Tuesday, 27 May 2014

THESIS REFLECTION: DISCOVERIES AND QUESTIONS

BY: ROBIN NELSON

Prior to investigating Government of New Brunswick (GNB) cultural policy outputs from 2002-2012, I need an understanding of provincial support for museums prior to 2002. However, one of the terrifying (or exciting?) things about doing my thesis is the lack of scholarship on the subject. In this post, I am going to talk about my adventure trying to build an understanding regarding the development of provincial assistance to NB museums.

Second Annual Report of the Historical Resources Administration
Second Annual Report of the Historical Resources Administration 

In order to better understand how the provincial government has assisted museums, I’ve been reading the annual reports from the departments responsible for administrating this aid. The process has been engaging and I want to share some of what I have discovered:

Seventeenth Annual Report of the Department of Historical and Cultural Resources
Seventeenth Annual Report of the Department of Historical and Cultural Resources

The department responsible for museums has changed frequently over time. In 1967, the government established the Historical Resource Administration (HRA) to provide for the protection and development of NB heritage resources. The HRA existed until 1982 with the creation of the Department of Historical and Cultural Resources (1982-1985), which was followed by several departments including the Department of Municipalities, Culture and Housing (1991-1998), the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Culture (1998-2000), and the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture (2012- Present).

I wonder what these changes say about the government’s approach to “culture.” How would a department that is also responsible for economic development approach things differently than a department that is also responsible for municipalities and housing?

Tourism, Recreation and Heritage: Annual Report 1990-1991
Tourism, Recreation and Heritage: Annual Report 1990-1991

Early annual reports are more informative, with far less (or no) copy and pasting, than reports from 2001 or later. They often indicate who wrote a section, what institutions received financial or technical assistance, and some have pictures as examples. I was even surprised to find personal opinions in reports. For instance, in 1979, after the closing of the Atlantic Conservation Laboratory in Moncton, the report states that the regional facility was “a pawn in the cutbacks in the federal budget, despite one of the most widespread and concerted protests ever initiated in this area by normally placid museums and heritage personnel” (18).

While placid is not necessarily insulting, I would be affronted if called “normally placid,” making me wonder how heritage personnel felt about this report.


 2001-2001 Annual Report: Culture and Sport Secretariat
2001-2001 Annual Report: Culture and Sport Secretariat

Most importantly, the annual reports demonstrate the diversity in approaches to assisting museums. Since 1969, GNB has not only provided capital or operating grants, but also summer job programmes and technical assistance, which includes things like translation services, help making displays, and training workshops. Further, assistance to museums has not only been provided by a government department, but also through the provincial museum.

This is just a small amount of what I discovered in the annual reports, which were saturated with more information than I will likely need (for instance, did you know the CMA director, John McAvity, once worked as the Museum Advisor at the New Brunswick Museum? As I am from the area, this sparked a sense of regional pride).

I would love to hear any responses or questions you may have!

7 comments:

  1. Robin, I am so glad to see that you are looking at annual reports. Partly, because I am doing the same at the AGO and I have to admit that I am fully fascinated by this genre of museum writing, especially when understood historically. For your thesis, it would be great to consider not only the specific content which is of interest to you, but this genre of documenting what museums/policy making institutions did and thought as specific moments in time. I think annual reports (which, as I am finding in the case of the AGO, were amazingly ideological and sometimes written in a very poetic style, at least in the 1930 - 1960s) are an incredibly rich piece of the puzzle in any museum studies/cultural policy project. I look forward to hearing more about how annual reports will fit within your larger study. And good luck!

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    1. Thanks Irina! I agree that annual reports are fascinating. The way they are written, such as the language that is used, is often as interesting as what is being conveyed. Also, how the information is presented - that is, the paper it is printed on, whether there is colour, or more recently if it is printed at all - convey something about the producer at that moment in time.

      Do you know of any scholarship that specifically examines this genre of writing as it relates to museums? While it interests me, it is not the focus of my study and I would be interested in reading research that has examined museum annual reports more closely.

      I am not sure how relevant it is yet to my larger study - only that having more information about past experiences will ideally help my understanding of more recent ones. I also look forward to seeing if my three days locked in a library reading these documents will help me write my thesis!

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  2. Wow, Robin - you're doing a lot of interesting research! I loved reading this post and am looking forward to hearing more about your thesis in the coming year.

    You presented your reading of annual reports as a way of further familiarizing yourself with government assistance to museums prior to your study period. As per your analysis and Irina's comment, above, it's clear that annual reports are often written with a specific language and messages in mind, depending on the historical moment and the position of the writer/source organization. My question, then, is are you looking to other sources besides annual reports to familiarize yourself with government support for NB museums? Or is the content you're most interested in - the $$$, perhaps - of a particular type of information that makes it relatively uninfluenced by ideology, politics, etc.?

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    1. It is nice to hear someone is interested! Thank you!

      The content I am interested in is definitely influenced by ideologies and politics, such as: the historic approach to giving assistance (is it direct or indirect? financial or "technical"?), the development of programmes that remain in existence (for example, the 1975 report mentions student summer employment which is something the province continues today, under a different name), and background information regarding when and how the government began supporting institutions I would like to interview. Government employees writing in a departmental annual report may have presented a very specific perspective on: 1) what the government did or did not do for institutions; 2) How important or essential different services were.

      I would even argue how the financial information is presented is not neutral. For instance, the finances are broken into less/more detail in different years, the categorizations change, and it can be presented as dollars and/or percentages.

      While reading these reports, I am also keeping an eye on the question "why." Why does the government do what it does with regards to culture? But this is more of a related question that I do not know if I will address in my thesis - the problem tends to get bigger with the "why" issue attached.

      Instead, I am focusing on the museum experience with existing policies, asking how the support structure influences an institution. I am hoping that once I begin interviewing, I can access documents from the institutions demonstrating how they presented the assistance received during the period I am examining as well as the historical development of the aid (from the institution’s perspective).

      In order to get as well rounded perspective on the past as I can, I have been searching - with varying degrees of success - for other sources of information on the development of NB cultural policy in general and as it relates to museums (all of which is influenced by a certain context). For example, the other day I read a Report published by consultants on Provincial Parks and Heritage Sites in the province in 1990. James Snowdon did a survey on museum training in New Brunswick and a report on this work was released in 1981. There was a cultural policy task force in 1997 and a heritage policy review in 1993, both of which generated reports. I am also looking for reports or documents from the NB Museum and the Association Museum New Brunswick. From a scholarship angle, Monica Gattinger and Diane Saint-pierre compare the origins and developments of provincial cultural policies, including NB, in an interesting article in 2008. I would recommend their work to anyone interested in Canadian subnational cultural policy.

      Sorry for the long-winded response – I get excited whenever anyone asks me about what I am doing. I hope I answered your question!

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  3. I'm very interested in your discussion here (and the subsequent comments) on the medium itself of annual reports -- in particular, how the medium has changed since the annual report became a much more public and accessible document, widely available through museums' and other cultural institutions' websites. Since you have been looking at annual reports over quite a significant time span, do you see significant structural/language/design changes in recent annual reports? In your experience, how do the more recent "branded" documents (and the importance of "branded-ness") alter the content -- or the reader's perception of the content?

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    1. The short answer is yes, but I you have given me more to think about (I wonder how the idea of a brand plays out at the government level) and I will come back to this issue at a latter date!

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  4. This conversation could not be timelier for my research (and for Robin's). Robin, I would be happy to talk some more in person about annual reports (there is really not too much literature on the genre itself but writing a thesis is the opportunity to craft new methods of thinking about what matters in terms of documents when looking at a specific topic). So I encourage you to build your own arguments about this. As for the corporate language, Katherine, I am reading right now the annual reports for the AGO for the late 70s, when the AGO had its first blockbuster exhibition (Tutankhamun) and the tone/language is already dramatically changed (from the significance of the AGO for the local community to AGO's leading role among the largest global museums). Why do I have the feeling that EIC next year will zoom in quite a lot on the AGO? :)

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