Tuesday, 29 November 2016

WHAT IS A MUSEUM? COMMUNITY BUILDING, STORYTELLING, AND EATING WITH THE TORONTO WARD MUSEUM

A MUSE BOUCHE

BY: ERIKA ROBERTSON

The Toronto Ward Museum will challenge most of your perceptions of what a museum is. It has no walls, no collections, and no curator. But last Saturday, Founding Executive Director Gracia Dyer Jalea curated inspiring conversations about migration through food. As she said, “tonight the museum is here.”

I’m working with the Toronto Ward Museum and two Masters of Museum Studies colleagues, Anja Hamilton and Rachael Thiessen, on our exhibition-related project. We’re expanding the series of programs called Dishing Up Toronto. The most recent iteration was Importing a Taste of Home: a special event at the Pasquale Brothers Warehouse.


From right to left, we are: Anja Hamilton, Erika Robertson, and Rachael Thiessen.
Photo: Lisa Martin

On Saturday, folks gathered at the warehouse in Etobicoke to enjoy good food, good conversation, and good company. Highlights of the evening included Monk’s Head Cheese, which I learned was so named because of the a special tool used to slice off rounds, resembling a monk’s tonsure. I was also impressed by Collective Arts State of Mind session IPA. It hits the sweet spot between bland sessions and hit-you-over-the-head hoppy-ness. I highly recommend pairing it with truffle chips. As our hostess, Anna Maria Kalcevich said with a laugh, people are always happy around food, except at funerals.

I was very happy. Photo: Erika Robertson
The Pasquales spoiled their guests, but we weren’t there just to eat. The warehouse party served as a soft launch for my group’s blog project, dishinguptoronto.tumblr.com. Our goal is to create a platform for Torontonians from all walks to share their stories of migration through food. Over the next few weeks, you can find the stories we gathered at the event with photos of our lovely guests.

I captured as many stories as I could, but so many defied attempts at documentation. Even I was surprised by how food memories created the sudden sense of intimacy among strangers. I found common ground with an older man who enjoyed my home state’s wine country. Another woman discovered that we both felt comforted by the taste of spicy chai. When a museum is an event and its collections are experiences, perhaps we have to put aside the urge to preserve everything.


Two guests share stories from their relationships with the food industry.
Photo: Erika Robertson

Our project is an experiment for both social media and museums. Many cultural institutions use social media to promote their programs or share educational content, but few use it to gather and amplify new voices. We aim to foster a sense of belonging and community based on common experiences of moving, cooking, and eating. The Toronto Ward Museum is hoping that people like you (yes, you) will add your voice. We have a few questions on our submissions page to get the conversation flowing.

Do you use Tumblr? I’m new at it, so if you have any pointers, please share! You can tweet me @EphemeralErika using #DishingUpTO

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