Tuesday, 20 February 2018

ALUMNI IN THE SIX: LAURA ROBB & CARA VAN DER LAAN

ALUMNI CHECK-IN

BY: EMILY WELSH

For this week’s edition I check-in with two of our alumni who are situated in the home of our MMSt program, the vast city of Toronto.


Laura Robb graduated with her MMSt degree in 2012 and previously with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in 2006. Laura is currently employed as one of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)'s Assistant Interpretive Planners and has recently worked on exhibitions such as Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters and Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood. She nicely summarizes her duties as such:

“In a nutshell, interpretive planning is articulating the big ideas and key themes that an exhibition will tell, and deciding what vehicles – such as text, video, hands-on activities – will best relay these ideas and themes. As an IP, I advocate for visitors: how can I relate material that may (or may not) be unfamiliar to visitors in a meaningful way? How can I guide you to have a personal connection to our exhibitions?”

Laura’s past work experiences include her time as a tour guide at the Textile Museum of Canada, as an audience researcher at the AGO, and as a content developer in Vancouver for a dinosaur interpretive centre based in Macau. Laura also worked under a paid internship at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles where she developed and tested mobile-based games and activities.

Laura Robb, MMSt 2012, Art Gallery of Ontario Assistant Interpretive Planner. Photo courtesy of Laura Robb.


Cara van der Laan is currently employed as the Ontario Science Centre (OSC)’s Artifacts Coordinator. She graduated with her MMSt degree in 2010 and previously with a Joint Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History and Physical Anthropology at the University of Waterloo in 2007.

Cara is responsible for managing, inventorying, cataloguing and curating the OSC’s artifact collection of over 20,000 objects of diverse materials; scheduling, supervising and completing installations of all objects of incoming, temporary and permanent exhibits; managing incoming, outgoing and internal loans; and developing and installing internal rotating exhibits with artifacts.

Before working at the OSC, Cara was employed in the Education Department of the Toronto Zoo where she worked with volunteers and the zoo’s biological collection. She was also a volunteer coordinator for the Luminato Festival, for which she was responsible for a team of 500 volunteers, and a part of TheMuseum’s floor staff, for which she led tours of exhibits as well as developed and led public programs.

Cara van der Laan, MMSt 2010, Ontario Science Centre Artifacts Coordinator. Photo courtesy of Cara van der Laan.

Laura and Cara kindly answered the following interview questions for us here at Musings.


1. What is your favourite memory from your time in the MMSt program?

Laura: Honestly, it was probably the classroom debates around where we saw museum work going in the future. I love picking apart the idea of a museum and what it means to display, interpret and program objects from a philosophical point of view.

Cara: My most vivid memories are from Hooley’s Curating Science course. His course really challenged the way I thought about learning and the definition of science. I remember him talking about abstract concepts such as huge astronomical distances and learning about them in hands-on ways. (We went out in the hallway with string!) The course content has proved useful in working at the Ontario Science Centre but I also enjoyed finding methods to explain concepts in diverse ways to teach multiple audiences.


2. What course or subject matter has been of most use to you in your current role?

Laura: Museums and their Publics and Interpretation and Meaning-Making were certainly key. There’s a duality between those courses because evaluation tends to study what interpretive planning is trying out, to figure out what worked, what needs adjusting and what needs abandoning. Both courses provided me with a great introduction to constructivism, which is how we approach exhibition development. I wouldn’t be where I am today without those two courses.

Cara: In the most direct way, Sue Maltby’s class [Museum Environment]. I still find myself consulting notes I took from her class and trying to channel her when I’m educating others about relative humidity or active corrosion. Indirectly, I’ve found I’ve used so much of Barbara Soren’s Museum and their Publics in ways I wasn’t intending. It has created a love of quantifiable metrics of evaluation that I didn’t realize I had. I find myself talking about evidence based decision-making on a regular basis and utilizing technical skills from her course in very useful ways.


3. What advice would you give to museum professionals entering the sector today?

Laura: Say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way, no matter how small or hard it is and no matter how loud your “I-don’t-think-I-can-do-this” voice screams. Everything is a chance to meet people and pick up new skills or even just figure out what you really don’t want to do in life.

Cara: Be flexible - career paths do not have to be linear. Find things that you enjoy doing and find ways to do them as much as you can. Keep engaged in the museum sector, even if you find yourself taking jobs outside of the field. Find a mentor. Keep learning.


4. Which object or exhibit, in your current institution, do you enjoy the most? Why?

Laura: Barry Ace’s “trinity suite: Bandolier for Niibwa Ndanwendaagan (My Relatives); Bandolier for Manidoo-minising (Manitoulin Island); and Bandolier for Charlie," which was part of Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood. Ace’s work is incredible and I love art and ideas around futurism.

Cara: I love objects that tell great stories. We have two one thousand-year-old skeletons, one which may have been a pituitary giant, both of which have multiple bone breaks that can tell you what an interesting life they must have led in Anglo-Saxon England. We have a calcified rat skin that was used in an experiment at the University of Montreal. We have two beautiful flea traps that were worn around women’s necks in 17th and 18th century which greatly influenced research done at the Science Centre on hormones and entomology in the 1970s. We have the patent model of the first carbon fibre violin and the donor now works at Bombardier. There are too many great stories to pick from!

Here Cara weaves on the Ontario Science Centre's 150-year-old Jacquard Loom! Photo courtesy of Cara van der Laan. 

Many thanks to Laura and Cara for taking time to speak about their experiences and work!

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