Monday, 28 May 2018

DEACCESSIONING, THE REAL WORLD, AND AN INSIDE OUT MUSEUM

INTERNSHIP CHECK-IN

BY: KATHLEEN LEW

Welcome to the 2nd installment of the Internship Check-In series! MMSt students are spending the summer completing internships in institutions across Canada. Read the following interviews to gain a peek into their internship experiences.*

This post features:

Beth Dobson: Dance Collection Danse (DCD), Toronto, ON

Rachel Moats: Markham Museum, Markham, ON

Kesang Nanglu: Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, ON

Tell us a bit about yourself and your museum-related interests.

Beth: I came into the museum field by way of theatre costuming and prop building. My research and professional interests focus on decorative arts and costume history, especially dance costume. During my undergraduate degree, my final project was a study of current Canadian approaches to ballet costume conservation, preservation, interpretation, and display in museum settings. That project was also what connected me to my internship – Amy (my internship supervisor) taught a class on Canadian dance history. When I needed a supervisor for the project, she not only helped guide my research, but was one of my sources since DCD has a lot of costume holdings. My theatre background makes me extremely hands on, and my dream is to end up in a community museum with a dance or costume focus where I can wear a lot of (not fragile, historic) hats.

Rachel: I am a third year CRO working towards a Master of Museum Studies and the Master of Information with a concentration in Archives and Records Information. One of my undergraduate degrees is in History and using that knowledge at the Markham Museum has been great. I am from Pennsylvania, and interestingly enough, Markham was originally settled by Pennsylvanian German Mennonites, so interning at the Markham Museum feels like coming full circle. I’m fascinated with social history and the study of how people lived. History museums are definitely where you’ll find me. I’m also interested in the history of fashion and textiles. Museums such as the Textile Museum of Canada can keep my attention for hours.

Kesang: Coming from a fine arts background, I'm most interested in art institutions. I was born here in Toronto, so I've been lucky to grow up in a city with all kinds of art spaces. During my undergraduate degree at OCADU, I had the opportunity to get involved as a volunteer and as an exhibiting artist. I've found through my past curatorial roles I really enjoy project-planning and the more logistical aspects of museum work.

Rachel completing inventory in the Chapman House. Photo Courtesy of Rachel Moats.
What is a typical day at your institution? What are your responsibilities?

Beth: It varies. The only fixed activity is that Amy and I work in the National Ballet School of Canada’s archives on Fridays. I’m currently working on organizing 60 years worth of press clippings. For the rest of the week I work on some large projects (right now that’s organizing new acquisitions from Kaeja d’Dance) and do other jobs as needed. DCD has a lot going on, so the other jobs are really diverse. I’m only in my third week and I’ve helped pick up new donations from Veronica Tennant and Peggy Baker, set up and recorded a lecture on choreographic process, photographed a 1940s house program for a research request, and helped prep (with a lot of bubble wrap) five bundles of twigs (from Lola MacLaughlin’s Provincial Essays) for pickup for a Canada Council exhibit.

Rachel: At the moment, my main project is a building by building review of the collection, which includes assessing each object for relevancy, use, condition, ability to store, and provenance. For this project, I have been scanning records of objects into the collection management system and making sure the records are as complete as possible. I have recently moved on to assessing the objects housed at the Wilson Variety House. Objects with a passing score remain in the permanent collection, while objects that fail will be deaccessioned from the permanent collection. Currently, we are taking an inventory of the main floor of Wilson, which is set up similar to a general store. A separate project I’m finishing up is locating a birth fraktur for a community member. This project mainly involves communicating with other institutions to identify the object’s current location.

Kesang: I'll have to invoke the cliché -- there is no typical day. As Education Intern, I’m working on projects involving visitor research and evaluations of our education programs. Some of these tasks include: collecting data from visitor feedback forms, daily administrative duties like updating the museum mailing list and calling program ticket holders, creating graphs for reports, designing new online survey templates, and creating a manual of standards for implementing different types of surveys in the future.

Beth in the DCD gallery holding a National Ballet of Canada trunk full of Veronica Tennant's NBoC costume pieces, shoes, and rehearsal gear. Photo Courtesy of Amy Bowring.
What is something you have learned so far at your internship?

Beth: The most important thing I’ve learned is how to archive and organize with the researcher in mind. DCD is really dedicated to accessibility and making sure they keep research needs at the forefront, as well as balancing manageable collections. That means things like forgoing envelopes full of cheque stubs but keeping the yearly audits. Amy also encourages me to do research wherever possible to prevent disassociation. It’s a more hands-on, critical thinking method of archiving than I have previously been exposed to and I really enjoy it. Also – those score marks on the bottom of file folders? You fold those to give the folder a flat bottom. No more sagging folders or bending documents! I never knew and my life is changed forever.

Rachel: I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the process of deaccessioning objects from a collection. So often we discuss what goes into building a collection and the processes of bringing objects into the museum. However, there is just as much research, administration activities, and meetings that go into objects going out of the museum. Being able to be involved in these meetings and the project has been an incredible experience thus far. The experience of looking at each object individually and identifying the provenance, relevancy to the museum, condition, etc. has opened my eyes to a different role of a museum professional. Thankfully the community understands the importance of deaccessioning objects from the collection, and the museum is being transparent throughout the entire processes, which has also been a wonderful learning experience.

Kesang: Applying knowledge gained from our coursework to “real world” situations can be tricky. Problem solving on-the-fly is a constant in museum work. I've actually found this super liberating, since I initially underestimated myself. In actuality, if you have patience and an open-mind, you can work on equal footing with more senior staff, because everyone needs to work together to find the best solutions.

What are you excited about accomplishing throughout your internship? 


Beth: This summer is going to be a crash course in all the nitty gritty aspects of running an archive and I am really excited. Deed of gift forms, how to un-crease 80 year old letters, building custom choroplast boxes, how to remove old rusted paper clips, how to load a dolly; I am really excited for all the little stuff I definitely haven’t learned in class. Additionally, since I’ll be learning everything as I need to, there will be a lot of transitioning from theory to practice immediately. That is a scary proposition (I only have limited archives/collection management experience) but I feel very supported at DCD and I am really excited to hit the ground running.

Rachel: I’m honesty excited to see some of the objects leave the museum. As weird as it sounds, it’s going to be a great sense of accomplishment to see some of the objects that I have worked with find a better home at another institution. Seeing objects leave the museum would be the completion point of that project, and I’d be thrilled to see some of my work create a better museum and a better collection. I’m also excited for the prospect of being able to help create a temporary exhibition. Since this is something we have talked about at length in class, it will be a great accomplishment to be able to put those skills into practice.

Kesang: Seeing as the work I'm doing at my internship is new for the museum, I'm most excited to see the project through to the end. The standards I research and implement will ultimately form the foundation for the museum's future visitor research initiatives.

Kesang in front of the Aga Khan Museum. Photo Courtesy of Kesang Nanglu.
If you could create any museum (no matter how ridiculous) what kind of museum would it be?

Beth: Clothes, inside out. Just a whole museum of clothing flipped inside out. Clothing artefacts are normally collected for their exteriors and rarely exist in exact duplicates. As such, the focus is on displaying them as they would look on a person. You rarely get to see the insides, but seeing that completely changes how you think about a garment. One of my all time favorite museum things was an inside-out mid-1800s bodice at the ROM’s Dior exhibit. I would love to see a whole museum of stuff like that.

Rachel: Recently I have become fascinated with haute couture and the original fashion houses in France. I’d love the opportunity to watch the teams work in the ateliers to create extraordinary pieces of wearable art and turn individual pieces of fabric and thread into exquisite garments. That being said, I would love to be able to dive into the archives of the fashion houses, pull out all of the sketches, designs, fabrics, and clothes and put them on display for the world to see. It may not be that far fetched, but the delicacy of textiles means that it isn’t the most feasible museum that’s ever been dreamed up.

Kesang: I'm really inspired by the history of artist-run-centres in Canada, and I'd love to be involved with one in the future. So, I would create my own artist-run-centre with amazing, experimental exhibitions and programming… and extremely affordable studio space to accommodate all of the displaced artists in Toronto!

*These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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