Thursday, 17 August 2017

Keynote Interview: "If Not Here, Where? The Museum as Bridge in Polarized Times"

Tony Butler is Chair and Founder, the Happy Museum Project and Executive Director, Derby Museums, UK. Tony Butler will be presenting the Keynote Address titled “If Not Here, Where? The Museum As Bridge In Polarized Times” at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 21, 2017 at our upcoming conference

Can you describe the Happy Museum Project and how it helps museums address pressing social and environmental issues in new ways?

As Director of Derby Museums, I love looking at Joseph Wright’s painting A Philosopher giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun in Derby Museum. Painted in 1766 at the height of the British Enlightenment, it shows a group of children and adults listening attentively to a learned man explaining the wonders of the planet and the universe. The people in this picture are curious, eager to learn and attentive to the teller. Our museums, inspired by the human instinct to acquire, categorize, and show off objects, help us to make sense of our place in the world.

The Happy Museum Project looks at how the museum sector can respond to the challenge of creating a more sustainable future. It provides a leadership framework for museums to develop a holistic approach to well-being and sustainability. The project re-imagines the museum’s purpose as steward of people, place and planet, supporting institutional and community well-being and resilience in the face of global challenges.

The project has worked with 35 museums in England and Wales to undertake small interventions exploring these ideas. Commissioned projects included: • In Canterbury - A ‘pharmacy’ made of recycled paper dispensing well-being treatments in the museums suggested by local people. • In the Garden Museum, Lambeth - A community run winter cutting garden exploring the ethics of the flower trade. • At the London Transport Museums - A safe space, conversation hub with homeless charity in London. • At Woodhorn Colliery Museum - A comedian in residence exploring how laughter, humour, and comedy can be used in interpreting historic collections.

These museums form a community of practice through which the program creates, tests, and shares practice, fosters peer-learning, and creates spaces for deeper and more innovative thinking. This is all backed by programs of research and advocacy which underpin and share thinking within and beyond the museum sector.

Why do you think it is important that museums take on the role of agent of social change?

As open and public spaces, museums must be mindful of our environment and the need for a more equal society. They should also seek to change perceptions of the world so that people look at their own places differently.

The function of museums as social spaces is significant. With recent trends seeing city space being increasingly transferred to private ownership, museums are an important bulwark against the erosion of the public realm. For many people, a museum visit is not a solitary activity but an opportunity to spend time with family or to meet up with friends. Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre in London, has described the centre as, first and foremost, ‘a place for encounters.’

We want museums to encourage active citizenship; challenging individuals to be more active within civil society (and includes individuals working in museums as well as their communities). Using what they learn from connections within their communities, the work of museums should better reflect current trends and issues which affect people’s daily lives. Active citizenship also relates to awareness and understanding of connectivity across the world, seeking international associations to contextualize local issues (and vice versa).

Museums encourage visitors to be psychologically ‘present’, with attention focussed completely in the here and now, and on the aesthetic qualities of things. Experiencing this kind of involvement is not only enjoyable in itself, but is associated with wider psychological benefits.

How do you think this work fits into our Conference theme or the work of the AMA?

Having read the recommendations from AMA’s sustainability report, many of its principles resonate with Happy Museum thinking. When we began Happy Museum back in 2011 we talked about sustainability as a three-legged stool of Social, Financial and Environmental qualities. The prominence you place into culture and into health and well-being adds two vital, extra legs.

I was especially drawn to the stages of organizational life in the report, which makes them appear like organisms which might evolve, expand, plateau and sometimes die. I think there is a dangerous ‘myth of permanence’ about museums which leads to many not being prepared to be useful or relevant to their communities. A few years ago, Mark Robinson wrote extensively about adaptive resilience, which though not quite Darwinian in scope, suggested that the most resilient organizations were the ones which could adapt their mission and values to external conditions.

The same could be applied to how communities (or countries) adapt to external shocks. The most resilient are the ones that are able to moderate their behaviours through sharing and giving. I’d suggest that in the light of the Brexit vote – the UK is showing all the signs of very ‘unadaptive’ behaviour!

For more information about the Happy Museum Project, please visit:

Tony Butler will present the Opening Keynote If Not Here, Where? The Museums As Bridge in Polarized Times at the Alberta Museums Association / Western Museums Association Joint International Conference UNITE 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta. For more information about Tony's talk or UNITE 2017, please visit

Tuesday, 7 February 2017


Yesterday, the Alberta Museums Association started a Twitter hashtag, #museumsdomore, dedicated to promoting and sharing the important and innovative work being done by museums throughout Alberta and beyond. We strongly believe that museums play a crucial role in contributing to the social, cultural, and educational fabric of our communities.

Spread the word and join our conversation on Twitter! Share the work happening at your institutions, the stories of your communities and your volunteers, and the many reasons why museums matter.

If you’re not on Twitter, or have more to say, we always encourage contributions to this ENGAGE: Museums and Communities blog.

Find us on Twitter at @AlbertaMuseums or contact

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Museums @ The Mic: Psychological First Aid

The AMA is pleased to announce the launch of Museums @ the Mic, a five part podcast series focussing on stories of disaster response and recovery. The series will highlight Alberta museums during the flooding of 2013, mental health in disaster situations, and an earthquake response account from a New Zealand museum.

Museums @ the Mic Episode One Now Available: Psychological First Aid
The first episode of Museums @ the Mic, Psychological First Aid, is now available at In the rush to recover and restore damaged objects, the physical and mental toll that emergency response has on those involved is sometimes overlooked. Debbie Grey and Catharine McFee from Alberta Health Services address the concept of Psychological First Aid and the importance of mental health care during and after a disaster. 

For more information on Psychological First Aid, check out the resources below, provided by Alberta Health Services, or visit 

Images provided by Alberta Health Services. 

Museums @ the Mic is funded through the Museum Flood Funding Program. As a multi-year initiative supported by Alberta Culture and Tourism, the Program provides assistance to museums affected by the June 2013 floods, and ensures at-risk museums are able to mitigate potential damage in the event of future flooding emergencies. The AMA appreciates the Government of Alberta’s commitment to assisting flood-affected cultural institutions.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Community Visits: Musée de St. Isidore

A wonderful perk of working for the Alberta Museums Association is the opportunity to travel across the province and experience various communities and their regional museums. The site visits we conduct with member institutions allow us to meet people involved in all aspects of museums as staff, volunteers, or board members. Last year, Lauren Wheeler and I were fortunate enough to also meet the community members whose stories and passions are exhibited within the museum walls. At the Musée de St. Isidore, located very close to Peace River, the truly unique history of the township is shown throughout the museum and can be experienced in the attached community complex. At the time of our visit, the museum had not yet opened its doors to the public, but other tenants in the Centre culturel de St. Isidore could already see their lives and work directly reflected in the museum.

The francophone community of St. Isidore was transplanted from Quebec in 1953. The history of that move and the intervening years is interpreted through the artifacts and text panels in the museum. The fight for French language education in Alberta, which was spear-headed by the residents of this hamlet, is a key exhibition in the museum. Its lasting impact is evident in the school board that shares the building with the museum: the Conseil scolaire du Nord-Ouest. Marie Lindsay, a teacher in the district for many years, is one of the driving forces behind the museum. Our excitement over hearing this story encouraged her to take us across to the Centre cultural to meet the current professionals working to maintain the language and heritage for current students.

It speaks to the overwhelming pride of the residents of St. Isidore, and those operating out of the Centre culturel in particular, that before we had made it across to the building, we were introduced to several other people who were brimming with enthusiasm about the new museum.

Another highlight of the museum tour was the weaving exhibit, an artisanal industry in St. Isidore with a long history. We were thrilled to meet with and have a demonstration of the craft by two members of the Tisserandes de St. Isidore, the local weaving guild, another tenant of the Centre and another way in which history and the present day run parallel at the site. The weaving is done by hand using looms and the artisans are continually passing on their skills. We spoke to one weaver who described herself as ‘new to weaving’ despite being twelve years into her weaving education. There are several other groups who use the Centre culturel and each represents a key aspect of the heritage of St. Isidore. The stories of these groups, if not part of the permanent exhibits within the museum, are identified in a planned series of temporary exhibits which will occupy the entrance of the museum.  

The vibrancy of the museum is due in part to the overall vibrancy of the St. Isidore community, but it would not be possible without Marie Lindsay and others who have worked so hard to develop such an inviting space. I left the Musée de St. Isidore feeling that I had a better understanding of how this rich community came to be, and confident that it would continue to grow and share the stories of its people.

Raina Malcolm
Program Lead
Alberta Museums Association   

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Witness Blanket

The Witness Blanket, by Kwagiulth / Salish Artist Carey Newman, is comprised of hundreds of artifacts, each with its own story, from and relating to Canada’s residential schools. The pieces are mounted on cedar panels and are ‘woven’ together to create a blanket of shared memories.

How did a small, rural museum like the Peace River Museum, Archives, and Mackenzie Centre (PRMA) become a host venue for the nationally-acclaimed exhibit The Witness Blanket? It was all due to the collective resourcing of three partners: Sagitawa Friendship Society, Peace River Correctional Centre, and the PRMA. By building on existing relationships and acknowledging the diversity each partner brought to achieving this goal, we were able to accomplish something that just one could not. We began in January 2015, and over the next 18 months prepared to receive ‘the Ancestors’, the Witness Blanket, on June 28, 2016.

Dave Matilpi, Aboriginal Elder, artist and teacher, mentored us at our meetings and through cultural teachings and a workshop he calls My Broken Journey. We learned of his life experiences, including as a residential school student. Most importantly, he shared the optimism he holds today for the healing and reconciliation that began across Canada.

The artist, Carey Newman, requests of each host venue that admission fees be waived to ensure there are no barriers to anyone wishing to view the Blanket. With this in mind, we thought of the Aboriginal inmates at the Peace River Correctional Centre and asked Carey whether two of the thirteen exhibit panels could be installed at the PRCC. The exhibit was a natural complement to I Am A Kind Man, a program Sagitawa delivers to the inmates. It was an opportunity that could not be missed. The artist agreed.

Museum staff researched and created text panels about residential schools in northern Alberta featuring the two residential schools in our immediate area. As staff, we felt it was important to learn the historical context of the residential school system, so that we could better present our visitors with a full opportunity to think about the missing, forgotten, and edited voices and perspectives of this era.

Together, Sagitawa and the PRMA identified key organizations which have influence and opportunity to shift attitudes and understanding about Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations in our regions. Politicians, school personnel, social agencies, Aboriginal Bands and religious leaders were invited to attend an opening reception at Sagitawa Friendship Centre followed by the exhibit viewing at the museum. A sacred Pipe Ceremony, honouring the elements of the Universe, was smoked and shared by all to ensure a strong and successful exhibit. In the ways of local cultural practices, a feast was held with elk and saskatoons on bannock, smoked moose stew, rice pudding with cranberries, and bannock with wild berry jams.

Through the historical memory captured and preserved in the Witness Blanket, artist Carey Newman articulates the need to challenge long held beliefs and perceptions about the residential school system. We have been honoured to engage, along with our visitors, in this national conversation.

Laura Gloor
Peace River Museum, Archives, and Mackenzie Centre 

For more information on the Witness Blanket, please visit

Monday, 12 September 2016

Congratulations to Leadership Awards Recipients: Edmonton Heritage Council, Fort Museum of the North-West Mounted Police, Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District

The Alberta Museums Association (AMA) is pleased to present the Edmonton Heritage Council, the Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District, and the Fort Museum of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) with Leadership Awards recognizing their exceptional work in creating value, accessibility, and relevance in their communities. The awards will be presented at the 2016 AMA Conference in Calgary as part of the Awards Ceremony on September 16, 2016.

The AMA Leadership Awards recognize excellence, innovation, and creativity in Alberta’s museum community in three categories: Engagement, Education, and Sustainability. Nominations for the Leadership Awards were adjudicated by the Leadership Awards Committee, comprised of individual members of the AMA. 

The Engagement Award will be presented to the Edmonton Heritage Council in recognition of the Edmonton City as Museum Project (ECAMP). ECAMP treats the city of Edmonton as its museum, interpreting through an interactive blog, podcasts, history tours, and pop-up exhibits. ECAMP pushes the boundaries of a traditional museum by taking a collaborative approach to content creation, engaging with citizens to write the historical narrative of Edmonton, and challenging assumptions about the city. 

Edmonton City as Museum Project Pop-Up Exhibit

The Education Award will be presented to the Fort Museum of the NWMP in recognition of the March of the Red Coats Program. For the past nine years March of the Red Coats has offered an interactive and participatory environment for students, incorporating perspectives from the NWMP and the Blackfoot Nation to help students understand the contemporary relevance of Treaty Seven negotiations, the whisky trade, and the arrival of the NWMP in southern Alberta.

March of the Red Coats

The Sustainability Award will be presented to the Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District, which draws inspiration from its industrial and entrepreneurial past to create a dynamic space that is a model of sustainability. The Historic District uses innovative solutions to build and maintain its long-term sustainability, including the expansion of student and artist in residence programs and the purchase of Plainsman Clay Ltd., the primary supplier of ceramic clays and related products in Western Canada. 

Medalta Clay Industries National Historic District

The AMA Annual Conference A Culture of Sharing: Inquiring Minds, Empowering Museums will take place September 15 – 17, 2016 at the Carriage House Inn, Calgary. For more information, please visit

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Hammer - In, Hammer - On!

The volunteers at the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop have invited blacksmiths from around Alberta to join them in a Hammer-In this year during Alberta Open Farm Days August 20 and 21, 2016.

During this special event, spectators can watch blacksmiths showcase their extraordinary talents while they make two benches and help a great cause! One of the benches made during the event will be donated to the community of Fort McMurray and the other will be auctioned during the September Lacombe Culture & Harvest Festival with proceeds going to the Canadian Red Cross.

Volunteers Karl Beller, Jennifer Kirchner, Henrietta Verwey, and summer student Seth Burnard at the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum. Photo credit: Tildy.

 The idea for the Hammer-in came from a blacksmith volunteer, Henrietta Verwey, as a way to bring together the blacksmithing community in Alberta together to help support a great cause.

The Lacombe Blacksmith Shop volunteers are continually working at engaging the local community as well as the blacksmithing community in Alberta through participatory programs and events. In September, they will be hosting an event called Blacksmith Alley which will feature live demos, including horseshoeing, during the Lacombe Culture & Harvest Festival.

For more information on the Hammer-In and the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum please visit or contact the Lacombe & District Historical Society at 403.782.3933 or

What: Hammer - In Event
Where: Lacombe Blacksmith Shop, 5020 49 Street, Lacombe AB
When: August 20 and 21, 2016 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Admission: FREE. Donations to the Museum are welcome!

Marie Péron
Executive Director
Lacombe & District Historical Society