20 October 2017




One of the joys of being in a master's program like Museum Studies is the opportunity to learn directly from working museum professionals. I've always been especially interested in hearing the ideas of those who work in the field - and last week, some of my MMSt colleagues and I attended the Ontario Museum Association (OMA)'s annual conference in Kingston to do just that!

That's why I've decided to write a condensed conference recap for Musings' Research Column, as I believe research is made even more meaningful when situated within practical experience.

At the conference, my classmates and I were privileged to attend talks and panels by museum professionals across the province, which was extremely beneficial for our professional development. Having worked at the OMA last summer, I know the time and effort that goes into organizing the conference, and the OMA did an excellent job on #OMAConf2017!

Kingston City Hall. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
The conference theme, "Road to Renewal", highlighted the idea of strong and successful museums moving forward. Ensuring that museums are relevant to the communities they serve meant that this year's theme embodied issues such as reconciliation, diversity, and inclusion, among other approaches. Over the next few days, my classmates and I got to learn from a variety of museums that are actively working toward renewal.


We arrived in beautiful Kingston amid gales of wind (and laughter!) as well as cold rain. We didn't let the weather put a damper on our experience, however; conference delegates enjoyed a 1000 Islands boat cruise on the lake for the Opening Reception.



Conference started bright and early at the Four Points by Sheraton. This year, the OMA Conference had a Grandmother-in-Residence, eartha, a Mohawk Community Member who was available throughout the conference to answer questions about local Indigenous cultural information and issues. Along with Judi Montgomery, an Algonquin Community member, eartha gave thanks to the living beings of the earth in a beautiful opening to the conference.

eartha gives thanks and opens the OMA 2017 Conference. Photo courtesy of Madeline Smolarz. 
Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson also gave opening remarks for the conference, welcoming us to the City of Kingston, which has the most museums per capita in Canada! Sounds like the perfect place to spend the next little while learning about Ontario's museums and how they're using new ideas to renew their practices.

Our opening keynote came from Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Library and Archives Canada. Dr. Berthiaume discussed how GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) need to work together in the digital age to ensure that they as institutions progress and remain relevant to the public.

Dr. Guy Berthiaume discussing GLAMs in the digital age. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
The concurrent sessions of the morning focused on collaboration, community partnerships, and social engagement in museums. My former coworker from the Museum of Inuit Art, Lindsay Bontoft, and Janet Reid, both of the Markham Museum, outlined their project "In Our Own Words", in which they used both traditional diaries and social media platforms from new residents to examine life in Markham from the mid-19th century to present-day.

Melissa Eapen of Improbable Escapes.
Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
Next, we heard from Melissa Eapen of Improbable Escapes, a Kingston escape-room attraction, about how to engage visitors with historic sites through gameplay. Funnily enough, some of my classmates and I had booked into one of their spooky escape games for this trip, in order to enjoy our Friday the 13th - so it was great to hear about non-traditional approaches to learning and get excited for Friday!

After lunch it was time for Ignite talks (one of my favourite ways to learn)! Among the speakers were MMSt alumni (and former Musings contributors!) Stephanie Sukhareva and Jocelyn Kent, who looked at "Engaging Youth Without a Hashtag". We also got to support our classmate Erin Canning as she spoke about introducing hackathons into museum settings and the benefits of making data available for these events.

I also got to attend a talk by Dr. Amy Barron of Scugog Shores Museums and Carey Nicholson of Theatre 3x60, in which they outlined their interpretive practice in creating historical vignettes of people buried in the historic Pine Grove Cemetery. Given that historical interpretation is my area of interest, I found it invigorating to learn about how this community animated the past and engaged visitors.

Keynote speaker Glen Shackleton, founder and CEO of Haunted Walks Inc. Photo courtesy of Hannah Monkman.

Assistant Deputy Minister of Tourism,
Culture and Sport, Kevin Finnerty.
Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
Our next keynote came from Glen Shackleton, founder and CEO of Haunted Walks Inc. I arrived at this talk with great interest, as I've been on the Haunted Walks in both Ottawa and Kingston before (but strangely never in Toronto, my home city!). Shackleton's approach to learning fascinated me; he also shared how his hiring process is unusual in that he holds improv activities to find out more about the natural personalities of prospective staff.

The day ended with an update from Kevin Finnerty, Assistant Deputy Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, one year after the Ontario Culture Strategy was launched back in Summer 2016.

After this update was the Awards of Excellence Gala, and finally, Trivia Night! This year's theme was "Canada 150+", and I'm happy to say that some of your friendly neighbourhood MMSt students won first place!

We won! Clockwise from left: MMSt students Serena Ypelaar, Charlotte Gagnier, Daniel Rose, Kristen McLaughlin, Emily Welsh, Aurora Cacioppo, Sadie MacDonald. Photo courtesy of Daniel Rose. 


After the OMA's AGM, we heard from keynote speaker Elizabeth Merritt, Vice President, Strategic Foresight & Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums, American Alliance of Museums. She highlighted how we shouldn't let our fear of failure limit us in our work, and explored the role of empathy in museums.

Elizabeth Merritt speaking on the benefits of risk-taking. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
Next, another of our MMSt classmates (and former Musings contributor) Maeghan Jerry spoke about object-centred storytelling in Show, Tell, Bridge, a SSHRC-funded project at the University of Toronto. In the program, people were invited to share an object of their own and tell the personal stories attached to it - it was compelling to learn what information people tended to share when talking about their objects.

The naked mole rat our table was given to scan digitally.
The result was even more bizarre-looking: the technology didn't
quite patch the images together properly, and we finished with a
3D image of a deformed rat! Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
I subsequently attended Julian Kingston's workshop, "Hacking Immersive Digital Content for Museums". As someone who loves the concept of Augmented and Virtual Reality but lacks the digital know-how to create content, I found this workshop particularly helpful. At our tables we each got a 3D object to scan using mobile software in order to make a 3D digital image, which helped show how museums can make 3D scans of objects and even 3D-print them.

The Indigenous Collections Symposium panel featured new OMA Council President Petal Furness, the iSchool's very own Dr. Cara Krmpotich, Bep Schippers of the OMA, and Jane Holland. This panel was probably one of the most insightful for me personally. I am always striving to learn more about Indigenous collections and decolonizing museum practices, and the panel offered recommendations on how we can move forward in reconciliation. Resources will also be available through the OMA.

"Indigenous Collections: Promising Practices & Next Steps" panel. From left: Petal Furness, Dr. Cara Krmpotich, Jane Holland, Bep Schippers. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
iSchool Professor John Summers.
Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
I had the privilege of attending a workshop given by one of our Internship class professors, John Summers, which was all about rethinking the way we make meaning out of our collections in order to tell stories through exhibitions. After this enlightening workshop, I got to hear what happened when Glanmore House National Historic Site gave their museum over to 13-year-olds (check out their YouTube channel for the details!). 

Overall, my second OMA Conference was enlightening and enjoyable. It challenged me to think outside the box and to not be afraid of taking some calculated risks for the sake of progress: it's the only way museums are going to evolve and remain relevant in times that are changing.

My key piece of advice for MMSt students and for any first-time conference-goers: be not afraid! Try new things, talk to museum professionals and keep your mind open. The OMA conference is a great opportunity to learn about trends in the Ontario museum industry and hear what people are doing in various institutions. #OMAConf2018 will be taking place in Toronto, so all the more reason to attend next year!

To close out the conference, eartha and Judi once again thanked the living beings of the earth, this time drawing upon Mi'kmaq - but they didn't say goodbye to us. (In fact, there is no word for goodbye in Mi'kmaq.) "Goodbye is too final," eartha and Judi said - just as the road to renewal continues on, so must we in advancing our goals for museums.


  1. Great summary, Serena! I didn't get to attend all those you mention so it's good to read about them. :)

    1. Thanks, Kristen! There were so many great sessions that I almost wish I had a Time-Turner to be in multiple places at once... :)