Friday, 23 June 2017




Part three of Internship Check-In is here. Let's see what our peers are up to!

Today's post features:

Emilie Albert-Toth: The Bata Shoe Museum - Toronto, ON
Erin Canning: Art Gallery of Ontario - Toronto, ON
Samantha Eadie: Doris McCarthy Gallery, U of T Scarborough - Scarborough, ON
Anna Kawecka: Markham Museum - Markham, ON
Jenny Lee: Theatre Museum Canada - Toronto, ON

Describe what a typical day is like for you at your institution. What are some of your main duties and responsibilities?

A typical day involves setting up for the tours booked for the day. Depending on the grade level, the program includes a craft activity, a hands-on workshop and a tour of our permanent gallery or First Nations gallery. The craft is introduced through a brief discussion of symbolism and identity; we use a painted clog from Holland to talk to the kids about these ideas. We then ask the kids what symbols they think represent Canada and themselves and have them paint a miniature wooden clog with the symbols they think best represent them. Then, we lead a hands-on workshop where the kids can touch and handle different kinds of shoes from our collection. The program wraps up with a 30-minute tour of either the permanent gallery or the First Nations gallery depending on the curriculum connection. Following the program, I might work the front desk for an hour or so and spend the afternoon being trained in the galleries, learning about the collection in more depth and practice giving tours. My main duties include delivering guided tours, facilitating interactive hands-on workshops, front desk and visitor services, encouraging visitor participation in family programs through children’s craft activities, preparing education and family program materials and resources.

Erin: Currently, I am involved in three projects to do with the expansion of the AGO’s collections information systems: the implementation of the Exhibitions module in TMS [The Museum System]; the addition of a large number of artists to the system; and linking artist Constituent records with Linked Data identifiers such as ULAN (Getty Union List of Artists) and VIAF (Virtual International Authority File) ID numbers. I spend most of my day at my computer, or in the Archives doing research for the Exhibitions project. I don’t really have a “typical day” in terms of how and when I do my work, but each day tends to involve a little research (online and/or in the Archives), data cleaning, running the scripts I have written on the cleaned data – and finessing a script if necessary – and working to write some new programming processes to automate the Linked Data project. The purpose of this is make feasible projects that involve digital data, and that are too large to approach manually.

Samantha: My internship focuses primarily on an archival project at the Doris McCarthy Gallery, specifically the organization of the Cold City fonds. The project is in its earliest stages so my main responsibilities are rehousing the archival material (which is comprised of fourteen boxes) in order to ensure proper storage standards are implemented. Once the material has been assessed and transferred to archivally approved folders, the material is logged in a database which documents all of the important details of the individual records. The database is intended to inform the creation of a finding aid which will assist researchers in the future.

Anna: In the past few weeks I've been working on developing my own exhibit here at the museum. I usually spend my days researching, designing, and editing everything I've been putting together. In terms of main duties and responsibilities, preparing for exhibition development meetings and getting this exhibit finished are top priorities at the moment.

Jenny:  I have a few projects going on at the moment, so a typical day can range from organizing a box of donated theatre programs for the education collection to writing up audience survey data. The museum itself is still under construction, so we do a lot of planning - a favourite project has been mapping through what visitors will think, feel, and do at every stage of the experience so we can anticipate their needs early on. I've also been helping out our affiliate, the Toronto Theatre Database, to get some programs online as they prepare for the Fringe Festival next month.

Say hello to Emilie and The Bata Shoe Museum!
What is something you have learned in your first few weeks of your internship?

Emilie: I’ve learned a lot about the Ontario school curriculum and the ways in which the museum’s educational programming can enhance children’s learning experience through alternative ways of learning including hands-on activities or simply through a change in setting or environment.

Erin: I have really seen in practice how supportive and enthusiastic the museum data community is, and how open people are to helping out their peers, even across institutions and country borders. In particular, for the Linked Data project, I was reaching out to people working in the field that I have never met at institutions across North America, and received nothing but support and offers of assistance.

Samantha: The most important lesson that I have learned in my first few weeks at the gallery is the importance of archival standards. In my first week I was able to spent some time researching archival standards and the archival description process. This early research has informed all of my work and helped me to construct an efficient structure for the logging of the material details. The amount of archival material that is included in these fonds is vast and I have developed a great appreciation for all archivists and the tedious work that they do.

Anna: My internship has been a whirlwind of opportunities! I've learned a ton of practical skills that I can apply to future projects. Trying my hand at the responsibilities of installation and conservation has shown me a few skills I never knew I had, and a few things I know I'll have to practice (curse you, scissor skills!).

Jenny: How grant-writing works! Most grant application websites are labyrinthine, and the information you need is invariably spread out over twelve different pages, so even the research is a bit of a process.

Erin taking a selfie at her work station.
What is something that has surprised you about museums that you did not know before working in a real one?

Emilie: The biggest surprise was finding out that The Bata Shoe Museum, despite being a mid-size institution, actually runs on a very small staff, only about one person per department. I was also surprised at the wide range of educational and public programming that comes out of such a seemingly niche institution, a shoe museum. It’s very impressive.

Erin: Is it bad to say nothing? Over the time of my undergrad, and in the years between the end of it and when I returned for my Masters, I worked in museums in a couple of different provinces, an artist-run centre, an auction house, a commercial gallery, and an artist estate… I feel like those experiences prepared me for what this internship experience would be like, at least in terms of the culture and behind-the-scenes practices of arts institutions and museums.

Samantha: I have worked at a number of museums of varying sizes and with very different scopes and mandates and I think that the thing that has struck me most is the diversity and dynamic nature of Canadian cultural institutions. Although there are particular standards that govern museum work in this country, every institution has a different approach to how they present and preserve their collection, how they engage with visitors and the wider community and how they conserve our history. I think that’s one of the things that makes this field so exciting to be a part of and it certainly makes the work more interesting.

Anna: The community is very close-knit. This goes both ways in terms of the museum and its local community, as well as the museological community. Everything (and everyone) seems so intertwined and although I knew that was true already, I didn't know it was to this extent!

Jenny: The optimum temperature for collections storage rooms is actually quite uncomfortably cold for humans. I think I knew this before, but now I am acutely aware of it.

Samantha hard at work at the Doris McCarthy Gallery
What do you enjoy most about your internship?

Emilie: I really enjoy being with the people I work with. We’re a small group of four students along with our two supervisors who are extremely devoted to providing us with a meaningful experience and teaching us skills that we can apply to our future career. I also really enjoy working with the kids. They’re so smart and funny.

Erin: Getting the opportunity to write implementable script to the systems, and watching it run and do what it is supposed to do! I love the satisfying feeling of seeing a large pile of data become part of a working system, and the kinds of new insights that the influx of information can bring.

Samantha: I really enjoy working independently and being able to directly oversee the progress of a project like this. I think that having the trust of my supervisor and the wider gallery staff is an incredible thing and it has certainly helped to instill a level of confidence in myself and in my work that would not be easily constructed by anything other than practical experience and positive feedback.

Anna: It's a close tie between all the amazing things I've been able to take part in (installations, archival research, conservation, etc.) and having such a great team to work with. I literally could not have chosen a better internship.

Jenny: I get to do a lot of research (through reading museum journals and just looking at other museums' websites and blogs to see what they do and if it works) which is just about my favourite thing to do.

Anna interning at the Markham Museum.
How has being in your specific institution changed or affirmed what you want to do in your future career?

Emilie: I definitely went into the whole internship experience not knowing exactly what I wanted to be doing but I’ve always been really interested in the museum’s role as an educational institution and one that is engaged in society and its community, so I think the internship in the education department has been a really excellent fit and a career path that I will likely pursue. Based on the size of the Bata Shoe Museum and the familiarity that comes with a smaller staff, I definitely would want to work at a small institution. I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect from an education department at a museum, let alone a shoe museum, but leading up to the start of my internship, my supervisors outlined their program and explained how they developed their programs to connect directly to the school curriculum in their own unique way.

Erin: This internship experience has really highlighted for me, how few tools currently exist to support this bigger-picture version of museum data work, especially for people who are less technologically inclined. In order to make this kind of work feasible for institutions, we need to both hire people with the skills, and develop products that are accessible for those without the skills and educational background. There is a lot that the perspective of museum professionals can bring to these discussions, which is getting left out if we do not support the industry as a whole, as opposed to only select individuals working within it. I would be interested in continuing to do this kind of work, and then leveraging that experience to support software development in this area, so that museum informatics companies can support the wide breadth of information work that is occurring in the industry, beyond the day-to-day cataloguing and constituent-management needs.

Samantha: I think that this position has helped to confirm that my career path is in collections management. I enjoy working with the physical material and analyzing it for important details and it’s so incredible to see how all of the bits and pieces of the fonds fit together in order to construct a wider narrative. Additionally, interning at a contemporary art gallery for a second summer has also confirmed my desire to work within an institution dedicated to the arts as I think that they are important spaces for dialogue and engagement.

Anna: I can definitely see myself working in a curatorial role more than ever. It's something that has been on my radar since I started the program, but now that I've gotten some first-hand experience, I'd love to continue down the same path. I've also come to appreciate the environment of a smaller institution. I really like the ways they interact with their community/audience.

Jenny: It's opened me up to aspects of education, programming, and visitor services, which wasn't something I had given a lot of thought to previously.

Jenny with a mini theatre at Theatre Museum Canada!
What’s your passion?

Emilie: I would say my passion is working with the community to increase the accessibility of art and public programs and I’ve found that working with children in the education department is a very mutually fulfilling way of doing that.

Erin: My passion is data of all kinds about visual arts institutions – collections data, visitor experience data, and (what interests me most) the intersection between the two, i.e. affective metadata. I love to find the patterns and potential cause-effect relationships that can be gleaned from large amounts of information, that are otherwise hidden from the ground-level view. If you have not yet had me chatter at you about affective metadata, trust me when I say you will, as I will (hopefully) be spending the next year writing my thesis on the subject.

Samantha: What I find most interesting about museum work and, therefore, what I am most passionate about, are the stories that are contained within all cultural material. There is so much that can be learned through the study and documentation of objects and being able to share that with museum audiences and the wider community is an incredible thing. I’m looking forward to working more with collections in order to discover our country’s diverse narratives.

Anna: Oh man, that's a heavy question. I think I can safely say that I have a real passion in artefact conservation. I helped restore a cast iron stove for one of the newly unveiled exhibits and it has definitely been one of the highlights of this internship. There's a certain feeling of pride attached to making an artefact live up to its potential.

Jenny: I have a bee in my proverbial bonnet about accessibility in museums - from physical accessibility to programming for visitors with disabilities.

Thank you Emilie, Erin, Samantha, Anna and Jenny for sharing honestly about your experiences and taking the time to participate in this interview. See you in two weeks for Part Four!

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