noting objects and areas I found intriguing. After my quick walk-around I found a chair to sit on and decompress, as the TMC does not have a cafe. I wrote on the back of my cards the areas I wanted to visit or avoid upon re-entry. 

My tiny scribbles on the back of the TMC exhibition materials noting my plans for re-entry. Photo courtesy of Emily Welsh.
I made my way back to the third floor and started with the exhibition Diligence and Elegance: The Nature of Japanese Textiles. On my initial walk through I was enthralled by the designs of the kimonos and the variations in design. I also caught glimpse of the word 'indigo' in regards to colour dyeing and I knew I had to come back to learn more about the technique. Making my way through the space I tried to spend time closely looking at the objects I found most intriguing, reading text only when I had a questions I wanted to answer, when I wanted to learn more, or when a title caught my interest. 

Spending more time with objects than I normally would, I found the experience had quite the effect on me. Whether it was the nature of the material culture or the attention I was giving to the objects I will never know, but I felt a strong urge to touch the objects. I wanted to lift the edges of the jacket and see the pieces of the scene hiding beneath. I wanted to feel the threads of the kimono to understand how the weaving created the intricate black and white floral design. I wanted to hold the cloth made from paper to better understand how it might feel.

My favourite formal kimono on display in Diligence and Elegance: The Nature of Japanese Textiles. I spent a long period of time examining the feathers of the birds and how they wrapped around the piece. Photo courtesy of Emily Welsh.

Down on the second floor, the objects in the exhibition Tied, Dyed and Woven: Ikat Textiles from Latin American didn't appeal to me on my initial walk through, save for one object which reminded me of a blanket we have at home. Thus I decided to limit my time in this space.

Instead I planned to focus on the education gallery, FibreSpace, located on this floor. Here I was able to learn about weaving through the interpretive panels and usable objects provided for visitors. I weaved with the TMC's floor loom, learned about the terminology and technique, and strengthened my understanding of dyeing on display in the text and objects of the current exhibitions. 

I might have become obsessed with weaving after using the TMC's floor loom in FibreSpace. Photo courtesy of Emily Welsh.
Leaving the museum, I felt more refreshed and satisfied with my visit than I have had in a while. I didn't feel upset that I hadn't seen and done it all because I had made cognizant decisions about what interested me and what did not. I wasn't exhausted because I limited the amount of text I read and the objects I looked at. I remembered more concepts and had more fun after using this touring strategy. During my visit,  I felt comfortable in the space because I had taken some time to familiarize myself before diving into the content. Although this test felt successful, the TMC is quite small and the initial walk through took less than five minutes. I'm not sure how the strategy would scale to larger, busier museums but I would be interested in finding out.

Applications for Museum Practice:
  1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable -  we tend to get set in our ways because we know how they work and what the end product will be. Doing something new in our museum programs and exhibitions is going to cause anxiety and stress but we will never know if something will be better if we stick with what is safe. 
  2. Help your visitors fight fatigue and have fun - find ways to encourage visitors to focus on what is interesting to them instead of what they think the museum wants them to learn. Provide opportunities for visitors to spend time and have fun with objects. As Gray mentions in a past Tedx Talk, you need to entertain visitors before you can educate them.
  3. Structure text to support visitors, not to overwhelm them - try to anticipate your visitors' questions. Our interpretive plans insist we have our own educational agendas but visitors are their own agents with their own thoughts and perspectives. What information do you think they will be interested in? Has a museum label ever had subheadings to allow visitors to target their reading to what really matters?
This is my final post for Beyond Tradition. It has been an honour and pleasure to support the creation of a new column and contribute to its inaugural posts. I hope this column will remain an area for authors and readers to push the boundaries of museum practice and find the next great thing for museums of all kinds.

Monday, 20 November 2017




Last year I visited Artscape Youngplace for the exhibition Yonder. Recently I returned to the centre to see the current shows on display: Soft: transformative queer love and care; Katrina Jurjans: for a moment it all comes together (and you’re the only one); Staring Back at the Sun: Video Art from Israel, 1970-2012; and Fermenting Feminism. Many of the exhibitions explore the intersections between social action and intimate relationships, and offer unusual sensory and emotional experiences for visitors.

Information on the exhibitions currently on display at Artscape Youngplace. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

What I like about the exhibitions at Artscape Youngplace is the way the artists and curators use the building’s features to their advantage. Exhibitions take over spaces that are not conducive to traditional art displays, including the hallways and stairwells of the building. Installations by Josée Pedneault and artist team Maggie Groat and Jimmy Limit feature vinyl wall decals wrapped into corners and plastered over the stairwell windows.

A component of Josée Pedneault's installation envisioning an imaginary island. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald. 

The second floor hallway is dedicated to Soft, an exhibition by Morgan Sears-Williams that displays photos of nightlife in queer spaces.* The hallway lends itself to unusual spacing of the works, a feature which is further embraced in the non-traditional displays; one panel is a long paper banner that trails on the floor. These design choices highlight the exhibition’s themes of gentleness and makeshift spaces.

One wall section of Soft. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

Sears-Williams explores the transformative nature of love in queer spaces and relationships. Past work by Sears-Williams has focused on trauma experienced by queer communities, but this exhibition branches off those ideas to examine the concept of queer people finding comfort and strength in each other.

In addition to the documentary photographs, Sears-Williams created an installation with old telephones. Visitors can hold the phone to their ear and hear recordings of interviews the curator conducted with queer people they know. The effect is that of listening in on an intimate conversation. One telephone plays a recording of Sears-Williams speaking to their partner Marie. The two have a discussion on how to dismantle oppression in their own thoughts. They also note how exhausting it can be for queer identities to be constantly subject to politicization. As Sears-Williams says, sometimes the most transformative and subversive part about queer identities is just about love: “I’m just so in love with you,” and that love is what is “keeping ourselves alive.”

The wall display in Soft with a silent telephone. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

This exhibition balances love and positivity with exclusive politics and conscious critique. One phone in the installation is silent; are there some voices we are not hearing? Sears-Williams and the people they interview grapple with the concept of oppression those in the queer community may be complicit in perpetuating. Soft is a quiet celebration of transformative queer love, but is not uncritical when exploring the parameters of that transformative quality.

Political critique and artistic validation continue to dovetail in the Koffler Gallery’s exhibit Staring Back at the Sun, which features Israeli video art from four different periods, spanning from 1970 to 2012. Some artists whose work is shown in the exhibition include Doron Solomons, Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir, Gilad RatmanAvi Mograbi, and Sigalit Landau. The videos cover about 3 hours of material, and visitors can walk through four dark rooms and observe at their own pace.

Some of the early videos are purely experimental artistic endeavours, but several videos tackle difficult topics. A few focus on how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has affected the worldviews and morality of ordinary people. For example, Boaz Arad’s video Gefilte Fish shows his mother preparing and explaining a traditional Ashkenazi dish while occasionally making prejudiced statements as she cooks; these scenes are intercut with Arad mouthing his mother’s words, showing how mindsets can be inherited. The videos in Staring Back at the Sun are frequently troubling and perplexing, but always thought-provoking.

The view from one of the four rooms in Staring Back at the Sun. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald

Human relationships continue to be explored in Katrina Jurjans’s third-floor hallway exhibition. Her colourful paintings depict tension and instability as well as intimate moments in relationships.

Fermenting Feminism presents a dialogue on an unusual relationship: the connection between feminism and fermentation. Curated by Lauren Fournier and featuring work by Sharlene Bamboat, Hazel Meyer, Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint, Sarah Nasby, Kayla Polan, Walter Scott, and Agustina Zegers, this visceral exhibition engages the senses of sight, smell, and sound as the artists explore concepts like consumerism and festering emotions through a feminist lens.

Sarah Nasby's display in Fermenting Feminism shows kombucha fermenting inside found ceramic vessels. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald.

It is important to note that many of the exhibitions currently at Artscape Youngplace feature work by emerging curators and artists. Sears-Williams is the recipient of the 2017 Artscape Youngplace Career Launcher prize, as is Madison Leeson, who wrote the text for Soft. Katrina Jurjans received the Artscape Award at the 2017 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. Fermenting Feminism and the stairwell installations are associated with Critical Distance Centre for Curators, a not-for-profit initiative that supports “the advancement of curatorial inquiry and practice in Toronto, Canada, and beyond.” Check out the space to see what new artists and curators are doing in Toronto!

I also recommend visiting Artscape Youngplace for your own benefit. The exhibitions show that being emotionally troubled and emotionally uplifted are not mutually exclusive experiences.

Artscape Youngplace and its associated galleries are free to visit, and while some exhibitions are subject to limited hours, the hallway and stairwell exhibitions can be seen every day until 9:00 pm. 

* The artist/curator uses the term "queer" in their writing on the exhibition, so the author has done the same in this article when referring to the LGBTQ+ community.

Friday, 17 November 2017




Photo courtesy of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. 

When we think of Toronto's animals, we're most likely thinking of raccoons, pigeons, rodents, and pets (cats/dogs etc). We're probably not thinking of cows, sheep, alpacas or horses - all of which can be found at the 95th Royal Agricultural Winter Fair which just occurred at Exhibition Place. The Royal (as it's affectionately known) is one of the largest shows of its kind in the world and has been an important part of Toronto's history for the past century. It makes sense, when you think about it: Ontario's First Peoples were agricultural, and upon arriving the European settlers turned much of the area into farmland.

Ontario has a long history with farming, and the Royal is a large-scale celebration of this heritage. Attending for the first time this year, I couldn't help but notice how many museum-like elements there were to the fair. It's essentially one enormous "show and tell" - and isn't that roughly the essence of a museum? The Royal is a two-week demonstration of Ontario's farming heritage, a heritage that you can see, touch and (let's be honest) smell.

I've gathered together some photos of the Royal through the years (the only thing better than pictures of animals are vintage pictures of animals, right?) and if you're interested in learning more about Ontario's agricultural history, Archives of Ontario has compiled a whole page of online resources on the subject.  Let's put aside our skyscrapers and take just a moment to enjoy our province's greener history.

All images are courtesy of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

The Royal Agricultural Winter fair occurs every November in Toronto. Next year's dates are November 2-11, 2018. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017




High fashion has increasingly been finding its way into cultural institutions – like the ROM’s new exhibition exploring Dior in the 20th century, MoMA’s current exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern?, and a yet-to-be-announced exhibition at the Bata Shoe Museum showcasing a designer’s collection of footwear, set to open in 2018. The strong political voice museums hold has great power to legitimize art and cultural activities, and their corresponding objects. This voice has recently spoken up in the fashion and political debates surrounding Muslim women’s fashion, more specifically hijabs.

High Fashion Hijab Queen. Source

Hijabs have been thrown under both critical and supportive media spotlights in the context of recent political turmoil in North America and abroad. Ibtihaj Muhammad competed in the 2016 summer Olympics in her hijab, Dolce and Gabbana and launched high fashion hijabs, and Halima Aden, a Somali-American, competed in Miss Minnesota USA wearing a hijab and burkini. Considering the recent backlash from American museums in the face of an Islamophobic Twitter-troll, the time is ripe to host exhibitions exploring Islamic fashion and the politics contained within it. San Francisco's de Young Museum will be hosting The Fashion of Islam, opening fall 2018, to demonstrate the complexity and variety of Islamic fashions from around the world. To quote the director, Max Hollein, 

Dolce & Gabanna, 2016. Source

"There are probably people who don't even think there is fashion in Islam. But if you look at Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Beirut, the fashion is really vibrant, and it can speak to larger political and social developments, cultural understanding, and misunderstandings."
Hollein is hot on the heels of Australia’s Museum of Applied Arts & Science’s exhibition Faith, Fashion, Fusion: Muslim Women’s Style in Australia, currently on display at the Islamic Art Museum of Malaysia, showing the diversity in Australian Islamic fashion through photographs, garments, and interviews.
Uniqlo + Hana Tajima, 2017. Source
The presentation of these exhibitions is in direct opposition to arguments made by French women's rights and families minister Laurence Rossignol, and Yves Saint Laurent's co-founder Pierre Bergé, who both view the hijab as a form of "slavery". Berge's attitude is in reflection of a new trend in fashion for 'modest wear', clothing lines designed for Islamic women who wish to dress conservatively, and fashionably. This attitude for exclusion from an international fashion company seems short-sighted considered the massive buying power the Islamic world holds, with spending projections for the fashion industry in the Arab world expecting to reach $484 billion by 2019. Ignoring that kind of potential for growth sends a strong message of how unimportant Euro-American fashion industries view the Islamic world as a viable market.

The fashion-political opinions against Western fashion industries catering to the social needs of Muslim women is grounded in a “colonial feminist” attitude that we need to teach others how to live. This attitude, “reduce[‘s] the diverse situations and attitudes of millions of Muslim women to a single item of clothing,” without considering the opportunity for self-expression possible within the hijab itself. To no surprise, the debate over the hijab is really another debate over women’s bodies, and their agency over it. Using fashion as a tool to exercise that control, Dolce and Gabanna, Uniqlo, and Nike have launched products and clothing lines that not only give Muslim women the ability to exercise that agency over their own body, but to engage in all activities as other women do.

However, this shift in the western fashion markets catering to fashion desires of Muslim women fans the flames of a fundamental paradigm struggle currently happening in the Muslim countries all around the world. Shelina Janmohamed, author of Love In A Headscarf, describes this tension:

“Today's fashion industry is about consumerism and objectification - buy, buy, buy and be judged by what you wear. Muslim fashion is teetering between asserting a Muslim woman's right to be beautiful and well-turned out, and buying more stuff than you need, and being judged by your clothes - both of which are the opposite of Islamic values. Modesty isn't just how you look, it's what you purchase and what you might be liberating for the Muslim women purchasing these fashions on the high street, but how liberating is it for the Muslim women who made them in the sweatshops in Bangladesh and elsewhere?"
Nike Muslim women's sportswear, 2018. Source
Turning to third-year Social Anthropology student at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies in London) Sabah Haneen Choudhry, she asks,
“Why is the hijab ‘acceptable’ only when it's appropriated and managed by major [Western] corporations? ... Why can't Muslim women decide the parameters of their Islamic identity and sexual morality, without facing harsh scrutiny from within and outside the 'imagined' Muslim community?"
"Legitimizing" hijabs in the Western world by western high fashion companies not only looks badly on the companies who expand their markets with the intention of monetary gain, but it also reflects badly on western museums who only now are exploring Muslim fashion. It should not have taken a high fashion Italian clothing designer and several other internationally known clothing companies to motivate western museums into exploring fashion from the Islamic world. It begs the question: what other contemporary cultures are being under-represented in museums globally, and what can be done to present these cultures without exorcising them? As gatekeepers, caregivers, and presenters of arts and culture, museums have a responsibility to provide equal opportunity to represent all angles of cultural identity.