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.).


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

Designing Interactive exhibits for adult audiences

This is a response post to Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 post today, “Designing Interactives for Adults: Put down the Dayglow”

I have been thinking on this subject for awhile now. I read a book recently about engaging children with history collections, and though there were some great ideas, there was an overwhelming point of view that designing for children is imensely different from designing for adults. As if the day you turn 18 you are no longer insterested in being actively engaged..

“No thanks, I don’t want to paint, draw, build, explore, etc. Learning the facts from this panel is entertaining enough for me.”

Not to knock panels, but adults need play too – we still learn from play, and enjoy play, even though we are no longer children.

Perhaps we shouldn’t think so much along the lines of children’s exhibit needs being drastically different from those aimed at adults, but rather that adult exhibit needs are really not that different than the needs of children. We need to approach designing exhibits for children with an interactive, and engaging goal, but we should be doing the exact same thing for adults.

But, as Nina Simon points out, adult interactives should be packaged for adults – make it obvious that this play is for them. Although, I have no qualms myself engaging in activities obviously designed for children, I can appreciate that some adults would be offput by bright colours and cartoonish images.

Some examples of great interactive exhibits designed with adults in mind:

Colour and Line: Turner’s experiments at Tate Britain in London, UK

I was fortunate to visit this exhibit (which ends in April 2012) in September 2008. There are two main components to the exhibit; a traditional art exhibit format of Turner’s paintings and an additional  interactive component. The interactive portion focuses on the science of colour theory (heavily associated with Turner) with a variety of interactive colour experiments, videos, etc.. As well as a bank of drafting desks set up, with paper, pencils and examples of Turner’s drawings, so visitors can try and draw like the Master. I myself spent a great deal of time in this part of the exhibit!

Visitor at Tate Britain

Lates’ at the Science Museum, London, UK

I have not had the opportunity to attend a ‘Lates’ night at the Science museum, but when I first heard about them a couple years ago I thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea! Check out this link for a video of these adult only evenings at the Science Museum.

Science museums are full of interactive experiments and activities, but on any normal day you have to wait in line behind all the kids – and you feel really awful if you are hogging something fun when they are children waiting. Lates is the answer to that – the adults get unobstructred access to the activities, with some more adult aimed additions.

Lost Collections of the Ancient World at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, London, Ontario, Canada

In July 2011 I put together an exhibit on a really amazing collection found in storage at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.

Part of the collection consists of a large vessel, which we do not know much about. We are unsure of exactly when and where it is from or what its purpose is. As part of the exhibit I included a chalk board for visitors to answer the question: What do you think it is? in regards to this vessel. At the exhibit opening I was delighted to see the number of responses, some serious – a planter? Others perhaps less so – A roman shower head? The response was exactly what I had hoped for;  people were think about they are seeing, but also to having a little fun with it.

What do you think? Should we encourage adults to interact with our museums?

What do you think it is? Board
What do you think it is? Board in context with the exhibit

Activity Backpacks: Engaging Families

 What is an Activity Backpack?

Definition:  An assortment of multi-age appropriate activities designed to encourage direct interaction with museum exhibits; to be borrowed by families.

I was first introduced to the concept of museum Activity Backpacks while on a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, UK, in 2006. I immediately recognized the potential for these backpacks in Canadian museums due to their flexibility of cost and application.

The V&A is a decorative arts museum and so they produced Backpacks for their galleries which are not immediately appealing to children; such as their Chinese decorative art, Victorian decorative arts and decorative glass galleries, creating a way that children can actively engage with these collections.

The award winning V&A project  was inspired by a similar project in the U.S. and by the summer of 2007 Activity Backpacks had become very popular.  At this time was a learning and programming inter for the Bath & Northeast Somerset Council museums and I was asked to develop an Activity Backpack for the Fashion Museum’s  handbag exhibit.

A year later I was Museum Assistant at the Fort Frances Museum in a small town in Northwestern Ontario. I noted that a large portion of the area residents did not frequent the museum and those who did spent very

 little time in the exhibits. I decided that Activity Backpacks might be a cost effective solution; with a goal to slowing down families who visit by giving them hands-on activities in the gallery.

The Fort Frances Discover History Backpacks project  came together as rive different themed backpacks to correspond to the five main sections of the permanent gallery.

  • First Nations
  • Fur Trade
  • Pioneer
  • Logging
  • Community

The intention behind multiple themes is to encourage return visits. It is important in a relatively closed market like Fort Frances to create an ever changing museum experience. The Discover the History Backpacks deliver five different visits for no extra cost to the visitor and will help children to develop a relationship with their community museum.

 The Instruction Guide

The Bath backpack lacked an instruction guide, which is an integral component of the final backpack. The instruction guide, which holds all the instructions and answers to the Backpack activities, is designed for the parent or guardian to guide the child(ren) through each activity. The result is that these backpacks become more than just a means to engage children with museum exhibits, but to engage children with their parents and vice versa.


For a more indepth description of what instruction guides contain and the kinds of activities icluded, click the image below to take you to my Powerpoint Presentation, which I gave as a session presenter at the 2008 Ontario Museum Association (OMA) Conference and in 2010 at the OMA’s Credit Course in Museum Education.

 Click the picture!

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