Monday, 25 June 2018

PLAYING WITH PEDAGOGY, WEARING MANY HATS, AND WALKING A TORTOISE

INTERNSHIP CHECK-IN

BY: KATHLEEN LEW

Welcome to another edition of Internship Check-In! Read on to learn about what MMSt students have been doing this summer in institutions across Canada. Today Musings has FOUR incredible interviews to share. *

This post features:

Victoria Delisle: Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Museum of Natural History, Halifax, NS

Michael Goodchild: Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, ON

Samantha Kilpatrick: Toronto Zoo, Toronto, ON

Melina Mehr: Art Museum (UTAC), University of Toronto, ON

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

Victoria: Following my Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology and Classical studies at Saint Mary’s University (Halifax, NS), I moved to Toronto to pursue a Master of Museum Studies. Although my passion has always swayed more towards the archaeology side of things, I am interested in anything and everything related to museums. I have volunteered in Museums since I was 15, participating and facilitating school programs. Coincidently, the Museum of Natural History where I am currently interning (for the first half of my summer) is where I did my high school co-op organizing their botany collection.

Michael: I entered the museum world a similar way to how a lot of us do – through my love of history! After receiving my Bachelor of History from the University of British Columbia, I was lucky enough to promptly secure a contract position as an education assistant in the Calgary Military Museum. I led school groups through various educational activities, such as object handling, presentations on the battles of the First World War, and talks about the military contributions of local regiments through Canada’s history. Being immersed in a subject that I love, and getting to share that passion, was incredibly meaningful. The capacity of museums as centers of education, community-building and visitor enrichment are my chief interests, and I’m delighted that working in the Royal Ontario Museum’s interactive galleries affords me the opportunity to develop these interests further!

Samantha: I've always been very interested in the 'where the rubber meets the road' part of museums-- that is to say, how visitors actually experience the museum on the floor, or in the gallery. My interest in visitor experience comes from a history of being a docent at a couple of different institutions, and an absolute love for the stories museums have the potential to tell. I want to help them tell these stories as best as I can. I have a history in history and art history, so of course, I'm doing my internship at the Toronto Zoo.

Melina: I’m quite drawn to various methods of storytelling – through cinema, creative writing, visual art, and early forms of digital media. I returned to school to pursue an MMSt because my experiences in art galleries have always been fundamental for me in understanding and decoding human experiences. I’m interested in public programming to allow experiential learning environments for diverse audiences in order to create new relationships with art. Recently I’ve become interested in curatorship as well (in my mind, assembling works thematically to convey stories from marginalized communities) so maybe that’s something I’ll toy with down the line. It’s so important for institutionally underrepresented people to have the agency to tell their own histories, so I want to help decolonize the art world in whatever way possible.
 
Melina at Art Museum (University of Toronto). Photo courtesy of Melina Mehr. 
What is a typical day at your institution? What are your responsibilities?

Victoria: My internship is split between the Collections Unit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and with Janet Maltby, the rural site manager at the Nova Scotia Museum working out of the Museum of Natural History. At the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, I’ll be cataloging the Harbour China collection, and hopefully integrating it with their current Shipwrecks exhibit. My time with Janet Maltby will be spent organizing the Nova Scotia Museum’s institutional history as it’s the 150th anniversary, and shadowing and assisting her in managerial tasks. There is no such thing as a typical day! I can spend one day editing documents, reviewing policies and procedures, and partaking in meetings. Other days, I’ve organized the collections in a fish house at one of the rural museum sites or helped our interpreters take our gopher tortoise Gus for his daily walk!

Michael:
The galleries where I work depend on volunteers and visitors to activate them – this means that they’re always busy and usually need extra help, particularly the past few weeks as schools were finishing up for the summer. I’ve been kept on my toes balancing my project work with stepping out onto the gallery floor to assist volunteers with their responsibilities, help agitated parents find a wayward child, provide directions and assist visitors. When not called onto the floor I have a host of other duties to occupy my time: I help the collections managers update and rehouse specimens, update the collection database, create information cards that volunteers use when taking out objects to facilitate with guests, rehouse objects while keeping an eye open for degradation or pests, and test prototype activities to judge their effectiveness – to name but a handful!

Samantha: A typical day at the Toronto Zoo involves going out on site with a visitor questionnaire or observing and taking notes on visitor behaviour. I also will do data entry, and once a week or so sit down with all the data I have collected to conduct an analysis. The internship 'office' is the Toronto Zoo's volunteer lounge, and the home to all the biofacts and touchable objects we have for volunteers and educators to use. The other two interns are working with this education collection, which means I am often entering data into excel while they have the much more visually interesting job of gluing shark jaws back together, or pinning beetles to boards, or identifying unlabelled snakeskins.

Melina: I am the Public Programming Assistant, so my main duties are based around ensuring all our summer programs are executed seamlessly, as well as giving exhibition tours. I do outreach to create connections between current exhibitions at the Art Museum and different faculties/departments/communities in Toronto to set up various styles of tours. I also train work-study staff to become docents. Day to day I do a lot of research, tour prepping, and fun admin stuff.

One of Samantha's new friends at the Toronto Zoo! Photo courtesy of Samantha Kilpatrick. 
What is something you have learned so far at your internship?

Victoria: I’ve learned the extent of the curatorial and management process. Seeing first-hand the amount of work on a consistent basis is more than I have ever imagined. Everyone here has a thousand different projects going on at once and they all sit on numerous committees. I quickly learned that being organized is most definitely an asset. I am also pleasantly surprised at the amount of gardening skills I’ve acquired through working with our rural sites, I never thought I would be obtaining my green-thumb through my internship!

Michael: The coordinators and facilitation staff have all worked hard to ensure that I get as thorough an experience of museum work as I can, and I’ve gained practical experience in a whole range of museum work and skill development. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet with professionals from other departments, such as Design, Curatorship, and Program Planning. From all of this, I’ve learned that when it comes to front-of-house, visitor-oriented museum work, you need to get used to wearing all kinds of hats every day. I work as a collections manager, a teacher, an activity planner, a play tester, a guide, a friendly face, a source of authority and a student. I do these things all at once in any combination. Time management and the ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances is par the course for this branch of museum work.

Samantha: How to present information so it will be acknowledged and listened to.

Melina: The detailed logistics that go into planning events months and months in advance. And also the importance of keeping records – whether it’s emails, documents, notes, post-its, etc. Record everything!

A wild Michael is found in the ROM's Biodiversity gallery. Photo courtesy of Michael Goodchild. 
What are you excited about accomplishing throughout your internship?

Victoria: As an ongoing project with my predecessors at the Museum of Natural History I’m looking forward to the Gallery Renewal Project in the museums main entrance space, known as the Netukulimk Gallery. It’s exciting to be included in how gallery renewal takes place, and I’m looking forward to the outcome.

Michael: Overall, I’m excited for the breadth of experience my internship has given me so far, gaining experience in many different types of museum work. I’m also excited about how my internship can act as a spring board leading to future opportunities – the ROM is widely recognized and well-respected, and the connections I make hear can only benefit me in my future endeavours, no matter where I end up! Finally, I’m excited that my time here will open my eyes to types of museum work I wouldn’t have otherwise considered, giving me more tools to add to my museum toolbox.

Samantha: Through research and implementation (asking a horticulturalist if he could move a plant to the other side of a display case) I have doubled the number of people who engage with one of our educational booths. I am working to rewrite some of the text as well, and I will soon be able to calculate how many more hundreds of people a year stop at this booth, and leave having learned something about our environmental goals.

Melina: I’m hoping to get better and more comfortable with creating different kinds of tours for different kinds of audiences. It’s really amazing having multiple tours scheduled each week because I get to practice so frequently and play with new pedagogical methods each time to see what works best.
Victoria at the Museum of Natural History. Photo courtesy of Victoria Delisle. 
If you could create any museum (no matter how ridiculous) what kind of museum would it be?

Victoria: I know it’s not too crazy, but I love encyclopedic museums. I love the concept of having many cultures and perspectives under one roof, since we often don’t learn about them in unison. It gives people a chance to learn about them from a global perspective and understand one another. Also, I love grand, magnificent architecture- so, the bigger the museum the better!

Michael: I would love to create a museum that showcases how humanity has used technology to evolve how we tell each other stories. One of the many reasons I love museums is because they can guide visitors through stories of human development, growth, and tragedy. By word of mouth, pictures and hieroglyphs, books, movies, songs, and videogames, we continuously look for newer and newer ways to tell stories, which themselves can be experienced passively by simply listening, or putting the recipient in the driver’s seat so to speak. Celebrating these ever-changing mediums while also drawing attention to the universality of sharing and telling stories would be a lot of fun personally, and would speak to a part of museums that I love so much.

Samantha: I honestly have been so occupied by the idea of UNLive (read Samantha's Musing article here) as an ideal to aspire to that I have no idea how I would improve on that!

Melina: A collective-based museum with rotating artists (first time art-makers, emerging, practiced, all kinds) who have access to supplies, studio space, and instructors, when they otherwise may not have that opportunity. The museum’s exhibitions would be the work of these incoming and outgoing artists, providing a lens into the artistic pursuits of diverse communities; it would also validate their interest in and capacity to create art, as their pieces would be displayed in a public gallery space. 

If you want to see more of Victoria's internship, be sure to check out her Instagram!

A post shared by Victoria Delisle (@themuseumintern) on

*These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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