22 March 2019


A sign helpfully directs me to where I need to check in for the event. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko.

It's February 23, and I am at the annual Hungry for Comfort Event organized by the Culinary Historians of Canada at Fort York. The theme focuses on the culinary stories of Black communities across Canada and how their food traditions adapted as they integrated themselves into Canadian society.

The Culinary Historians of Canada (CHC) is a volunteer driven society brought together by a love of food and history. They put on various events throughout the year where one can learn historic methods of food preparation, how to ethically attain food in the modern day, and learn about the histories behind Canadian food culture.

Our historic friend for the day is James Mink. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko.

Entering the Blue Barracks there is a lowkey buzz as people settle in. Long tables are set up with seats around them. The center piece features a local historic Black person with a brief biography of what they did.

Historic panels are placed beside the refreshment table to be read while waiting in line.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko.

Refreshments tantalize. Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko.

Much care and effort has been put in to emphasize Black Canadian history. There are large poster boards beside the morning refreshment table, which inform the visitor of the Black soldiers at Fort York. Paper plate laden with Basic Hot biscuits, Fort York Honey, Little Fine Cakes (my absolute historic favourite!) and Akara, I make my way to the table and sit down. The communal set up means I get to meet new people who also appreciate historic food and share this experience.

A photo of the powerpoint because I did not manage to get a good close up photo of Eden Hagos.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko.

The keynote speaker is Eden Hagos who is a food writer and founder of the Black Foodie. Hagos shares how growing up in Canada, she viewed her traditional Ethiopian food as a source of shame when she compared her home made lunches to the other kids at her school. When she began to reconnect with her food culture, she realized that it was a reconnection with her ancestral home. In starting her blog the “Black Foodie” she wanted to connect with other people her age that had similar experiences, to share traditional recipes and build up a community.

Chef Selwyn Richards educates us about diasporic food history. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko.
Chef Selwyn Richards dazzle us with his fiery technique. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko.

Our chef for our afternoon lunch Masterclass is Chef Selwyn Richards from The Art of Catering. Powerpoint ready he discusses the diasporic food history across the West, pointing out how foods have travelled from Africa to North America. When he talks about modern food he says “If you can imagine it, we can create it!” followed by the idea of Jerk Chicken lasagna. His advice for visiting restaurants is to ask the waiter what the best dish is and go with that, as this is the best way to try something new that is guaranteed to be good.

The various speakers and workshops I attend emphasize how food is a conduit to the past and future. I learn how enslavery has shaped the African food experience in the Western world and how the recipes of today contain the memories of bondage, resistance and liberation.

A sampling of the fare. I learned from my mistakes from last year and made sure to bring some food containers to take leftovers home. If you attend this event I suggest that you bring containers too!
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko. 
Lunch is then served in a buffet style, with each table getting food in an orderly fashion. Jerk chicken, Rasta pasta salad, Jollof rice – the food is delicious. Full from lunch we make our way to the respective workshops.

Karol Barclay shows us  how to make Breadfruit Chips. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko.

I attend the workshop hosted by Karol Barclay where she teaches how to make Breadfruit Chips. As a white settler I had never encountered breadfruit before in my usual culinary adventures, so I purposely chose this workshop to expand my food horizons. I learn what breadfruit is, along with the importance of integrating it into a larger diet since the plant is easy to grow, helps prevent deforestation, and contains many vital nutrients!

Dessert is served! I could not get enough of those Date Bars -- absolutely delicious!
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cytko.

Back in the Blue Barracks we are served a historic dessert of Sweet Potato pie, Date Bars, and Ice Cream. With the concluding remarks and the handing out of the competition prizes, contentedly, I leave the event with a better understanding of historic foodways and a new item on my shopping list: breadfruit.

21 March 2019


(Fun)draising | Samantha Summers

In November I was able to catch world-renowned curator Candice Hopkins on a panel entitled Power and Possession: The Ethics of Collecting at the Gardiner Museum. She mentioned the ethics of donated and fundraised money, and I was intrigued. We sat down in January at the Toronto Biennial headquarters at the Museum of Contemporary Art, where Candice will be stationed for the next two years, to discuss fundraising ethics and more.

A sign that reads “We will protect our nation for future generations” at an Idle No More protest in Ottawa in 2013. As Canada becomes more invested in reconciliation measures questions of museum accountability to marginalized groups and nations within Canada are being raised more frequently. Source.
When I saw you speak you mentioned the ethics of using fundraised, donated money. What did you mean by that?

I think a big question is where that money comes from and who it impacts. Oftentimes funders - particularly in Canada - will fund or be aligned with exhibitions as a PR campaign. One of the best examples I know was an exhibition which took place in 1988 called The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples which was sponsored by Shell Oil Canada, who were actively drilling on the lands of the Lubicon Lake Cree and many other Indigenous peoples. It was among the first exhibitions to be publicly protested in Canada. Protesters were taking issue with two main things. One, Shell Oil was actively drilling on Native land, Native land in northern Alberta that was left out of the treaty-signing process. Two, the exhibition itself had not involved any work or contribution by living Native people. The only Native people that they were collaborating with were in public programs, and this felt like it was after the fact. Out of this the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples was formed, which I really recommend people look at as an important resource.

And there was a counter-exhibit that was later developed.

It was called ReVisions, and it was at the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff. One of the best things about ReVisions, which is documented in the catalogue, is an essay by Jean Fisher called “The Health of the People is the Highest Law.” Often people who live in very remote regions have fairly little voice, but the Lubicon [Lake Nation] used the language of existing media in protesting and starting that campaign against The Spirit Sings. They understood one of the ways of raising awareness was to contact all the formerly agreed-upon lenders to the exhibition, including the Smithsonian and the British Museum. They sent them letters asking them to withdraw their loans, and I believe the Smithsonian did, among others. That campaign was a very strategic way of understanding how exhibitions are put together and where the sources of influence are, which includes other museums.

A display of “Early Indigenous Tools” at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario. It is important to know not only where and who these tools came from, but also how they were sourced and purchased, and the political and social relationship between the purchaser and Indigenous peoples. Source.

From my perspective it doesn’t look like accountability for historic and present violence is happening as quickly in museums as it should. How have you observed accountability measures happening?

I think it happens in ways that aren’t as visible. One of the things that we did at the Biennial was to hire Ange Loft, a local Mohawk artist, musician and theatre director. We commissioned her to write the Indigenous Context Brief. One of the great things about the research that she’s been able to do is it gives people a different perspective of this place. When you’re asking artists to come in and work in a place in a way that’s site-responsive, you need to give them very specific kinds of tools. I think some of the biggest changes within institutions at the moment are structural. It’s important to consider questions such as, what is your board makeup? What voices are represented and not? What is your staff make up? How is this reflected in your programming? I think we’re in a position in Canada where we tend to think of society in a very binaristic way. We often think of society in terms of Indigenous people and settlers, and the voices that are left out are immigrant voices, also people who came here not by their own will - Canada also has a history of slavery. I feel like these kinds of histories and relations are important to talk about. [We need to be] thinking about how these conversations and collaborations have emerged, and also conflict, over the history of our country.

When working with the donors is there any push-back in trying to pitch this new way of looking at things?

What I find compelling is how quickly things have started to shift. Recently a potential funder [for the Toronto Biennial] wanted more information about how Indigenous artists will be represented, and also staff, advisors, board, and I thought, “Wow, we’ve come a long way if funders are actually asking for this.” When I first started working in this field, it almost felt like it was a checkbox, with regards to Indigenous participation. I think Canada is in the midst of a historical reckoning where the question of historical reconciliation is being taken seriously, and people are thinking about what their responsibility is in regards to that. On the other hand, I think that what happens when you’re working with funders is that they want to have an impact, so in the context of an exhibition they often want to associate their names with what they feel might be the biggest event. Oftentimes, when you’re working with or as a part of Indigenous projects there’s a real emphasis on process. So how do you create support for that process that might not be visible or it might take a very long time? To invest in people instead of the big, splashy thing at the end, can be a challenge for some funders and even arts organizations to consider.

Have you ever been in a position where you’ve had to compromise your artistic or curatorial vision in order to do what will most please donors, the public, or the media?

For an exhibition called Documenta 14 when it was opening in Kassel, Germany, we had commissioned a Sámi artist, Joar Nango, to produce a podium for us for the press conference. He really was insistent that this podium was made with materials that he had gathered enroute in his drive from Sápmi in northern Norway, all the way down to Athens, and all the way back to Kassel. He wanted to include a sealskin draped over the podium, and the concern from marketing was that there would be inordinate focus on this element of the podium that could potentially overshadow what we were trying to communicate because of the polarizing issue of seal hunting. Sustainable seal hunting is of course an Indigenous right, protected by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In the end he included a piece of clothing instead, but he wasn’t comfortable with the decision. I think it was a good example of the fact that there’s still a lot of bias and misunderstanding with regards to how many people live their lives. It’s a shame that in times like these there’s not sometimes an opportunity to slow down and ask, “Well, what’s really the important issue here?”

Is there a favourite thing that you’ve managed to achieve in your career?

One that I’m particularly proud of is this last SITE Santa Fe Biennial, which we called Casa tomada, which loosely translated from Spanish to English, is “house taken over” or “house under the influence.” The exhibition was concerned with the question of who belongs and who doesn’t and who decides who belongs and who doesn’t. Given all of the talk at the moment about borders, and this is happening in Ontario as well, a swing to extreme conservative values, the exhibition was a means to respond to this. We included a number of Indigenous artists, Black artists, and Chicano artists, as well as other artists from across the Americas. I think what was really valuable about this project is that it was the first time I think I’ve worked on an exhibition like this where the artworks weren’t seen first and foremost as representing the identity of where the artists were from. The weaving of someone like Melissa Cody, who is Diné/Navajo, was positioned as relating to migration, because the weaving she does emerges from Germantown weaving, which emerged out of the attempted cultural genocide of the Navajo Long Walk (Hwéeldi). The prints and drawings and textiles of Victoria Mamnguqsualuk were included because of her ongoing interest in the figure of Kiviuq, and Kiviuq is this eternal wanderer. I think it is opportunity for us to have this more expanded conversation, especially at a moment when people who consider themselves to be very liberal are having rather close-minded conversations regarding identity. This was an opportunity to open that up.

To learn more about Candice Hopkins’ current role with the Toronto Biennial, visit their website. To learn more about The Spirit Sings and ReVisions, check out these resources: Harrison (1988) "The Spirit Sings: The Last Song?", Wrightson (2017) "The Limits of Recognition: The Spirit Sings, Canadian Museums and the Colonial Politics of Recognition", Dibbelt (1988) "Nations gather to protest Glenbow's Spirit Sings display".

20 March 2019


Museum Innovations | Keelan Cashmore

A common theme discussed in Museum Studies classes is that the term "museum" encompasses more than the traditional institution. We’re told that this umbrella term covers zoos, historic houses, national parks, visitor centres, and so much more.

But, what about buildings?

We know that architecture plays a key role in museums. Not only does museum architecture need to be functional and relevant to the space, but it also influences the presentation of the objects (source). However, museum architecture usually refers to the building of the intended museum. What if a building designed as a building, and not a museum, could fall under the large umbrella term of "museum"?

One of the best examples for this would be the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building. 
The Burj Khalifa was inaugurated in 2010 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and stands 829.8m tall. 

The Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Source.

The building itself is considered a work of art and is thought to be “an unprecedented example of international cooperation, symbolic beacon of progress, and an emblem of the new, dynamic and prosperous Middle East” (source).

Apart from being a building, Burj Khalifa is comprised of residential space, office space, the Armani Hotel Dubai, Armani residences, lounges, health and wellness facilities, four pools, and two observation decks. It also provides promotional perks for members. 

View from the top of the Burj Khalifa. Source.
This building is more than just a building. It is both a historical and artistic addition to the cultural city of Dubai. Artworks are present throughout the building, including the sculpture “World Voices” by artist Jaume Plensa, and Karim Rashid’s “Evolutes” adorning the corporate entrance of The Residence at Burj lobby. It also presents the cultural history of Dubai, with its Stories. These stories discuss the significance of the artistic and historical aspects of the Burj Khalifa, and why this is significant for the city of Dubai (source).

The Burj Khalifa building itself has also been used as an art piece itself, often lighting up in various colours or patterns. For example, in October, the Burj Khalifa was lit up pink to raise awareness about Breast Cancer. Source.

Images showcasing the Burj Khalifa on various nights. Source.
However, the Burj Khalia is not the only building like this. Toronto’s CN Tower is one of these types of buildings in its own right. Completed in 1976 the CN Tower is the world’s 9th tallest building at a height of 553.3m tall (source).

Similar to museums, the CN Tower contains text panels and displays detailing its history, from inception to construction, and how it has changed since 1976. It also consists of observation decks, restaurants, and the ever-popular Edgewalk, which allows individuals to walk on the outside of the tower. 

The CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Source.

Like the Burj Khalifa, the CN Tower promotes the significance of the history and culture of Toronto through both its design and presence as a tourist attraction within the city. Since its initial creation as a television and radio platform, the CN Tower has become an iconic building in the city of Toronto.  

View from inside the CN Tower. Source.

Both the Burj Khalifa and the CN Tower have similar aspects to museums or historic houses. They promote the history of the buildings and their relevance to understanding the city in which they were constructed. They also provide a unique experience for visitors and present a specific artistic vision associated with the buildings.

Edgewalk on the CN Tower. Source.

Are the Burj Khalifa and the CN Tower a different type of interpretation of “museum”? Yes. But being different doesn’t mean they should be separated. In this regard, I would consider these buildings, and buildings like them, just as much under the umbrella of “museums” as I would zoos or historic houses. As the world evolves so does our definition of “museum”, and it’s important to be open to accepting these changes.

Want to check out another enthralling blog post about the CN Tower? Check out Rebecca's Ghosts of Toronto's Past, where she discusses why we are so obsessed with getting these "birds eye views." You can read her article here.

19 March 2019


Margaret Trudeau and George Jacob.
Photo courtesy of George Jacob.

When George Jacob graduated in 1996 he had broken barriers as the first Commonwealth scholar admitted to the Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto. His extensive CV includes being trained at the Smithsonian, attending the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, attending the Getty Leadership Institute at Claremont Graduate University as well as the Yale School of Management. He mixes IT innovations with traditional museum approaches with a special focus on the idea of a living museum. He is the author of seven books focused on the future of Museum Design and Practice. He has worked at various institutions including the Philip J. Currie Museum in Northern Alberta, the Mauna Kea Astronomy Education center in Hawaii and is currently at the San Francisco Bay Ecotarium. 

Which Museum Studies program are you a graduate of and when did you graduate?

I graduated in 1996. I was the first Commonwealth Scholar admitted to the UofT Museum Studies Graduate Program.

What is your favourite memory from your time in the Museum Studies program?

While interaction with peers and professors was enlightening, the summer internship at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. was memorable and rewarding. It inspired me to return to the Smithsonian years later to contribute to various galleries and exhibits over the years.

How has your path after graduation lead to your current job?

I was the world’s youngest planetarium and science museum director for 7 years, prior to joining the Museum Studies Program for my second Masters. But despite excellent credentials, it was impossible to even get an interview call after graduation. For some time, I considered changing my area of interest and pursuing a career as an IT professional. I then decided to set up my own consulting practice to offer Master Planning and Design-Build services to new and established museums around the world. I offered my services to various other larger forms that were involved in projects in Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Soon my work started getting noticed and gaining a reputation of precision, speed of implementation and cost savings. This has fortunately opened many doors through the years.

What exactly is ‘museum design build’?

Design-Build is a process of project implementation where the Designer also takes the lead in Production of the project. This applies to both Exhibit Services and Architectural Services. It saves time, enhances efficiencies and ensures better quality control, provided the person at the helm is astute, experienced and competent to lead such an effort with minimum margin of error.

What is a typical day like in your current job at the Bay Ecotarium?

There are three aspects to my current role as President & CEO of Bay Ecotarium. We have six branches with a staff of 200 united under one mission of ocean conservation and ecosynthesis from Sierra to the Seas. The first aspect is to oversee the operations of this complex institution, the second is to work on the vision to transform the existing aquarium into the first of its kind Living Museum focused on Climate literacy and Ocean Conservation. The third aspect, of course, is to work towards raising $200 million to make this vision a reality.

What exactly is a “living museum”? How is this different from traditional museums?

In physical terms a LIVING museum has live ecosystems, vivariums and animals. In our case we will increase the number of animals in our care from the current 23,000 to 30,000! In notional terms, a LIVING museum is an idea or a mission that continuously engages the public to join a movement to save our ecosystems, our environment and our planet. It is an idea that drives us all to come together for a cleaner planet with cleaner solutions, transcending generations and geo-political boundaries.

What do you find most fulfilling in your work?

Learning and Creativity. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to make a difference, shape minds and create a premise that is so vital to our collective memories as a society, as a civilization and as a species.

What are some of the greatest risks you have taken in your career?

Starting my own practice, carving out my own path and challenging existing paradigms. This has resulted in the birth of new museums, visitor centers and nature parks. When I took on the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum project, I had envisioned completing this design-build initiative in under 24 months- including building construction, landscape, interpretive planning, exhibit design, production, staffing, retail and programs, to name a few. This seemingly impossible target was ambitious and unheard of. I executed the project in 23 months winning 9 awards in 9 months, delivering the fastest museum project implemented in Canadian history- before time and under budget.

What have been some of the greatest challenges in your career?

As the FIRST visible minority Canadian Museum President, I am concerned about the lack of diversity and inclusivity at the helm of Canada’s museums and amid the Museum Studies faculty and student enrollment- given that we are a multi-cultural country. This has often played a role in access and equal opportunity. It must be addressed through policy and structured dialog.

You have held many leadership roles, what is your advice for being a great leader?

Believe in yourself and believe in the power of the Universe.

What advice would you give to museum professionals entering the sector today?

It is a tough discipline to practice. But do keep in mind- No pressure. No Diamonds!

What is your advice to young museum professionals in creating a solid financial base for their future?

There are three paths ahead for museum professionals:

A. Choose to work in a museum with a salaried structure/ pension, job security etc.

B. Be a risk taker and launch your own practice, be it Museum Law, Curatorial or Master Planning Services or any number of other lucrative areas to make significant $$ for retirement and beyond.

C. Be an innovator and creator of new paradigms and opportunities in the gig-economy- become an out-sourcing guru; infuser of new means and methods of learning platforms; block-chain tailor made for various museum/ traveling exhibit realms; walk the line between education-entertainment / theme parks. The list is long…the world is your oyster! Have fun doing it- explore the unexplored.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. We conducted our interview over email.