20 March 2018

ALUMNI IN COLLABORATION: MEREDITH LEONARD & MEGAN WILES

ALUMNI CHECK-IN

BY: EMILY WELSH


This week I check-in with two of our alumni, Meredith Leonard and Megan Wiles, who currently work at Halton Heritage Services in Milton, Ontario. Megan graciously provided this introduction to the institution:

“Heritage Services is a unique organization; we don’t have our own gallery space, visitor services staff or public hours. Instead, we provide exhibition development support for the other cultural and heritage organizations here in Halton Region. This means that my team and I help other museums and organizations create and actualize their own exhibits in their spaces. We do the majority of our fabrication onsite with our own design and graphic production studio, wide format printer, heat assist laminator and workshop.”

Megan and two of her colleagues, fabricating temporary walls that they use in many of their traveling exhibitions. She says there’s a good chance they were blasting BeyoncĂ© when this picture was taken.  Photo courtesy of Megan Wiles.

Meredith Leonard graduated from the MMSt program in 2008 and previously with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from McMaster University. After the MMSt program, she completed a Master of Science degree in Adolescent Education and completed the Getty Leadership Institute NextGen Program at Claremont Graduate University. She is currently employed as Education and Community Coordinator at Heritage Services. Meredith describes her role as follows:

“[to] develop, deliver and evaluate public programming, including exhibits, to advance the Heritage Services vision and mission. My position plays a key role in shaping Heritage Services’ public program offerings and fostering broad public engagement with heritage throughout the Region.”

Meredith is also employed by the Ontario Museum Association as Course Director of Education and Public Programs in the Certificate in Museum Studies Program.

Meredith Leonard, MMSt ‘08 pictured alongside the project team for The Oakville Historical Society exhibition who was one of Heritage Services’ early partner projects. Left to right: Claire Bennett, Meredith Leonard and MMSt intern Julia Zungri. Photo courtesy of Meredith Leonard


Megan Wiles graduated from the MMSt program in 2015 and previously with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from the University of Toronto in 2014. She is currently employed as Curatorial and Public Programs Assistant at Heritage Services. Megan’s job description involves duties with exhibitions, programs and collections including:
  • -researching, interpreting, designing, fabricating, installing and striking exhibitions
  • -developing, facilitating and delivering programming including professional development workshops and school programs
  • -supporting collections management tasks including cataloguing, inventorying and curating  

Megan Wiles, MMSt '15, pictured (left) with colleague Claire (right) installing an exhibition at a local Canadian Legion Branch for the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge. Photo courtesy of Megan Wiles.

Meredith and Megan kindly answered the following questions for us here at Musings:

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

Meredith: The launch event for our (online) exhibition project – there were so many challenges in making the project happen, it was really rewarding to see everything come together in the end (and the opening party was pretty fun too!).

Megan: It would have to be working on my exhibition project in partnership with the Aga Khan Museum and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. My group put on a photography exhibition featuring albumen prints from 19th century India at the Ismaili Centre Toronto. I really value the time I got to spend out of the classroom, gaining real world hands-on experience. It was a great feeling to have the support and expertise of working professionals in my field, especially when I was so close to graduating. Sometimes it can be challenging to make those connections but the exhibition project is a great opportunity for getting your name out there and meeting the right people.


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

Meredith: I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study under Dr. Cheryl Meszaros in the MMSt Program, and her Contemporary Theories of Art and Culture course provided me with a wonderful grounding in interpretation, which regularly informs my work in creating relevant and meaningful museum experiences for a wide variety of audiences.

Megan: Barbara Soren’s Museums and their Publics course was another one of those opportunities to get out into the field and learn by doing. The fundamental knowledge in this course helped me understand why evaluation is so important in our field, and that evaluation methods and analysis can be incredibly creative and fun. I have been able to leverage the strategies, methodologies and tools to develop my own evaluation workshops and to conduct several studies here at Heritage Services. This is another one of those courses that offers hands-on learning and I recommend it to all current MMSt students I meet.


#3. Do you have advice for museum professionals entering the sector today?

Meredith: Raise your hand – get involved in a variety of initiatives and projects – join a regional museum network, volunteer for a committee, write for a blog, help out at a community festival. These opportunities are great ways to learn and meet new contacts.

Megan: Do stuff with your hands! Gaining a theoretical background in class is a great start, but it isn’t going to be that thing that separates you from others when you’re applying to jobs. Employers are looking for professionals with real world experience. As a recent grad, I know how frustrating it can be to find an entry level job posting that requires experience but no one will give you the chance to get that experience. This is when you have to get creative and look for any and every opportunity to get involved. Say yes and get yourself and your name out there!


#4. Of the projects you have worked on with regional heritage organizations, which object, exhibit or program have you enjoyed the most? Why?

Here, Meredith and Megan fabricate plexi doors for the Partners in Time program.
Photo courtesy of Meredith Leonard.


The finished product! A locker exhibit from the 
2017 Partners in Time project with Acton High School. 
Photo courtesy of Meredith Leonard.
Meredith: As an educator, I really enjoy programs that engage students in “doing history” and empower them to tell their own stories. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with the Partners in Time program, in which Heritage Services staff work with students to curate an exhibition in their own school. In 2017, we worked with a grade 10 history class to transform student lockers into display cases, in which each student showcased an object that had special meaning for them. Currently, I’m working with a grade 6/7 class to curate an exhibit about the history of their school. These kinds of projects open up museum work to new audiences and provide meaningful, hands-on student learning experiences that are accessible to a wide variety of learners.


Megan
: Right now we are working on a project in partnership with the Halton Regional Police Service and the Halton Police Retirees Association. My colleague Claire and I are working with the police to develop an exhibition that will go in the public entry at the new Police Headquarters in Oakville. We are also rehousing, inventorying and cataloguing the HRPS collection at our office. This project is a unique opportunity for us as we don’t often partner with other departments in our organization and we have incredible content to work with. I’m also a bit of a fan girl when it comes to true crime and law enforcement, so this is a really exciting personal project for me.

Thank you to Meredith and Megan for sharing their experiences inside the MMSt program and out! All the best in your future endeavours. 

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