Monday, 1 February 2016

CLASS TRIP MUSEUM REVIEWS: NIAGARA EDITION

EXHIBITION MUSEUM REVIEWS

BY: MADELINE SMOLARZ

The annual MMSt class trip is something students always look forward to throughout the year. Washington, Montreal, and Ottawa have been significant past destinations, and the trip's itinerary generally involves a few days spent in one city visiting several museums and their employees, some of who are alumni of the program. The care and time that goes into planning them is extensive, and time in the host museums' galleries is supplemented by professional lectures, collections tours, and many more behind-the-scenes insights.

This year, Museum Studies Student Association (MUSSA) President Dylan Dammerman and Social Chair Leah Moncada - Musings' own fantastic Historic Kitchen contributor - have organized a selection of shorter trips to cities across southern Ontario that include 3 day-long trips and 1 two-day excursion. This article will shine the spotlight on the latter, which took place a week ago: the exciting overnight trip to the Niagara Falls region!

I'll be providing a short description of the three amazing museums we visited over 36 hours as well as recognizing each institution for something they do exceptionally well, rather than just focusing on their exhibitions. Let's just call it Musings' own version of the film industry's highly anticipated awards season happening right now.

St. Catherines Museum & Welland Canals Centre: Best Program - aMuse

The entrance to the St Catherines Museum during nicer weather than we experienced! Source.

Speakers: Kathleen Powell (Supervisor Historical of Services / Curator), Meredith Leonard (Visitor Services Coordinator)

Part of St. Catherines Museum's permanent exhibition space. Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

After we were all revived with some delicious coffee from our very considerate hosts at the St. Catharines Museum, who knew we had left Toronto before sunrise, the MMSt contingent was broken into three small groups and taken through the Museum's extensive collections areas in stages while the others explored a temporary exhibition. We gained plenty of insight into the collecting practices and management challenges posed by the collection, such as dealing with the vibrations from the huge ships that pass through the canal next door in the summer. Everyone then assembled for an excellent presentation on the Museum's innovative aMuse program, which is a series of one-of-a-kind offsite pop-up events that brings the Museum into the city. Our visit concluded with a quick tour then free time within the permanent exhibition as well as the new World War I addition. Kathleen and Meredith were even able to share a few details about the changes they hope the Museum will undergo in the near future.


Niagara Falls History Museum: Best Response to the Local Situation of the Community

NFHM is comprised of a historic building (L) and new addition (R). Source.

 Speakers: Clark Bernat (Manager, Niagara Falls City Museums), Suzanne Moase (Curator)

Mr. Bernat's favourite interactive at NFHM - building a simple and a complex bridge. Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz

I was impressed by the Niagara Falls History Museum even before the formal presentations and tours began; the foyer of the complex joins the historic and new halves of the Museum and is flooded with natural light. We received a thoughtfully delivered introduction to the Museum and the other sites associated with it - find out more here - and then split into two groups that switched over midway through our visit. Suzanne led the collections side of the tour down into the basement while Clark took his groups through the airy temporary and permanent exhibition spaces located in the new building. Clark and Suzanne were clear that the Museum was not perfect, but agreed that it is a work in progress (as all museums are, really) and there are many things that they excel at. The local community is currently facing a series of social and economic challenges, and the Museum's staff  members not only recognize this, but they are actively working to meet the public's needs, provide people with resources, and partner with various initiatives to help improve the community overall.


Niagara Historical Society Museum: Best Use of Internal and External Resources

The exterior of the NHSM in summer, showing the original building (L) and later addition (R). Source.

Speakers: Tami Daoust (Acting Curator), Amy Klassen (Society Administrator / Acting Managing Director), Sarah Kaufman (Managing Director / Curator) Barbara Worthy (Freelance Producer / Writer / Actress)

The interior of the NHSM's original building. Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

A good portion of our time at the Niagara Historical Society Museum was spent learning from the welcoming staff during detailed presentations about the Museum's history, current exhibitions, and recent large-scale traveling video project called "Flames of War," which we each received a copy of and thoroughly enjoyed watching on the bus ride back to Toronto. The Museum staff were honest when sharing details of their limited finances, so it was all the more impressive when they explained how they make their small operating budget stretch so far every year. They had many space, time, and money-saving tips to share with the group, which we were then able to witness in action during tours of the Museum's current exhibitions and it's collections holdings. If you're interested in the events surrounding the War of 1812 and World War I in the Niagara region, the NHSM is the destination for you.

Honourable Mention -- Fort George: Best Immersive Experience

Conservation Tips & Tricks contributor Nikita walking around the Fort. Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

Although the Fort was not a site that we visited as an organized group, many of us were able to get in before it closed to thoroughly explore the open buildings, which included the Officer's Building and the original Powder Magazine, and some of us even joined in on a couple of tours run by very knowledgeable historical interpreters. There's nothing like following in the footsteps of the people who lived and worked there 200 years before... and the sun came out just as I arrived there, so the Fort gets bonus points for being incredibly beautiful.

MMSt students are happiest when on guided tours. Look at those smiles! Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz.

SUMMARY


In the end, all of the museums we were fortunate enough to visit are on the precipice of great change. It was fascinating to learn about how they are each moving forward in their own way and pushing museum practice beyond what has been done before to better serve their surrounding communities.

Thank you to all of our hosts. The trip would not have been such a success without your donation of time and expertise. We greatly appreciated your honesty, generosity, and hospitality. Your passion for museum work was infectious and we all look forward to crossing paths with you again some day.

Special thanks to Leah & Dylan for organizing the trip. The MMSt program is lucky to have you.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for visiting the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre and you win the prize for Most Engaged Student Audience!! Come back and see us soon!!

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    1. Your kind words are much appreciated, Kathy! We were thrilled to visit you and certainly will do so again if we're ever back in the region. Congratulations to the Museum on your aMuse program and I look forward to seeing what your team does in the future!

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