MUSEUM PLANNING PARTNERS

IN THE NEWS
All MPP staff are life-long learners. We actively follow the professional journals and also spend significant time reading widely on contemporary culture, the arts and history. We believe that museums are vehicles of social dialogue and we are all committed to achieving a better understanding of the ongoing discussions in the cultures and cities in which we work, and how emerging trends are being reflected in those communities.

With this in mind, we often see, hear or read something we think may be of interest to our colleagues around the world.
In the News allow us to share our thoughts, and sometimes those of our international colleagues, to extend these discussions which make museum and gallery work so engaging. We hope you find regularly something of interest in these posts. Let us know.

(Archived clippings can be found by clicking here)

Team MPP

Oct. 2020
Newfoundland’s COVID Creativity
My home province of Newfoundland & Labrador is peppered with small coastal communities, many of which proudly host community-based museums and other heritage and cultural attractions that are open during the summer months. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these museums remain closed this season while others are operating with greatly reduced attendance as our provincial borders are closed to travel from those beyond the neighbouring Canadian Atlantic region.

Many of these small museums operate with a single staff person or are volunteer led with support from a handful of students hired through a variety of grants and summer employment programs. During these trying times, the majority of these institutions are surviving on small grants provided by the federal government via the COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for Heritage Organizations and other such grants and subsidies. These precious dollars do not stretch far when paying for on-going fixed expenses such as collections care, utilities, and insurance while self-generated revenues are dramatically cut due to extremely low COVID visitorship.

To cover budgetary shortfalls, I have noticed that many institutions across the province have been coming up with imaginative programs and creative opportunities to make sure that their institutions do not remain static, even if their doors are closed for the season. One notable example is from the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve. The Reserve operates an Interpretation Centre with a mission of providing education about the seabirds and botanical life found on the Reserve, one of the world’s most accessible seabird colonies. Due to COVID-19, visitorship this season is at an all-time low and the organization has gotten very creative in finding opportunities to support their mission. One such initiative is
Paint for the Birds – a 6-week long rock painting contest for wildlife lovers of all ages. Each week, the Reserve selects a seabird that resides at the Reserve and makes it the subject of a rock painting contest. A Painting Guide is posted on-line weekly which provides instructions, a visual guide, and fun facts about each bird. Once complete, participants upload a photo of their painted rock to various social media channels with a hashtag and a winner is selected each week for fun prizes. Participants are also encouraged to showcase their creations in the windows of their homes along with a sign that can be printed from the Painting Guide to help spread word about the Reserve and its mission. This promotion has proven to be most popular as I have spotted several signs in windows throughout my neighbourhood. As well, it is thanks to these signs that I became aware of this program -- so I would consider this a great success!

Since opening twenty years ago, sales from the Reserve’s gift shop has been their main source of revenue. Due to the subsequent drop in visitors to the Reserve due to the pandemic, the Reserve has moved their Gift Shop on-line through the creation of an Etsy store and because on-site donations are down as well, they have also created a GoFundMe campaign to make donations from afar possible.

In another example of COVID creativity, the Colony of Avalon, widely recognized as the best preserved early English colonial site in North America, made the difficult decision to close its doors this summer amidst the pandemic and focus on product development and maintenance in preparation for next season. Although their doors are currently closed to visitors, the Colony has been busy running
The Great Colonial Cook Off, an interactive crowd-sourced culinary challenge all summer long, building on the popularity of the tv shows, The Great Canadian Baking Show and The Great British Bake Off. Each week, the Colony posts an original colonial recipe (with a 21st century translation) and challenge participants to recreate it in their own kitchens.The Colony’s Senior Living History Interpreter, cooking in the Colony’s 17th century kitchen, posts her successes, failures, and lessons learned via the Colony's social media feeds. In turn, participants are encouraged to cook the recipe, snap a photo and post it to the Colony’s Facebook for weekly prizes.

Elsewhere across the province, other museums have been holding bake sales, outdoor flea markets, and even picnic dinners. The Point Amour Lighthouse has been offering build-your-own picnic pails where participants select their food items from a menu and take it away in a pail, along with a picnic blanket so they can enjoy the views from the Lighthouse grounds while maintaining social distancing with their family and friends.

These are just some examples of creative and imaginative programming that I have come across in my neck of the woods during these trying times. And I am sure there are many more examples to be found! My hat comes off to all museums – small, large and everything in-between for the creativity, imagination, and ingenuity demonstrated this summer in reaching visitors, new and old. COVID-19 has pushed many museums to close their doors this summer but fun programming and creative opportunities persist in engaging audiences around the province and beyond!

Have you encountered any examples of COVID-caused creativity by museums recently? Email us at
info@museumplanningpartners.com. We’ll share the best ones in a future article!

Linda Pearcey, Senior Consultant

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Sep. 2020
A CAUTIONARY TALE
In a deeply worrying National Public Radio (US) article in July, NPR found that among US museums 87% of organizations said they had only 12 months of financial operating reserves and 56% said they had less than 6 months.

This led me to think about the post-COVID world for museums. I am concerned that we are in real trouble as we are being simultaneously impacted by three different but related changes – loss of discretionary finance, changing donor patterns, and a decline in volunteerism. I estimate as many as 40% of North American museums (of all types) are in danger of closing between 2020 and 2025.

While core operating funding from all levels of government has traditionally supported some or most of a museum’s fixed expenses, self-generated revenue largely funded discretionary spending. The loss of self-generated revenue comes from museum services no longer accessible (i.e. large traveling special exhibitions, cafes and shops) or services in far less demand due to financial challenges in client funding and social distancing (i.e. Saturday family programs, school programs).

The loss of self-generated revenue comes at a time when there is donor reluctance to give at pre-COVID rates. Donors are facing their own financial challenges as well as very real donor fatigue as a result of COVID’s impact on their communities. Many philanthropic organizations are going through a period of refocusing their giving, considering diversifying into other types of social programs including those focusing on income inequality and racial challenges. Donors want to be generous but the needs may be exceeding the capacity to give or give equitably to all.

Another key factor in this potentially dystrophic view of the near future is the very significant decline in committed volunteerism at museums. In healthy organizations I like to see at least an equivalent 4-5% contribution of volunteer (free) labour to the wage and benefit expenses of an organization. There has been a significant decline in committed volunteers as our population ages and the diversity of charities seeking volunteers increases.

Museums which have strong local community support and low overheads will likely survive but my main concerns are not the organizations themselves but the great regional and national assets they hold in trust - the collections and the staff who bring them to their communities. Very few small and medium-sized museums have a financial disaster plan in place and very few larger museums, particularly state (provincial) or national museums, have any plan for how they could or could not absorb collections or museum operations for these at-risk smaller museums.

When a museum closes, its collections are dispersed to other institutions who are often pressed to take on these new costs of collection management when they are financially struggling themselves, so large portions of these orphaned collections are deaccessioned or simply sold and lost to the public. Married to this very significant collections loss is the loss of staff trained not just to manage these collections but, even more importantly, to research and interpret these collections for the general public.

It is likely over the next three to five years we will see many smaller museums either assumed within larger museums or operated as wholly controlled satellites with their collections “rationalized” and their staff “centralized” meaning losses of both collections and staff. But the truth is that both smaller museums and their larger counterparts are not even prepared to hold these discussions and so with no planning, regional, state (provincial), and national treasures will simply be lost.

Perhaps the next step is establishing meaningful exchanges of ideas and information to develop new strategies to address the emerging realities in the museum world. At Museum Planning Partners, we are committed to continuing our research into these challenges and in facilitating such dialogue and innovative initiatives. What are your thoughts?

Robert Barnett, Chairman

Aug. 2020
JAPANESE CITIES TSUBAME AND SANJO JOIN FORCES TO PROMOTE CRAFTS AND HISTORY
One of the great things about being international museum consultants is that we get to work with some brilliant people with leading-edge experience. Here are some thoughts from a friend of MPP:

KAREN TSUI was a member of our Hong Kong project office while we were engaged to develop a governance plan for the M+ contemporary arts museum in the West Kowloon district. Karen is an active and innovative cultural professional and describes herself as: fond of films, design and things cultural, with a penchant for connecting the dots.  

Karen’s articles on design, personal development, and tea ceremonies have been selected by the curators at Medium. In-depth interviews on the Qipao, Chinese Ink Art and photoshoot styling are published on ZolimaCityMag and theCulturetrip. WhereMyHeartLeads.com is her turf. Karen is currently Orchestrator-in-Chief at Orchestrii.

Article originally published at
https://www.wheremyheartleads.com

Exhibition Review by Karen Tsui

REBECCA CATCHING: RESHAPING THE NARRATIVE
An avid museum watcher, Rebecca has been engaged in China and Asia since 2001 working in museums and galleries as a curator and writing extensively about Chinese museums, and Chinese contemporary art for publications such as Flash Art, Art Review and Ran Dian—a contemporary art magazine which she cofounded. Writing for the British Council, she has produced in-depth analysis the cultural industries and museums sector in China, covering topics such as interpretation, visitor experience, the use digital technology in museums and touring exhibitions. Her work as a curator at the Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum and as program director for the International Creative Economy Leadership Academy of Nottingham University in Ningbo, led her to develop an intimate understanding of the challenges faced by Chinese museums. Since returning to Toronto, she has continued to be engaged in planning projects in China and has co-edited the book Museum Development in China: Understanding the Building Boom, published by Rowman and Littlefield.

Entitled
A Postcard from Bangkok, MPP is honoured to feature Rebecca’s article on how museums can play a role in reshaping the narrative of a city and preserving intangible cultural heritage. For more of her thoughts on museums and culture in Asia see: https://www.rebeccacatching.com/
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Jul. 2020
Tale of Two Cities.. cont’d
Québec City is a wholly different experience. Firstly, it is on two geographically distinct levels, a river side (Lower Town or Old Québec) and a plateau (Upper town). Much of the city's notable traditional architecture is located in Old Québec and has a distinct European feel with its stone buildings and winding streets lined with shops and restaurants…

To read more on this second instalment, please follow this link to the
Québec City article.

Robert Barnett, Chairman

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Jun. 2020
Postcards from Florence
Florence is a tremendous city for museums, culture, and heritage. The core of the city is a walking paradise with photo opportunities along every street and it offers great places to eat from pizza to regional foods. For anyone with even the smallest interest in museums, Florence is a must-see city! For a summary of our findings and observations, click here.

Robert Barnett, Chairman

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May 2020
Shout Out to our Provincial Museum Associations!
Here in Canada, our provincial Museum Associations have been working extremely hard, sharing their valuable resources, knowledge, and expertise to help institutions, both large and small, deal with challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. These associations are non-profit, charitable organizations representing institutions and individuals interested in the preservation and promotion of our provinces’ material and cultural heritage. By providing training, communication, advocacy, and standards of excellence, these provincial trade associations are trusted stewards and custodians of our shared heritage.

Recently we’ve come across some great resources developed by some of these associations that are most worthy of sharing. Many of our cultural and heritage institutions are facing a number of challenges, looking to reopen over the coming months as restrictions ease and we adapt to the “new normal”.

One such resource deals with supporting seasonal staff during the pandemic. Developed by the Association of Nova Scotia Museums, the British Columbia Museums Association, Museums Association of Saskatchewan, and Yukon Historical and Museums Association,
this document can help institutions identify ways to interact with seasonal staff remotely, develop task lists suitable for remote work, and monitor work progress. If your museum is preparing to hire seasonal staff, this guide is guaranteed to assist with current work realities while sparking some ideas and much-needed discussions.

Another valuable resource focuses on caring for heritage collections during the pandemic.
In this webinar organized by the Ontario Museum Association, information and recommendations compiled by the Canadian Conservation Institute are shared to help those responsible for heritage collections. Questions about collections contamination, disinfection of museum spaces, and risks to collections during long-term shut down are addressed, based on the evolving collective knowledge of the public health and infectious disease research communities merged with what we know about keeping collections safe.

And there are many more resources available! Please check with your provincial Museum Association on a regular basis as many are posting new resources weekly, specifically geared towards meeting challenges created by the pandemic.

Thank you to all provincial Museum Association staff, volunteers, board and committee members who are leading the charge in helping our cultural and heritage organizations reopen safely and securely!

Linda Pearcey, Senior Consultant

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Apr. 2020
Tale of Two Cities
Every year our MPP team participates in national and international research programs and conferences. The Tale of Two Cities is a two-part museological introduction to two key cultural centres of Canada: Montréal and Québec City. During two recent research visits to these cities, more than two dozen museums and galleries were visited, documented, and recorded. Click on the city of your choice to see our findings and strongest impressions.

Feel free to disagree or augment our thoughts. These are both just summaries of our thinking but these may provide a starting point for planning your own museum research in these cities. Both cities are beautiful, culturally rich, and well worth many repeat visits. As with some projects, these two programs included specific consideration of the impact of accessibility, not only within the institutions, but also within the city itself.

If you like these Tales, watch for a research program in Florence, Italy, soon to be posted.

Robert Barnett, Chairman

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Mar. 2020
Cultural Fixes during a Global Shut Down
Many of our posts in this blog are about the museums we’ve visited along our collective travels. Over the last few weeks and months, the vast majority of these museums, cultural and heritage centres, art galleries, science centres, and community spaces have been closed due to restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even with the shutdowns, museum, cultural, and heritage workers are still looking after the safety of collections and artifacts, safeguarding building maintenance and upkeep, and planning for future exhibitions, programs, and activities - striving to re-open our museums, galleries, and science centres and reclaiming their invaluable roles in our communities.

In the meanwhile, while we all hunker down, there are numerous opportunities available on-line for your cultural fix! Many museums and galleries have risen to the challenge presented by these trying times and have posted some amazing content by providing unprecedented access to their collections and spaces.

  • Be a Curator! Art UK will be launching a new curation tool over the coming weeks allowing anyone anywhere to create digital exhibitions from artworks on their site. It will allow members of the public to curate their own online shows, choosing from more than 200,000 oil paintings and 16,000 sculptures in UK galleries from the Shetlands to Scilly.
  • Tour a Museum! Some of the world’s most loved museums are now featuring virtual tours of their spaces. Enjoy from the comfort of your couch! Check out the websites for the British Museum (London, England), The Guggenheim (New York, USA), The Louvre (Paris, France), Uffizi Gallery (Florence, Italy), and Pergamon Museum (Berlin, Germany), just to name a few.
  • Visit a Landmark! Like many museums, some of the world’s most beautiful sights and landmarks are also featuring virtual tours. Wanted to always visit the Great Wall of China? Machu Picchu? Petra? Well, now you can! Check out this article for further detail.
  • See every inch of St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum! Join filmmaker Axinya Gog on an unforgettable five-hour journey through the entire museum, shot in one continuous take. Gog’s captures the Hermitage without the usual crowds and features no fewer than 588 works of art spread across 43 galleries, including paintings by Rembrandt, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Rubens.

While this post attempts to bring some levity to a worldwide challenge, our thoughts and prayers are with countless numbers of our colleagues worldwide who have been affected by these shut downs as well as scores of visitors and audience members. Please heed the advice on offer, stay safe, and please continue to support culture and heritage from the comfort of your own home!

Team MPP

Mar. 2020
Looking towards the Next 30 Years…
The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (PWNHC) holds a central position in the cultural fabric of the Northwest Territories (NWT). It is valued on many fronts as the public face of the Territories’ heritage and as the Centre of the protection, preservation, and publication of that heritage. As implied by its name, the Heritage Centre is much more than a museum -- in addition to its exhibits, collections, and conservation programs, the PWNHC houses the NWT Archives, provides technical, logistic, and financial support to individuals and organizations involved in cultural activities and the arts throughout the Territories, and authorizes all archaeological studies in the NWT.

Working with the engineering, architectural, and project management staff of Stantec’s Vancouver, Toronto, and Yellowknife’s offices, Museum Planning Partners was part of the planning team addressing the building’s mid-life upgrade and potential expansion to serve the community for the coming 30 years. Since opening its door in 1979, and despite renovations and additions over the years, the PWNHC is facing some critical issues, namely a lack of adequate and appropriate spaces for archival storage, museum storage, administration, and education.

Working closely with the professional staff of the Centre and the Government of the NWT, the MPP team developed an Operational Plan & Needs Analysis to determine and quantify the factors driving the need for additional space and renovations, as well as a Functional Plan which advised the architectural vision for the PWNHC’s expansion. Our scope included a thorough analysis of the PWNHC’s archival and museum storage spaces and related work areas, collection areas, and the increased number of visitors that the Facility must serve over the coming decades.

Linda Pearcey, Senior Consultant

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Jan. 2020
“Let the collections sing!”
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The Musical Instruments Museum

No one can explain my love of music. Five years of painful lessons established that I certainly had absolutely no talent for making it. If my piano teacher ever held a recital featuring her students, it must have been a secret from me – probably because my playing would have violated several noise pollution control bylaws.

My love of museums makes much more sense -- if there was an exhibition large enough to fit the whole family in, we were sure to have been there at least three times. And a museum was a safe bet for keeping us safely occupied, regardless of our musical ability.

When music enthusiast and former Target CEO Robert J. Ulrich established the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), he raised the curtain on a creative world that challenges and inspires the aficionado while reaching out to the perhaps easily intimidated novice. Simply put, MIM is where two of my great loves meet.

With a collection of over 15,000 musical instruments from almost 200 countries spread across 200,000 square feet, the MIM is the largest museum of its type in the world. The gallery spaces are bright and easy to navigate as you explore different cultures and performance settings. Not only do you travel to Africa, Oceania and the Middle East, but you may also discover something that speaks to your personal tastes and interests: a Canadian visitor like me was thrilled to encounter Randy Bachman’s (of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive) guitar, while the electronic music enthusiast can find a display of virtuoso Clara Rockmore’s theremin.

Not only do you have a global perspective on musical history, you also get to hear the collections in action. Most artifact exhibits also feature flat-screen high-resolution videos showing local musicians performing on native instruments. And as you approach, your wireless headphones immerse you in Sennheiser quality sound!

MIM also regularly offers incredible concerts by iconic greats such as Martha Reeves, Lyle Lovett, George Benson, and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks.The automata and self-playing devices in the Mechanical Music Gallery are a steam-punk fantasia, and the hands-on instruments in the Experience Gallery let you create your own musical expressions – incredible and informative fun – even for the musically challenged like me.

Hugh Spencer, Interpretive Planning

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