18 February 2019


Breaking the Glass CaseAlexandra Forand

Aniin, tansi, and hello! Welcome to the inaugural blog post of “Breaking the Glass Case.” I should mention that I am not originally from Toronto, but hail from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. When I first arrived in Toronto (like a true museum studies student) I went to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). The first gallery I visited was the Daphne Cockwell Gallery Dedicated to the First Peoples Art and Culture, mostly because it is free (like a true broke graduate student). As I walked the airy open hall I noticed the glass cases filled with Indigenous artifacts.

Daphne Cockwell Gallery Dedicated to the First Peoples Art and Culture on a Friday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Forand 

Some of these objects were contemporary such as the Jane Ash Poitras paintings, others were older and more sacred such as the regalia of different Indigenous communities across Canada. One particular case jumped out at me right away. This case was entitled “Living Cultures,” and this specific case is concerned with telling the stories of Indigenous people today. At the far end of the case there is the Mohawk Family Life Group Diorama.

This diorama was created by Ulrich Dunbar and installed in the ROM in 1917. While this diorama was meant to showcase domestic activities it omits spiritual and intellectual life, presents a static picture of Mohawk life, and gives viewers a “cringeworthy” image of Indigenous people.

Picture of the original Mohawk Family Life Group Diorama. Photo Courtesy of Alexandra Forand. 

When the Daphne Cockwell Gallery reopened in 2017 the Mohawk Family Life diorama had undergone a renovation. The stone tools were replaced with modern technology such as iPods, power drills, and camera. The most notable intervention is the Great Seal of the Haudenosaunee which represents forms of Iroquoian government and social organization.

Update version of the Mohawk Family Life Group Diorama. Photo Courtesy of Alexandra Forand. 

The diorama is surrounded by a large wooden frame, which has a small golden plaque that says:

“You have a phrase called “Golden Age.” We do not want to be depicted the way we were, when we were first discovered in our homeland in North America. We do not want museums to continue to present us as something from the past. We believe we are very, very much here now, and we are going to be very important in the future.”
-- Georges Erasmus, Chief Assembly of First Nations, 1992

What do you guys think? Does the newly made over diorama represent modern Indigenous life? Or is the diorama another example of mishandled history? If it were up to you, what would you have done differently?

Senator Murray Sinclair said “reconciliation is not a spectator sport,” and I hope this blog can create a dialogue about the role of cultural heritage organizations and their participation in reconciliation. Beyond that, I want to hear from you, the readers, about what steps you see that are being taken (or you are taking) in the spirit of reconciliation. I want to learn from you, because I am in no means an expert on this topic and also journeying on this path of learning, understanding, and reconciliation. Please do not hesitate to contact me at allyforand@gmail.com or if twitter and instagram is more your speed my handle is @Ally_but_online. 

Breaking the Glass Case: Recent publications, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (2007) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Actions (2015), ask cultural heritage organizations to participate in national reconciliation and public education. These actions join the long history of indigenous people requests to redefine their place in cultural heritage organizations. This column is dedicated to exploring the history, development, and relationships between indigenous individuals, communities, and cultural heritage organizations.

15 February 2019


Letter from the Editor | Madeline Smolarz

This is the second post of a five part series in celebration of the Master of Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto's 50th anniversary (MMSt50). To reflect on Musings' past, present, and future, we invited all previous Editors-in-Chief to return to Musings to write special Letter from the Editor posts. These articles will highlight the significance of Musings both within the MMSt program, and for writers' professional careers. Madeline Smolarz was the second Editor-in-Chief of Musings from 2015-2016.

This is my 25th article for Musings, and quite likely my last for a long time.

I was a Musings’ contributing editor under the leadership of pioneering Editor in Chief (EiC) Jaime Clifton-Ross from 2014-2015 before becoming EiC of Musing myself from 2015-2016. I’m the second EiC to write a retrospective of my time with the blog in celebration of Musings’ 5 years of outstanding history, and I’m both thrilled and proud to have the privilege to return.

I knew I had massive, if not astronomical shoes to fill taking on this role following Jaime. You’ve already read her wonderful reflection piece, so you know what I’m talking about! Though altering the formula she had perfected in any way terrified me, the number of contributing editors grew and the number of columns we published did as well. As much as my contributors (patiently) allowed, I did my best to be an involved and supportive EiC. For example, my dear friend and Historic Kitchen writer Leah Moncada let me taste-test her cooking escapades, while another equally lovely friend and Sew What writer Anya Baker interviewed me for a piece discussing curating personal style.

L to R – Leah Moncada, Anya Baker, and Madeline Smolarz at the 2016 MMSt Year End Party hosted at Campbell House.
Photo courtesy of Madeline Smolarz.

As I cast my mind back to some of my other memorable moments of my time as EiC, my most ambitious blog post was definitely “3 Exhibitions In 1 Day, Brought To You By Canada’s National Museums.” I remember having this thought as I conceived of the trip from Toronto to Ottawa; as I sat on the train,; as I tromped around Ottawa in winter,; and as I wrote that beast of a post. No one else had ever written a review of three exhibitions at once, and as tricky as it was to bring all of those threads together at times, it was such a thrill of a challenge that I’d do it all over again!

Ottawa in the winter is no joke, but I would climb mountains of snow to spend a day in one of Canada’s national museums any time. Photo courtesy of Madeline Smolarz.
Musings has without a doubt positively impacted my professional life. Musings gave me the opportunity to transform my academic skills to writing and editing for the public about something I sincerely loved in an accessible, entertaining, and educational manner. I believe that every piece of writing I’ve produced since, from exhibition text to emails to colleagues, has been coloured by the way in which my Musings’ experience elevated my abilities. The social media skills I gained were also immensely useful. After completing the MMSt program, I started working at the Craigleith Heritage Depot, where I had to establish a media presence from scratch. I would’ve been overwhelmed if it wasn’t for my year overseeing the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages my predecessor Jaime had already established.

Above is the first of several posts I shared to Musings’ Instagram when I led the first live-gram session in its history during Nuit Blanche 2015.

I’ve since taken my writing and social media abilities to Ruthven Park National Historic Site - where I led nearly all communications as Operations Coordinator - and to the City of Kingston, where I currently work overseeing operations at three museums and historic sites. The portfolio of excellent writing that I cultivated, the skills that were fostered by my roles with Musings, and the passion for leadership that I developed have absolutely been a huge benefit and confidence-booster for me as I’ve pursued my career in Ontario’s museum world thus far.

Madeline Smolarz on the job at the City of Kingston’s MacLachlan Woodworking Museum in July 2018.
Photo courtesy of Francesca Pang.

As I can now not seem to live without blogging, I’m currently serving a three-year term (2016-2019) as the Communications Chair of the Group of Ontario Emerging Museum Professionals (GOEMP) Committee; one of my responsibilities is overseeing the GOEMP Website’s Blog. At the time of writing this blog post, we’ve partnered with Fleming College’s Museum Management and Curatorship program to share 4 exceptional pieces of writing by current students on various museological topics. To borrow Marie Kondo’s phrase, it sparks joy in me to broadcast emerging museum professionals’ voices in this way, and I hope to continue to have a hand in it for many years to come in order to keep paying my experience forward.

L to R – Alison Ward, Lisa Terech, Diane Pellicone, Madeline Smolarz, and Will Hollingshead representing the 2016-2019 GOEMP Committee at the 2017 Ontario Museum Association Conference in Kingston, Ontario.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Terech.
I’d like to close with some thank yous, just like I did in my farewell blog post published on April 9, 2016.

Dr. Irina Mihalache: You are the ultimate champion of Musings, and the blog certainly wouldn’t be what it is now without your support. I will always consider you to be one of my most influential mentors. Thank you for your guidance.

Jaime Clifton-Ross: I wouldn’t be who I am today without the chance you gave me to write for Musings in 2014, and for your incredible friendship the past number of years. You are my sister in spirit and truly the patron saint of bloggers! Thank you for everything.

L to R – Madeline Smolarz and Jaime Clifton-Ross. Photo courtesy of Kellen Ross.
Musings’ Editors in Chief from 2016-2019: You folks are trailblazers, and I look at everything you’ve done for the blog with such happiness. Thank you for picking up the torch.

Till we meet again.

14 February 2019


Alumni Check-In | Elizabeth Cytko

Photo courtesy of Deborah Robichaud.

Deborah Robichaud graduated in 1980, in class 12 of what was then called the Master of Museology program at the University of Toronto. She has had a long and diverse career including acting as the Director of the Musée acadien, Director of Information and Extension Services at the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), and Regional Manager of Arts, Culture and Heritage for the Department of Canadian Heritage. She is currently retired and working on her own personal projects, including keeping on top of current museum trends. We conducted our interview over the telephone.

What was the Museology program like when you were a student?

A lot of our main museology courses were done at the ROM and we were encouraged to explore. We had a little bit of money in a petty cash type thing. Our Director at the time was David Newlands and I would go up to him and say “Hi! I would like to do this!”which he would let me do. Nobody else was using that little fund, it had to be related to our program. I got to see lots of things using it. I think one time we went to Detroit with a group from the AGO to visit a Turner exhibit. It was a day trip there and back, so it [included] bus fare and lunch.

How has the program changed from when you were a student?

When we took Museum Studies it was really to learn about how to do things. When we got out into the real world there was still a lot to be learned. At the very end of the course we had taken all this theory and done a little bit of practice. Then they realized we had no management skills! So we did a three day intensive management class – MBO- Managing By Objective – they brought in a management guru and then they sent us off into the world with three days of management skills. In many cases, we did not know how to run the business and we were expected to step into that type of a role.

Also, the discussion of community engagement, transparency, inclusiveness, and diversity of cultures is different now. None of that was talked about when we were there [at UofT]. If you look back between then and now those are some of the differences.

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

Moving from museum work to the government was probably the biggest challenge for me because it’s a whole different world. It took a while to move from a curatorial role to the public servant role. There was no manual. For example, there’s a different way to write a letter in government than as a curator when you’re writing to another museum to find out about a particular artifact. Bringing your content skills to a government system you learn a lot through osmosis, trial and error. In the grants contribution world, you could be someone who knows a lot about grants and contributions but know nothing about the discipline. We often brought people into government who knew a lot about the discipline that we were giving grants for, but not about the government process. Unless you have both sides you don’t have a balanced team. You have people coming in from the non-government side wanting to help the community, but you still have government rules to follow. That was probably my biggest risk and also in a sense a bit of a regret because I could only live vicariously through other people’s projects. You knew somebody else would have success with an exhibition, and you think, “Great! The government enabled this by giving them money.” As a result, I did research projects and exhibitions throughout my career, not a lot, but the ones I did were the ones I really wanted to do and I continue to do that since I’ve retired.

What was one of your failures, or missteps, that turned into a great learning experience?

One of the things I learned really early is when you’re in a new job you think, “Oh I have this” and then all of a sudden something blindsides you. Then you realize, “Wow I didn’t really understand that at all.” When you think you’ve got it, you need to stop and have another reflection on whether you’ve looked at everything.

Another thing I learned is you can only repeat gossip if you’ve heard it three times from three different sources who are not related. The one time I didn’t do that (I didn’t get into trouble or anything) I was like darn, I should have followed my rule! But usually by the time you get it from three different sources everybody knows it anyways. This has served me well.

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

Environmental scanning. You should question, “What are the big issues in the world and how do they affect museums?” Changes in the world affect funding programs.

It’s about statues (such as with John A MacDonald) and a more open museum where you have more physical accessibility. With the #MeToo movement how do you incorporate that into a museum? Everybody in the museum world needs to be looking beyond the horizon on an ongoing basis. See the big trends, how they may affect your world and have a strategy already in place.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

13 February 2019


Research Column | Casarina Hocevar

This semester, I am taking over Musings’ Research Column to share a bit about my personal research and upcoming exhibition project. Ideally, this column will touch upon both the exciting and woeful moments of historical research - from archival photos to tricky translations and many winding paths in-between...and of course, give some insight into a Museum Studies student’s research!

A peek into an archival box from the Ontario Jewish Archives. Photo courtesy of Casarina Hocevar.

Exhibition Project/Research Scope

Last semester, I delved into two intersecting projects. The first is my MMSt exhibition project, Storefront Stories, co-curated with fellow Museum Studies candidates Amy, Evelyn, and Erica, for the Ontario Jewish Archives (OJA). Our project investigates and shares Kensington Market’s Jewish history through the lens of archival storefront photographs. Through the creation of our poster exhibition and website, we aim to explore Jewish life in the Market during the early 20th Century. The exhibition will use the photographs as a springboard into themes about the market’s culture, including intellectual and political life, Jewish foodways, immigration, trade and commerce, and the neighbourhood’s community.

Welcome to the instagram of Ontario Jewish Archives! Over the next couple of months, University of Toronto Museum Studies students, Casarina, Amy, Erica and Evelyn will be posting about the upcoming OJA exhibition, "Storefront Stories." . Since October, we've been busy planning, designing and researching our exhibition about Kensington Market's early Jewish history. The exhibit intends to feature approximately 12 posters with information about the unique stories of past Kensington businesses and Jewish life. . We're delighted to start the next stage of our project this week. We'll be heading into the market to connect with business owners as potential participants in the exhibition. Participating businesses will showcase a poster featuring a photo of their historic storefront and story. . . . Continue to follow us here for exhibition updates and developments. ✨
A post shared by Ontario Jewish Archives (@ontariojewisharchives) on

The second project is a historical investigation of Jewish foodways in Kensington Market. This project began with a research proposal for a history course I took last semester, “The History of Food and Drink,” and has since evolved into an ongoing personal project as a way to bolster my knowledge about Kensington Market, (im)migrant foodways, and local Jewish history. (I will also be sharing some of this research at the upcoming McGill-Queen’s Graduate History Conference in March.) Through compiling, reading and interpreting a combination of primary and secondary sources, I have been slowly noting the early foodways of the Market. Primary sources used are those normally accessed at the OJA or City of Toronto Archives, such as photographs, menus, business directories, newspaper clippings, etc. While the secondary sources available come from a range of fields, including Jewish studies, food studies, geography, diaspora studies, and history.

So...why - and what are - foodways?

While Storefront Stories is not an exhibition about Kensington Market’s Jewish foodways per se, my interest and pursuit of foodways research undeniably connects to the exhibition’s broad themes. Food studies (and more specifically for me, food history) aims to understand how food, and food practices, impacts our lives. This can include both our intimate relationships with food (e.g. how we conceptualize our identities and those of others through food practices) to more public and global food topics, such as the role of restaurants in gentrification, or say the commodification and trade of food items - coffee beans, wheat, or bananas.

“Foodways” refers to more specific practices associated with people in a given place and/or period (e.g. Japanese foodways in the 19th Century, or the foodways of British colonists in India, or Palestinian foodways in the diaspora). So, in the context of my research, by focusing upon Jewish foodways in Kensington Market, I can better contextualize a range of information, including: the popularity of certain types of establishments (e.g. kosher delis), the sensory experience of the Market (what would one smell or taste or hear throughout the Market in the early 20th Century?), and, the role of gender in private and public spaces (who prepared, purchased, and served food goods in the neighbourhood?)... all of which helps to better inform us about life in early Kensington Market.

As the semester progresses, keep your eye out for future posts in this series which will highlight some of my research developments!