Monday, 9 November 2015




Thanks to the generosity of the Ontario Museum Association (OMA) and its partners, I was able to attend the 2015 OMA Conference on the theme “Redefining Borders” in Windsor, Ontario last week from Thursday November 4 to Friday November 5. My MMSt peers and I received an email in mid-October stating that the Conference had been made free for students, reducing the financial barrier to participating significantly. Over a dozen of us rallied and organized ourselves (and our academic responsibilities) in order to attend and take advantage of all that the Conference had to offer.

The logo of the 2015 Conference. Source.

For the benefit of those who were unable to join the hundreds of delegates at Caesars Windsor Hotel and Casino where the Conference was held, I decided to write a “Conference Review” rather than an Exhibition Review for our Museum Mondays column. I did not get to every single session – if you were at the conference and somehow managed to do so, way to go! – and therefore I will only be providing summaries of those I attended. You can check out the other sessions here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

9:00pm – 1:30am: In transit [Toronto > Windsor]
Special thanks to all-around lovely person Leah Moncada for offering her vehicle as transportation for two other MMSt students and I.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

10:00 – 10:30am: Networking Break
I was matched with Clark Bernat, Culture and Museums Manager of the City of Niagara Falls, through the OMA’s Conference Connections Program. The program is an initiative organized by the Emerging Museum Professional Advisory Committee (EMPAC) of the OMA and aims to connect emerging and established museum professionals to help facilitate positive change in the future of the sector in Ontario. Clark was a fantastic mentor: he reached out via email prior to the conference, checked in with me during networking sessions, we spoke during a session we both attended, and he freely offered further advice outside of how to make the most of the Conference. I highly recommend the program to future attendees.

10:30 – 11:45am: Engaging Your Community and Building Public Value
Representatives from two museums that have taken part in the museumsuccession project and OMA Professional Development Coordinator Mary Collier joined to discuss the process and successes of the project. I enjoyed listening to how the Ruthven National Historic Site and the Museum on the Boyne have taken advantage of the project at different stages.

Engaging Your Community and Building Public Value panel. Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

11:45am – 12:00pm: Ignite Presentations - “The Dirt on Rammed Earth” and “Embracing the Drama”
As a non-collections professional myself, the first presentation – which discussed the benefits of rammed earth technology in constructing buildings prime for collections care – did not appeal to me much but the second – which was presented by the Collingwood Museum and shared details of their highly successful theatre partnership with a local company – held my attention fully.

12:00 – 1:00pm: Lunch
The OMA provided excellent food throughout the conference for all three daily meals and breaks. I can’t commend them enough for feeding us so well.

1:00 – 2:15pm: Service Learning – Choose Your Own Adventure!
Representatives from the Scarborough Museum, the University of Toronto Scarborough, the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, and Scarborough Archives presented a compelling case study of service learning for university students at the Scarborough Museum to encourage other museums to consider participating in a similar program.

Service Learning - Choose Your Own Adventure! presentation. Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

2:15 – 2:45pm: Networking Break
I made use of some breaks to visit the many tradeshow exhibitors in the main ballroom area set up around the periphery of the space. The OMA organized an activity to motivate delegates further to visit the exhibitors, and many had their own creative ways of displaying and disseminating their information.

2:45 – 4:00pm: Bridges and Barriers… to the Next Generation of Museum Workers
Emerging museum professionals (EMPs) joined in conversation with employers, facilitated by questions posed to the audience, to discuss how to best bring the next generation into the sector. An info-gathering questionnaire was given to employers yet not to EMPs, which was a curious choice in my opinion.

4:00 – 5:00pm: Preview to Ontario’s Museum 2025 – Looking Ahead
A large panel presented the strategy for the future of Ontario’s museums that has been developed over several years. The official draft document will be released later this month to allow for feedback before the final version is prepared for next year.

6:00 – 9:00pm: Awards of Excellence Reception
The reception was a great chance to enjoy delicious food and engaging conversation in a more formal setting. OMA representatives presented several awards during dessert and the MMSt contingent proudly watched Internship professor Catherine Blackbourn receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Congratulations Professor Blackbourn. Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

9:30 – 11:00pm: EMPAC Trivia Night
Several excited teams of 4 competed in the first annual EMPAC Trivia Night after the awards reception. The quirky questions ranged from Heritage Minutes to knowledge about Windsor, and everyone in attendance had a blast.

Friday, November 6, 2015

10:00 – 10:30am: Living Memories, Engaging Conversations
The Meaford Museum’s objects-based program geared towards people with Alzheimer’s and dementia is absolutely wonderful and serves a portion of the population that is often not a priority in museum programs. The presenters even passed around postcards in the audience to simulate the program.

10:45 – 11:15am: Adventures Outside the Box
In only three years, the curator / manager of the South Grey Museum has helped the museum become a vital, vibrant asset in the local community and she shared her experience thus far. The kinds of initiatives described were inspiring and creative, such as reaching out to a local TV channel.

11:15 – 11:30am: Health Break
(read: smoothies and parfaits… yum)

11:30am – 12:45pm: Spirit of the Sikhs at Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives – A Sustainable Community Partnership
This was the best presentation of the entire Conference for me, hands down. A group of PAMA staff along with a prominent community representative from the Sikh community in Peel described their overwhelmingly successful partnership during Sikh Heritage Month this past April. They will happily continue the initiative and I look forward to seeing how it evolves!

Community activist Gurratan Singh demonstrated the diversity of Peel's population with a powerful infographic.
Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

12:45 – 1:30pm: Lunch

2:15 – 2:25pm: The New Post-Secondary Gallery – Not Just for the Humanities
The L-Space gallery at Humber College has many unique partnerships with the surrounding student community – amazingly, over 90% of academic departments at Humber have used the space – and offers an interdisciplinary model that many other museums can put into practise.

2:45 – 3:15pm: Networking Break

3:15 – 4:30pm: The (im)possible Museum
Three second-year MMSt students (one being our own Jenny Ford) and Professor Cara Krmpotich of the iSchool each spoke for 15 minutes on topics that some might consider impossible in the museum sector: touching objects, museums in space, changing perceptions about fish, and managing competing interests while a national museum is built.

From L to R: Lindsay Small, Professor Krmpotich, Jenny Ford, and Mary Kate Whibbs.
Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

4:30 – 5:00pm: Closing Plenary – Nick Gray, Founder and CEO of Museum Hack
Gray’s speech sent everyone off on a high note as he brought an enthusiastic energy to the end of the Conference. His remarks were a variation on his TedTalk, which you may watch here.

5:30 – 11:00pm: In transit [Windsor > Toronto]
Fuelled by chocolate-covered coffee beans and the irresistible Mama Mia! soundtrack, Leah shared her vehicle again and drove a full car of tired yet happy MMSt students home to the GTA.

Final Thoughts

Here are some pieces of advice I would like to pass on to past, present, and future conference-goers that I picked up from my adventures in Windsor.

1. You don’t have to go to everything. Pace yourself and go to the sessions you think you will learn the most from.
2. Sleep is important. As exciting as late-night trivia or a visit to the casino might be, try to wind down by a reasonable time and get some shut-eye.
3. Take some notes to review later. These will refresh your memory when you’re researching a museum or project that caught your interest at the time.
4. Have a bunch of business cards in your pocket. Networking is key for everyone in our sector and we can learn a great deal from one another if we stay in touch.

Thank you to everyone at the OMA who made the 2015 “Redefining Borders” Conference a roaring success. I look forward to attending again in the future, perhaps in 2016 when the Conference travels to Peel!


  1. Great rundown for those of us who didn't go! Nice to see such a variety of presentation topics and activities.

    1. Thank you, Anya - I'm so glad to hear the article was useful for you. That was the idea as I knew not everyone who would have liked to attend the conference was able to be there. Museum professionals have to help each other out!