Sunday, 30 May 2010

Olympic Inspiration

I'm aware that the Olympics were months ago, but while organising some photos today I found some pictures and remembered that I had intended to blog about my trip to the Winter Olympics back in February. Here are five things about the way that the Olympic visitor experience was organised that inspire me as I work on everyday interpretation and visitor experience at programs for the museum:

1. Interesting interactives that allowed people to capture and share their visitor experience:
These free computer terminals were at different venues and always had long line-ups of people waiting. The terminals allowed people to take a photo of themselves with a venue in the background, in this case the public skating arena downtown. Then you could choose a frame for the photo that included information about the location and e-mail the electronic picture-postcard to a friend. There were also other images of B.C. landscapes that could be substituted as a background if you didn't want to capture your exact location.

2. Awesome volunteers:
This is a random photo taken during a speed skating event. When I look at the image on my computer monitor I can spot at least 4 blue-jacketed volunteers in the stands helping people, not to mention the more than a dozen volunteers on the ice organising the event.

Without the volunteers the visitor experience would have been greatly compromised. The crowds, rearranged traffic patterns, modified transit schedules, and other things going on for the Olympics created some confusion in the streets and at the venues. However, the volunteers (working with the police and staff) managed to create a smooth and friendly visitor experience. The volunteers all wore bright blue jackets and yellow arm bands so they were clearly visible and you were never more than about 10 meters from one if you needed help. The volunteers were clearly well trained and knew their stuff, and even if they didn't know the answer to your question they knew their resources and were able to direct you to someone who could help - usually within their sight line. I was consistently impressed with their enthusiasm and knowledge.

I should also note that there are over 200 awesome volunteers at the Galt Museum and we really couldn't do our jobs without them!

3. Functional, affordable, eye catching souvenirs:
Despite the cherry blossoms in the background of this photo, and the fact that the weather was unseasonably warm most of the days I was in Vancouver, these mittens came in handy at the colder venues on the mountain and at evening events where it could be quite cold. The mittens were worn by athletes, celebrities (Oprah?!), and visitors to the Olympics and created a shared connection to the event. Even if you weren't in Vancouver, I think they created a feeling of connection to the place and time. Plus they had Canadian colours, a maple leaf, and a Vancouver 2010 logo and at $10 a pair they were relatively affordable compared to some of the magnets, key chains and other souvenirs available.

4. Community Generated Art/Exhibits:
There were also some fabulous community generated art and exhibits that created a feeling of connection to the event. This sock puppet above was a part of a school generated exhibit that was on display in the hallway at the CBC building. Below is a street exhibit of children's drawings about the games that were turned into lanterns that lit up at night:
5. Constant entertainment & opportunities to give visitor feedback:
There was so much to see and do that there was never any need to be bored at an event - even the lineups had buskers or TVs showing events for entertainment. There were also tons of hands-on activities and entertaining photo-ops at pavilions, events, and in the streets as you moved from event to event. Also, there were lots of ways to give feedback so it was easy to feel like you had a voice and a connection to what was happening.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Forgotten? Or remembered incorrectly? You decide!

Is it worse to be forgotten by history or to be remembered incorrectly (and perhaps unflatteringly) by history?

I’ve been thinking about this question for a few reasons.

First, I have been reading the biography of R.B. Bennett (Bennett: The rebel who challenged and changed a nation) and it got me thinking about this question. And as I was reading the book I had a question so I googled about Canadian Prime Ministers and came across an interesting web-site that lists how Canadians actually remember our various Prime Ministers. For many of the Prime Ministers, the response was “they don’t.” For the vast majority of Canadians many of the people who led our country have been completely forgotten. And for the ones that we do remember, the suggestion is that we remember them in less than accurate or even flattering terms – the guy who talked to his dead dog, the guy from the First World War on the $100 bill, etc.

As well, I have been leading quite a few school programs around the Great Depression and, of course, as part of the program we have a photograph of a Bennett Buggy. The Bennett Buggy was a vehicle people made in the Great Depression by pulling the engines out of their cars and then hooking their cars up to horses. The Bennett Buggies were used by farmers who were too poor to buy gas or repairs for their vehicles. They were, of course, named after Bennett who was Prime Minister from 1930 to 1935. If you had asked me about R.B. Bennett a few months ago all I would have remembered about him was the Bennett Buggy, that he was very unpopular to most Canadians during the Great Depression and that he had an unusual death. If I had thought about it some more, I probably would have concluded that he must not have been very good as a Prime Minister if this was the impression I had of him.

The biography (which I’m still reading) suggests otherwise – that Bennett was principled, hard-working and tried to bring in policies that would help during the Great Depression. (Yes, he could also be arrogant and condescending – but who’s perfect?) But his government was faced with an overwhelming problem with few options, no previous events to learn from and problems beyond his control and larger than he could manage. I am beginning to recognize that some of what I thought I knew about the man was incorrect. And it’s likely that during the years of teaching about the Great Depression I may have passed along some of my incorrect assumptions and understanding of him to students. If Bennett had a choice, would he rather I never talked about him or that I talked about him with students, even if there were a few errors in my presentation? What would be your choice?

As an aside, last year as I was researching I went through the guest book for the Chinook Club (Lethbridge’s premiere men’s club, especially in the early 20th century). Bennett was a guest at the club more than a few times and we know this because we have his signature in the guest book. Was he here for legal business or politicking? From what I’ve read of the man, it’s very unlikely he was in Lethbridge for pleasure.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Looking for centenarians or those close to 100 - people, businesses, etc.

As September draws near, the committee planning the Galt Hospital exhibit opening, the community day, the Galt Babies Birthday Party and the building's centennial, is getting busier!

On September 26th we will be celebrating all of the above in one day! Galt Babies will be the guests of honour, invited to come see the hospital and the related exhibit; everyone will be able to enjoy cake and activities; and all of this will be free for the community!

But there is one thing missing - we are trying to find people, businesses and organizations who also will be celebrating their 100th birthday in 2010, or have recently (last few years) celebrated that exciting birthday, and even those whose 100th is coming up in the next few years! We want you to be a part of this day so we can see what and who was coming to life as our beloved hospital (museum nowadays) was being opened!

If you know of anyone/a business or organization that fits into this, please have them contact Lori at 403.320.4219. As well, Galt Babies need to be known by us to ensure they receive their invitation so let Lori know of any Galt Babies you know so we can check our records to ensure we have the most current contact information for those who were born in this building!

Oh and mark Sun Sept 26th in your calendar - you'll want to stop by that day!

Monday, 24 May 2010

A Year in Review

Next week is our last Saturday at 1 program for the season. We'll start up again in the fall when our new exhibit on the history of the Galt Hospital building opens. Even though I know our annual reporting is on the calendar year, I'm still prone to thinking of seasons in academic terms - so today I'm doing a photographic "year" in review of our family program from October 2009 to May 2010.
Saturday at 1 is a fall-spring weekly program for families with children of all ages. Mostly children aged 4-12 attend the program, but since everyone is always welcome at my programs we've had a few weeks where it was mostly unaccompanied adults at the program. The program is a hands-on program and it's supposed to make the topics in our permanent and special exhibits come to life for children. Here are some highlights from the year...

In October, the Birds of Prey Centre came and taught us about the bird & dinosaur connection. And I learned a lesson about bringing birds into a room with carpets:
In November we made paper-mache dinosaurs using Brian Cooley's instructions from his book Make-A-Saurus. Cooley makes dinosaur models that are displayed in museums all over the world including Tyrrell Museum. His book, and this program, show the way science and art come together in museum displays.
In December we had a multi-cultural winter festival craft session. We made crafts from Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Chanukah, and Christmas:
In January the Devil's Coulee Dinosaur Heritage Museum brought us their travelling Junior Palentologist program. Attendance for this program was one of the highest of the year, even beating out the previous record holder - the fossil casting program.
In February we made treasure boxes for children to store their own treasures and curiosities:
In March we played artifact bingo and learned the stories behind some of the artifacts in the Treasures and Curiosities exhibit:
In April we celebrated earth day with photo frames for photos selected from our archives:
In May we made kites with the Textile Surface Design Guild and discussed the changing forms of energy over time from our coal mining origins in the 1870s to the new windmills on the horizon:
It's been a fun year and I'm looking forward to bringing the program back in October!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

We Really Have Covered This Stuff in Class

During our education programs, we ask students questions. Often they know the answers right away. Sometimes it takes a few questions and hints for them to come up with the answers. But on occasion the students struggle and have difficulty coming up with the answers. And I can see the teacher at the back of the group looking a little embarrassed and mystified. And, later, when the students are off doing something else, the teacher will mention that they have covered this stuff in school and that the kids “know this stuff.”

And, yes, they do know this stuff - -in school. In the different environment of the museum, it is interesting how sometimes students don’t know the answer to questions or topics they have just been studying in school. And it’s not that they forget, it’s not that they haven’t been taught it, it’s not that they are not a smart class or that they don’t know it, -- it’s because they don’t necessarily make the leap from the knowledge they learned in the classroom to its application outside of school. Somehow (and especially for kids under a certain age), the facts and information they learn in school does not relate to what they are doing and seeing at the museum. This is the ability to apply knowledge and to see it not just within a very small context but wherever you are and related to whatever you are studying. This is a skill that needs to be learned.

Education of students is by far one of the most important things museums do (and, yes, we all know I’m biased about this). And these education programs are important not just because of the facts that students learn. A large part of the importance is about the experience including helping students realize that the information they learned in the classroom applies outside of the classroom as well. It’s seeing history in the real world. It’s seeing science in use. It’s seeing that a person or date or place they have talked about in school can be linked to a real object or item. It’s the awareness that their teacher is not the only person who is interested in this information but that it’s part of people’s jobs and every day life. It’s about taking information from the theory to the real. This is one of the reasons that it is so absolutely vital that students get out of the schools. And it’s one of the vital ways (though there are many more) that museums support classroom education.

Also encouraging (and humourous) are the days we hear a student say “hey, we’re studying this stuff in school” or “that’s exactly what our teacher said.” Amazing – we’re covering the same topic you’re learning in school? It’s almost like we planned it that way.

And I also couldn't resist the chance to share this picture that was sent to me a while back. The other thing that is great about Museum Education is when you can break the stereotype that museum visits must of necessity be boring.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A new sampling, food pairings, with some international beers thrown in for fun

A few months ago I was approached by Shawn Peacock, owner of The Wine Cavern. We had talked, over the years, about adding a new event to the community. As we at the Galt have an amazing venue and are known for our successful events, and Shawn has a wealth of knowledge about wine and entertaining to share, it made sense that we come together to do an event that we both have been asked by the community to do, for some time now.

The details are coming together and we are very excited to partner on this new fundraiser for the Galt Museum. From food pairings to some of the most interesting wines and beers on the market today, with the museum exhibits open to explore and a view that is unrivaled in Lethbridge, I know we will have a very fun night that you won't want to miss!

So join us....Thursday June 17th at the Galt Museum. But get your tickets earlier than that because I think this might just be a sell out event! Tickets are on sale at the Galt front desk for $50 and that includes all of your tastings, food pairings, the museum access, and the chance to learn and relax and enjoy an evening with great people! Oh yeah, you also get a $20 tax receipt from the Galt!

So for those of you pondering a great Father's Day gift this year, give the Galt a call or come on in! And hey, we started our summer hours now so we are open 10 am - 5 pm (Mon-Sat) and 1-5 pm (Sun).

See you June 17th, if not sooner!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Coulee Clean Up

Today is coulee clean up day at the Galt Museum!

For the past three years Lori Harasem has been helping to clean up "mother earth" on Mother's Day. The event was pushed to May 16th this year because of wet weather. The annual coulee clean up is organised by the Helen Schuler Nature Centre and sponsored by the Moonlight Run, BFI, Park Place, and Pratt and Whitney. Individuals can set up public or private clean up events and the supplies - gloves, bags, first aid kits etc. - are supplied by the Coulee Centre. Last year over 550 bags of garbage were collected. The event was inspired to create increased awareness about environmental protection and wildlife habitat through the removal of garbage in Lethbridge's natural landscape. The program is volunteer driven and there is a list of drop in events that you can attend here - over 1,000 volunteer hours have been donated to the program so far. All participants are entered to win the grand prize draw: the use of a ten trailer RV for one full year courtesy of Eldorado RV. The Galt event for the clean up includes refreshments and free exhibit access for anybody who assists in the clean up.

Meanwhile, the Green Team at the Galt Museum & Archives is also working on other projects to help "green" our museum and raise awarness about the history of waste. Danielle, our Katimavik student, researched our consumer choices in areas of diapers, reusable bags, and disposable cutlery and made a display for Earth Day this year. Bobbie Fox, a Galt Museum staff person, made an exhibit on the history of waste and recycling that is on display until the end of the month. Stay tuned for future green programs at the museum.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned Growing Up on the Farm

Not completely, of course. But I do find it interesting the different things that farm kids and city kids know.

I got the idea of writing this blog about a week ago when a group of us were talking in the staff room. Someone asked me why farm barns were red. I replied that it was because cattle were attracted to red. So, if your barn was red, you were guaranteed your cattle would come home every night. I thought it obvious I was just making a funny remark, but I was startled to find that several of the people around the table accepted this answer without question. (For those of you who are wondering, cattle are red-green colour blind and are not attracted to red, because they cannot see red. Thus, a red barn would not attract cattle any more than any other barn. While there is more to the story, at one time red paint was the cheapest so barns were often painted red.)

I told the story of the red barn to a few people and it got us talking about some of the strange things some (certainly not all) city kids seem to believe.

Here’s a few of my favourites from the Galt:

I often tell students about a game called “rooster in the middle” that is played similarly to “monkey in the middle” and “pig in the middle”. This game is called “rooster in the middle” as it’s played with a hard-boiled egg. And, as I say to students, the name makes sense because after all, who lays the egg? It saddens me that sometimes 90% of the class answers “rooster.”

During our Great Depression program, we talk about some of the farming techniques that were developed and adapted to help keep farmland here in southern Alberta (one of the windiest places around) from blowing away. There were three things that were very much involved: strip farming, trash-cover farming and the invention of equipment such as the blade (specifically Wobick and Noble blades). I realized early on that I would have to think of ways of explaining these to the kids. One student asked whether strip farming had to be done naked. (I think he was thinking of strip poker farming.) And another thought trash-cover farming required you to throw your garbage around the farm. The picture below shows strip farming and trash-cover farming is where you leave behind things like dead weeds or stubble (the short stalks of grain left behind when grain is cut) to help hold the land in place.

For grade 3 we have a program called “Building Bridges” where students work in groups to build bridges out of household material. To add to the challenge, they are not allowed to have glue or tape but must figure out ways to connect things. For connectors they have paper clips, rubber bands, string and pipe cleaners. With the paper clips, we have some that are in paper clip form but others that are folded into U shapes. The hope with the U shapes is that kids will realize they can be used as “staples” to hold the sticks onto the cups. I remember the befuddled expression I got from a kid (years ago) when I said, “you know, it’s a staple, just like the kind they use to hold barbed wire onto the post.” Needless to say, he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. I always joke that I would like to have a farm nearby for this program where I could take the kids out there and have them build a fort in the straw stack (if I have to explain this, you probably did not grow up on a farm) and have them build or help build things on the farm.

We have a program on irrigation in southern Alberta (it may help to explain that Lethbridge is the irrigation capital of Canada and that the first full-scale irrigation project in all of Canada was built here in southern Alberta). Without irrigation, we would not be able to grow most of the crops that we do in southern Alberta. To start off the program we discuss the explorers’ perspective of the area (with people like Palliser saying the area was too dry and that it should never be used for farming). I ask the students (grade 5s) what we have done to allow farming on the dry, bald prairies. One year it took about five minutes of questioning (giving hints, talking around the name) before the kids came up with the word “irrigation.” One Mom, trying very hard not to laugh, turned to her daughter and said “you do know your Dad is an irrigation engineer, don’t you?”

And when we do the program on Ukraine (Ukrainian Connections) we discuss how many Ukrainian weddings took place at one time of year. And (this is for grade 3s) we tell them that there were 3 essential things needed for the wedding: 8 days off, wheat that could be made into flour to make into bread, and enough food so the bride-groom could feed everyone. And then we ask them what farmers are doing in spring, summer and early fall to help figure out what time of year. It fascinates me how many think farmers are harvesting in spring. Or who don’t realize that wheat is part of bread.

My goal at the museum is to teach kids local history (and how it connects to national and international history). But as so much of our history is linked to farming, I wish there was a better way to connect these kids back with the farms. But until someone donates us a farm close to the museum, I’ll probably have to keep trying to explain what I mean (and using lots of pictures).

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Time to learn! Back to the classroom I go.....

One of the best things about my job at the museum, is that it is slowly growing, expanding and evolving, as the fund development program at the museum does. As a result, I have had some amazing professional development opportunities so that I can learn some of the basics, and more advanced skills, required to help create a solid base for this program, that we can then grow.

So today I am at the Canadian Association of Gift Planners conference in Edmonton. I am here to be inspired (which the powerpoints I already printed off for sessions this week have done) and to bring back to our Legacy committee some of that inspiration, ideas and knowledge.

We are so excited - through the Lethbridge Community Foundation and after years of hard work by our Executive Director, Susan Burrows-Johnson, and the Friends of the Galt Museum and Archives (mainly Mary and Martin Oordt, Glenn Coulter, Elisha Rasmussen, Allyn Mills, and their supporters), the FRIENDS OF THE GALT MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES ENDOWMENT is now real! A $15,000 initial contribution by the Friends and a wine and cheese celebration in April, kicked things off.

So now to grow this endowment, which will help ensure that the museum, under any circumstances, will have some of the financial stability that we outline in our strategic plan that we wish to strengthen.

I plan to learn everything and anything I can about taxes, insurances, marketing of this type of giving, and more. I have already laughed at one of the powerpoints where there are case studies given and one of them puts the Major Gift staff against the Special Events staff as the latter was unwilling to share their donor list with the first, as they considered them "their" donors. At least in the case of the Galt, I don't mind sharing with myself, seeing as I am the Special Events staff ;)

It is interesting, learning how ALL of the staff have roles to play in this, no matter what they do in the museum and archives.

Well time to go back to get my head filled with ideas, and my pen writing as fast as I can to keep up with the presenters. And I am excited because I keep reading on twitter about how one of the presenter groups who also are in the marketplace, give away tons of popcorn at conferences....I LOVE popcorn!!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Artistic Inspiration/Interpretation

I'm probably one of the least artistic people you'll meet at the museum, since the closest thing to art that I create on a regular basis is a beautifully crafted spreadsheet (all those neat and orderly boxes!) In school, when I was studying history, I spent most of my time researching and writing papers. One of my favorite exercises was to take cue cards with bullet points and arrange them on the floor of my office in the shape of my arguments (not surprisingly, this resembled a paper version of a spreadsheet). Despite my desire to hand in a photo of my cue card arrangement and call it a day, I was ultimately restricted to writing traditional essays.

Recently at the museum we've had a few programs that spoke to the idea of using art as a way of interpreting history that have inspired me to be more creative. Bev Tosh, for example, in her presentation War Bride as Muse during the Historic Lethbridge Festival talked about the creation of her innovative exhibit One Way Passage. This exhibit is a cross-disciplinary creative interpretation of the history of war brides. War brides are wives of military personnel who married during the WWII era and then immigrated to the homeland of their husband. Her work includes many techniques including paint on wooden planks, projections, and other mediums combined with objects and sound.
Meanwhile in our senior's program we did watercolour pictures. My intent was to have people use archival photos as inspiration. I thought that the group would choose an archival postcard like this because of the colour:
But of course I was totally wrong and this was the image the people wanted to use as their inspiration:
Although I didn't do any painting during the program I was inspired to think about how I can personally interpret history through art. I don't have an answer to that question yet, but I did find a more artistic form of inspiration for my program planning process after reading an article about collages as a pre-writing process. The idea behind the collage as a pre-writing process is that as you collect and assemble your pictures, objects, and ephemera into a collage you see themes and details emerge that provide shape to your plan and ultimately to the finished product. This is not that far a stretch from my days of cue cards and bullet points organised into neat rows so I decided to do an electronic collage of images for my fall 2010 family programs:
Maybe by the time we offer the watercolour painting program again on September 17th during Art Walk I'll be ready to move from inspiration to interpretation.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The Case of the Flying Friday

I usually try to do my Blog on Friday but had absolutely no chance yesterday. We had three classes into the museum (all in the morning) and then spent the afternoon and some of the evening preparing for today -- the 15th Annual Southern Alberta Regional Heritage School Fair.

Thank you to all of the judges. Your job is incredibly difficult but you handled it with your usual grace and dignity.

Thank you all of the teachers who worked with the students in the classrooms and guided them through the process. None of this would be possible without you.

Thank you to the parents who had to be up especially early on a Saturday morning (some had a 2 hour drive) to have their kids at the museum by 9 am.

Thank you to everyone who in whatever way helped out with the Fair. Whether it was supervising student activities or figuring out the best lunch to provide to kids (Tim Horton's a big thank you) or those who graciously and without complaint worked around all of the extra people in the museum -- I owe all of you a HUGE thank you!

And, most especially, thank you to the students. Every year your research, dedication, passion and interesting topics makes the entire day AMAZING!

And, for those of you who missed the Fair, a few pictures...

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

It's raining, It's pouring....actually it's May and it's snowing!

What a crazy 2+ weeks this has AND thus, event planning wise.

As mentioned before, I have never had to cancel an event due to the weather that was INDOORS! And then in April, we had snow and winds so crazy that we had an all day power outage in Lethbridge and our caterer could not prepare the meal for that night.

Now here we sit in the last 24 hours before Taste of Downtown, the annual fundraiser for the Historic Lethbridge Festival, and we have rain, snow and crazy winds currently, with predictions of snow and highs of +3C during the event!

I had only one phone call asking if I was going to cancel or reschedule. I told that caller that "no, we will go ahead with the event rain or shine". I think that it is an amazing event when you can enjoy the restaurant's patios and walk from venue to venue enjoying downtown with your large group of friends, as most people do when they participate.

One year we had rain.....and it wasn't fun! And now....snow!

But something must be said for the resilience of people in Lethbridge that only ONE person has called about what we plan to do.

I guess, if 15 venues were not participating, and Historic Lethbridge Festival weren't only this week, and if next week's forecasts looked better, I MIGHT have tried to reschedule it. With all those variables though, I say let's GO FOR IT!

So wish us a dry calm evening - it won't be warm but at least if it is not snowing and not windy, it will be much more pleasant.

It's amazing these last 2 weeks - never had the weather have so much effect on an event and now on two of them!

Southern Alberta......if you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes.....or in this case, more like a month! Come on summer, we're eagerly awaiting your arrival!