The Wandering Museum Consultant Update

Things have been slowly coming together for the Wandering Museum Consultant project, and my departure date is fast approaching.

I will be spending most of the summer in the UK, with a two week stop in Dublin, Ireland. I will be posting quick introductions to each of the Museums I will be working with over the next month before I leave.

Schedule:

June 3 – 13: Vindolanda Charitable Trust, UK

June 16 – 27: Dublin, Ireland (Museums:  Hurdy Gurdy Radio Museum and Dublin Museum Marathon, details to come)

July 7 – 11: Farmland Museum, Cambridgeshire , UK

July 14 – 18: Cheshire (?, Silk Museums, Macclesfield),

July 21 – 25: Cumbria (Museums tbc) and , UK

If you are interested in hosting me at your museum, please contact me at katrina@newmuseumkat.ca

The Wandering Museum Consultant

What is the Wandering Museum Consultant?

Short Answer: A crazy idea.

Proper Answer: An experienced museum professional wandering around the world, and spending time at a variety of museums offering my services as a volunteer consultant. Throughout, I will be blogging about each museum, the region/country and the project itself.

The purpose of the Wandering Museum Consultant is two-fold:

1) The museums will benefit from:

  • Extra help from an experienced museum professional
  • Exposure to non traditional markets through my blog

2) I will benefit:

  • Experience in different types of museums and in different countries
  • Develop a network (perhaps connect those I work with with each other as well)
  • Meaningful travel

I have seven years experience working in museums, primarily in Canada, but also in the UK. I have had the opportunity to work in small museums, where I have been able to develop skills in many different areas, including education programming and delivery, collections management and research, exhibition research and design, volunteer management and museum governance. In October 2012 I was honoured with an Ontario Museum Association’ Promising Leadership Award of Excellence for my body of work. Please check out my C.V. for more on my experience and accomplishments.

Currently, I am putting together an initial short term Wandering Museum Consultant program for this summer (a bit of a trial run). I will be spending the summer in Europe, and I am looking for 3 more 2 week placements in the UK or Europe. I am doing these placements on a volunteer basis, however, I greatly appreciate a donation of housing where I go (this does not need to be private accommodation, I am perfectly happy to be in spare rooms, etc.).

Schedule:

June 3 – 13: Vindolanda Charitable Trust, UK

June 16 – 27: Dublin, Ireland (Museums TBC)

July 7 – 18: ?

July 21 – August 1: ?

If you are interested in hosting me at your museum, please contact me at katrina@newmuseumkat.ca

My hometown in 500 words: Brantford/Paris, Ontario

Our feet hurt, and our coats are still a bit damp from the surprise rain shower, as we walk the last few steps along Paris, Ontario’s main street towards our destination. The Brown Dog, Coffee Shoppe and Apple Frittery.

Brown Dog Coffee Shoppe

I’d set off 2. 5 hours earlier with my sister and her friend, who was staying with our family over the Thanksgiving long weekend, on a fall foliage walk. Our plan was to hike from Brantford, my hometown, along the 10 km SC Johnson Rail Trail to Paris.

Along the Grand River

Decades ago you could travel throughout Southern Ontario by train, but not any longer; most of the tracks were taken up in the 1980s. Now these paths are for walking, forming the 16,800 km of the current Trans Canada Trail.  It had been a goal of mine for quite sometime to walk this particular portion.

I had walked the trail in sections, but never the full distance, and today I was going to complete it.  We had set off from behind the Brantford Golf and Country Club, one of the oldest in the country, walking through a cornfield heading towards the Grand River.

The Brantford to Paris trail winds through a unique assortment of environments and landscapes not normally found in Ontario; there is an unusually northern Savannah, a large expanse of prairie grass lands, and a wetland fen – which contain plant and wildlife not found elsewhere in the province.  There is even a footbridge over the provincial highway after the trail turns a corner and takes you through a lovely industrial park.

Hundreds of years ago this land saw settlements of longhouses along the river with fields of the Three Sisters, corn, squash and beans; then battles were fought between the Americans and the soon to be Canadians.  However, today this area is a quaint, but vibrant town built along the Grand River. We can see the back of the businesses lining the main street, their balconies overhanging the water, as we leave the trail and head over the bridge toward the downtown. This is our destination, downtown Paris; the town named, not directly for he French capital, but for the gypsum mined in the area, also known as plaster-of-Paris.

We trudge into the café, and settle in with our hot chocolates and our deliciously cinnamon coated apple fritter rewards. There is a chill in the early autumn air as we warm our hands on our mugs and my sister and I both proclaim, ‘everything is better in Paris!’

Brown Dog apple fritters

Then we sit back and wait to be picked up and driven back to where we started three hours earlier. It’s a trip that will take a mere 10 minutes by car, but the slow road is always the best, you see more and you can truly appreciate the trip through your own backyard.

Chester Beatty Library – Dublin

This post will be the first in a new series – My Favourite Museums. It is by no means intended to be a list of the world’s greatest museums, but is instead compiled from the museums I personally have visited. My reasons for each will be very different, some have made the list because of the quality of collections or exhbits, etc. and others are here for far more personal reasons. Hopefully, one day I will be able to visit all the world’s museums (a bit of a challenge) – then I will be able to create my definitive list.

The Chester Beatty Library, located in Dublin Castle has been at the top of my favourite museums list for a very long time. I was fortunate enough to visit during a mini break to Dublin in Nov. 2006. We were three Canadians and an American exploring Dublin, and none of us had heard of the Chester Beatty Library prior to our visit. We literally stumbled upon it. As a result we went in with zero expectations – and we were blown away.

The Chester Beatty Library is an art museum and library displaying a vast collection of manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, rare books and decorative arts. They were assembled by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), who was an American born business man and avid collector, who eventually settled in Ireland.

[The Chester Beatty Library contains] Egyptian papyrus texts, beautifully illuminated copies of the Qur’an, the Bible, European medieval and renaissance manuscripts are among the highlights of the collection. In its diversity, the collection captures much of the richness of human creative expression from about 2700 BC to the present day.   – The Chester Beatty Library

I have since heard it is considered one of the best museums in Europe (it was awarded European Museum of the Year in 2002).

There are a couple reasons why I think the Chester Beatty archive is such a good museum. It is a combination of an excellent collection and brilliant curation.  The following elements in particular have been done extremely well.

1) Perfect lighting

Despite the darkness, which is necessary to preserve the fragile manuscripts, you don’t feel like you’re in the dark. The lighting is used to direct your eye to exactly what the curators want you to see, which consequently creates a space with virtually no dead space; something we see a lot of museums.

2) Excellent Wayfinding

Wayfinding is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, when it is done poorly (or ignored entirely) museum visitors get lost, miss elements and it generally negates any attempt at a cohesive narrative within the curation. The Chester Beatty Archive curators have created excellent wayfinding,  executed with tricks of lighting and by the deliberate placement of cases. The curators have thus created a narrative circuit throughout the exhibits, that feels very natural and gently guides the visitor through the story they are trying to tell.

3) Perfect text!

Probably the biggest accomplishment in the exhibit is the text. There is just enough not to much, not too little. It is the baby bear’s porrige of museum text. Speaking as someone who:

A) does not have a huge interest in religious manuscripts.

B) does not often read much panel text within exhibits.

I read most of, if not all the text, and I did so enthusiastically.

The Chester Beatty archives should be at the top of any Dublin vistor’s list. Afterwards go to good local pub, with live band playing traditional music and for some deliciously perfect Guinness on tap..

Travel Series: My Night on Mt. Sinai

This story took place in April of 2007, on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Although I understand that it is not the safest place to travel at the present, 5 years ago it was a popular destination. The main tourist hub was around the boardwalk town of Dahab on the gulf of Aqaba. While there most people chose to climb nearby Mt. Sinai; the mountain scaled by Moses in the Old Testament.

The View from the top of Mt. Sinai

It was suggested to us that we choose to climb the mountain at night, as it was much cooler than the day. And so, after procuring the necessary flashlights,  we did.

………………………………

“Only 750 steps to go,” my Bedouin guide informs me, as I stare up the seemingly vertical surface of Mount Sinai. This morning the idea of making this legendary climb seemed like a fun idea. I figured it would be nothing more than a nocturnal hike up a mountain to watch the sunrise, what could be nicer? A trail and stairs have been added since Moses made this climb, so how hard could it be?

At 11:00pm my friends and I catch the bus that will take us to meet our guide at the base of Mount Sinai and start the two and a half hour climb.

Excitement level – high.

‘This was not the leisurely hike that I had anticipated;’ I think, an hour into my climb, as I trudge up the mountain. I am turning down the constant offers of “Camel? Camel?” In my basic knowledge of Arabic I answer, “La, Shukran.” – “No, Thank You”

Excitement level – waning.

“Only 750 steps to go.” I look up. ‘These are not steps!’ I’m slightly panicky. ‘These are boulders arranged by giants to vaguely resemble what we mere mortals refer to as steps.’  I groan; it’s roughly 3:00 in the morning.

Excitement level – gone. 

About 400 ‘steps’ up I narrowly avoid being knocked back down the mountain by a rampaging donkey.

Excitement level – In pain.

I made it! I’m at the top, the sunrise is beautiful, but I’m freezing cold, wrapped in a heavy wool blanket; my Bedouin guide answers my complaints with, “Cold is a state of mind.” I look him in the eye and reply, “I’m from Canada, No it’s not.”

It was worth it.

Bundled up in my blanket watching the sun rise over the mountains.
– Photo credit: Diana Ziegler

………………………………

I had written this narrative of my climb a few years ago, but it is missing the best part. When we arrived at the top, our bedouin guide led us to his spot – the place on the mountain he has claimed exclusively for his climbers to rest and wait for the sun to rise. His spot was circular, approx. 8 feet in diameter and completely convex, with nothing between you and a 2285 metre drop to the jagged rocks below. So, of course, he tells us to have a nap… better not roll in your sleep.

We met up again with the donkey on the way back down the mountain.
– Photo credit: Diana Ziegler


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