Monday, 26 October 2015




As the Faculty of Information welcomed us bright-eyed students to the start of a new school year, the MMST program also made great efforts in welcoming a handful of museum studies pioneers hailing from a variety of fields, places, and expertise. The Museum Studies Colloquia Series, which has taken form as a series of public talks, has brought these speakers to our Bissell Building.

If you were inundated with assignments and missed attending, here is a recap of these engaging and informative events:

1. Arun Wolf, freelance writer, translator and independent filmmaker
"Between Memory and Museum: A Dialogue with Folk and Tribal Artists"

Arun Wolf joined us as part of a collective of writers, designers, filmmakers, and artists, working with Tara Books. Founded in 1994, Tara Books is an independent publisher of picture books for adults and children based in Chennai, South India. Operating outside of the commercial pressures commonly faced by publishing houses, Tara Books works with a range of indigenous and folk communities in India to provide a platform for those who do not usually have a voice. Working collaboratively with a variety of artists and artistic practices, Tara Books works to collectively build an alternative culture of ‘the book’.

Tara Books operates under a handmade printing process, which is uniquely important to their publishing process. As Arun described, “The physical object of the book is important… The actual material object… It is important to have the sense of touch, feel, and smell, in such a digital age”.

Take a look at the handmade process developed by Tara Books: 

Now watch and listen to a reading of a completed Tara Books publication: 

As Arun discussed literature, art, and film, he also surveyed a project that was run in correspondence with The Museum of Mankind in Bhopal. The cultural aim of the project was to bring together different artists cultures to create a pan-Indian identity. One example was the art of tattooing. The base of the arts in India, tattooing is also a ritualistic and healing tradition. In this case, the museum was an important intervention to give the root of this art form recognition that it doesn’t have. The museum provided the artists a new meaning to art forms that is traditionally practiced by being able to put the designs on canvas, rather than the body.

Here is a takeaway quote from one of the Gond tribal artists: “Museums store cultural heritage as a mouse stores dropped grains”. Beautiful, isn’t it?

2. Laura Katzman, Professor of Art History at James Madison University
"Mining the Archive: Photography, Modernity, and the Status of Puerto Rico in the 1940s"

Dr. Laura Katzman joined us from James Madison University where she is currently a Professor of Art History. Dr. Katzman’s lecture examined a critical yet neglected post-World War II photographic project set up by the Office of Information for Puerto Rico (OIPR) within the U.S.-appointed governor’s office. Run by progressive New Dealers from the continental United States, the OIPR documented the island’s monumental shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy and the establishment of its semi-autonomous status as a commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado). Dr. Katzman analyzed the OIPR archive in the context of the complex U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship and the Caribbean island’s still-contested political status as an unincorporated territory that “belongs to but is not a part of” the United States.

Louise Rosskam, Making dolls in the Manual Industries Division of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company. Near Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, May 1947. Gelatin silver print. Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, City University of New York. Source: Laura Katzman.

Dr. Katzman discussed the status of Puerto Rico as a ‘Free Associated State’, which she describes as meaning, “midway between statehood and independence”. The OIPR archive Dr. Katzman works with contains 10,000 photographs and is one of the most extensive and important documentations of mid 20th century Puerto Rican life. Leading documentary photographers of the time – and essential to Dr. Katzman’s research – were Edwin and Louise Rosskam who used photography as instruments to instigate social change. The Rosskam’s left Puerto Rico in 1953, and never had they produced so much meaningful work in what the saw as a 'Golden Age'.

3. Randi Korn, Founding Director of RK&A, Inc.
"The Value of Intentionality for Museums" 

“Good design is about good communication, I take that concept with me every single day.” 

- Randi Korn

RK&A, Inc., is a company that works with cultural organizations to plan their work to achieve impact, evaluate programs, and conduct research. Randi Korn’s publication, “The Case for Holistic Intentionality,” underscores her commitment to helping staff in museums work collaboratively to pursue intentional practice to achieve impact. She strives to help museums demonstrate their value in people’s lives and communities. 

"Cycle of Intentional Practice".  Source: Randi Korn.

Hailing from Washington D.C. Randi Korn joined us to present “The Cycle of Intentional Practice”, which she developed to help museums become more intentional. The workshop follows a system of planning, aligning, evaluating, and reflecting, so that museums can clarify the impact they would like to achieve and realign all practices and resources to achieve that impact, to ensure they are operating holistically within a cycle of intentionality. Randi emphasizes that having a practice of hearing and listening is what creates holistic intentionality – you have to bring people together.

Discussing museums south of the border, Randi truly believes American museums do too much and have gotten way too big. Taking into account that museums are unable to live beyond their means, she states that she does not think museums can be for everybody, “What you’re the best at is what/who your museum should be for.”

Randi’s presentation left us (future) museum professionals to ponder: What about your work in museums is most important to you?

4. Henry Kim, Director and CEO of the Aga Khan Museum
"The Aga Khan Museum, connecting cultures through the arts: A year in review"

“My hope is that the Museum will also be a centre of education and learning, and that it will act as a catalyst for mutual understanding and tolerance.” – His Highness the Aga Khan

It is not often that students are given the chance to learn about a museum, directly from the Director. This past week Henry Kim joined us from the Aga Khan Museum to discuss programming, outreach strategies and community engagement practices in the museum’s first year. The talk also reflected on the museum’s relation with its communities in Toronto and beyond. 

Exterior view of Aga Khan Museum. Source.

The museum and its areas were imparted by His Highness the Aga Khan who developed the museum so that it would offer unique insights and new perspectives into Islamic civilizations and the cultural threads that weave through history binding us all together. “The Aga Khan Museum has been founded on a lot of big ideas on how museums can engage with social change… These ideas have been challenged with changing perceptions to make people realize that Islamic art is part of the equation of world cultural history, ” said Director Kim. 

The Aga Khan Museum & Gardens and the Ismaili Centre. Source.

The three primary interest of the museum are social development, economic development, and cultural development, as they work to “connect cultures through art”. Although the Aga Khan collection is small, with only 956 objects to date, the museum brings in exhibitions from other institutions as well as hosts 75 performances a year in their large auditorium to educate visitors. Currently operating on a budget of 16 million per year, Director Kim emphasizes that within the first year of operations the museum saw unanticipated success in their volunteer program, membership program, education program, ‘Free Wednesdays’, private hires, and events. 

Inside the Aga Khan Museum. Source.

Director Kim left us with an important message: in order to to create social change the Aga Khan needs to see more visitors come through the door. There you have it, fellow museum studies cohorts. Let's do our part in raising the number of visitors as the Aga Khan Museum goes into its second year.

I look forward to seeing you all at the last Museum Studies Colloquia of THIS semester…

John Summers, Curator of the Halton Regional Museum & Alysa Procida, Curator & Lauren Williams, Collections Manager at the Museum of Inuit Art
"Contemporary Curatorial Practices" (panel)

When: Thursday, November 19th from 4-6pm in BL 728.
* All events are FREE and open to the public


Aga Khan Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved from

RK&A, Inc. (2015). Retrieved from

Tara Books. (n.d.). Retrieved from


1 comment:

  1. Your summary is informative and concise. It is very helpful to keep the student population and the greater community informed and involved in the THE MUSEUM STUDIES COLLOQUIA SERIES. The series is fortunate to have such have expertise and passionate people in their field sharing their knowledge andresearch. Thank you for posting the successful series.