Friday, December 26, 2014

Historical Trauma and Self Care

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Energy.  What gave you energy this year? What took away your energy?

Recently on twitter a few historians were discussing the personal impacts of working on projects involving historical trauma.  Working on emotionally charged historical topics can be emotionally draining.  In the past four years while being actively engaged with residential school archives and survivors I have seen and experienced the toll of working with archives relating to historical trauma. 

Archival material relating to residential schools can be triggering and cause emotional distress.  The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre archives is overseen by the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) and this group of survivors is actively involved in the management of the archives.  The CSAA also serve as health support for the staff, researchers, survivors, and community members who use the archives.  

 Having this type of health support available to visitors has been invaluable.  I've seen people from all walks of life be emotionally touched by residential schools. Having built in mental health supports is essential in creating safe spaces to discuss historical trauma. It is also important to teach front line archival staff how they can support visitors who may be triggered by material they are viewing.  Creating a supportive environment for viewing material relating to historical trauma needs include training staff to spot emotional distress and how to provide assistance when needed.
I've been lucky to be part of a workplace and community that is supportive of self-care.  The emotional impact of working on topics related to historical trauma is something that isn't often discussed amongst historians, archivists, and other heritage professionals.  But talking about the toll of working with emotionally draining material is crucial.  Personally, I've found taking a step back from the material, focusing on the importance of truth telling and the positive impact of connecting communities with their past helpful.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Closure of Smith Museum of Stained Glass

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Revised Prompt: What heritage sites have you discovered this year that you love? Tell us all about them, and why you love them. 

One of my favourite trips this year was to Chicago and included a number of heritage sites.  The built heritage in Chicago is beautiful and I enjoyed learning about how the city developed and the mixture of architecture styles that developed as a result of continuous development after devastating fires in the city.

One of the smallest heritage sites I visited this year was the Smith Museum of Strained Glass Windows in Chicago.  This unique site featured over 150 stained glass windows many of which were originally housed in buildings in Chicago.  I found the contrast of the beautiful old stained glass with the modern, tourist location on Navy Pier particularly striking.

When looking up the link for this post I discovered that in October 2014, two months after my visit, the Smith Museum closed and the stained glass was all boxed up and removed from Navy Pier.  The Pier is undergoing renovations and 'needed' the museum space for planned new attractions.  At this point the collection of stained glass does not have a home. There are tentative plans to have some of the works exhibited in public spaces, but no signs of a dedicated space for the entire collection.  The Smith Museum was unique in its location and was the largest exhibition of stained glass in North America, its closure is a huge loss to the heritage and stained glass art community.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ongoing Challenges: Paper Writing and Committee Work

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Challenges.  What did you wrestle with in 2014?  What did you learn?  What challenges do you foresee in 2015?

This past year I wrestled with how to turn down great projects that I simply didn't have time to do justice to. In 2015 I foresee a few new challenges including:

  • Finalizing a paper on sports images and residential school archives.  This was one of the few projects I took on part way through 2014, as it draws directly on a lot of the work I've done with the Rev Father William Maurice fonds in the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  
  • I'm continuing to be part of a couple of public history committees and part of a conference organizing committee. There will be lots of planning and implementation work in the next year relating to those commitments.
  • I will be returning to work in June 2015 after taking seven months off as maternity leave.  This will be another huge life/work adjustment. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Archival Community

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Ah ha moment: Did you have an “ah ha” moment this year? Was it a big one? Or just a small enlightenment?

I changed roles in late 2013 to move from an archives technician position to a researcher/curator role.  I have enjoyed the new challenges that the researcher/curator job brought and the new relationships I was able to build with local and national art communities.  However, this year I realized that though I enjoy project management and working on community inspired art projects I was missing the time I had previously spent immersed in archives. 

This ah ha moment inspired me to reconnect with the archival world.  Presenting at this year's Archives Association of Ontario conference, participating in SNAP Roundtable twitter chats, and reconnecting with archival literature helped return me to the archival sphere. Living in a very small city that does not have a wealth of heritage professionals has made me more aware of the need to build supportive professional networks and communities.  Many of the people I consider colleagues and who I turn to for advice live miles away and work in a range of different public history and archival settings.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today's prompt: One word. What one word could describe your 2014?

Transformative. I learned a lot this past year and made a number of significant life changes. This year has been the year of new experiences, new skills, and learning moments. Some of the most transformative moments include:
  • Participating in Walking With Our Sisters Sault Ste Marie
  • Beginning to learn to play the hammered dulcimer and learning more about traditional music
  • Reevaluating my historical tour skills and taking new approaches to teaching others about residential schools
  • Acting as a thesis supervisor
  • Becoming a parent
A year of change both professionally and personally.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reverb: Photo worth 1,000 words

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: 1000 Words:  There’s the old saying that a photo is worth 1,000 words.  Give us a photo with that impact that sums up some significant event of your 2014, or give us 1,000 words about a pivotal moment in 2014.

November 14, 2014 birth of Emma. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Writing Matters

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today's prompt: On writing: Chances are, if you’re participating in #reverb it’s because you like writing.  Or at least want to like writing.  Writing is like a muscle.  Use it or lose it.  What do you do every day to hone your craft?  Or, what would you like to do each day to contribute to your writing?

This prompt speaks to why I am participating in #reveb14 this year. I wanted to encourage myself to get back to writing on a regular basis.  When I'm practicing good writing habits I try to write a little bit every day -- even if it's just a couple hundred words in a blog post that never sees the light of day. Quality matters, but so does getting words down on the page.  Really bad first drafts are okay.  They can foster insight and you need to start somewhere. 

I've also found that I tend to be most productive when I'm able to write in the morning.  My creative and analytical juices tend to work much better in the earlier part of the day.  When working on longer pieces I like to be able to take time away from the writing and come back to it a day or two later. 

In the past few months I've also taken to writing more using pen and paper.  This old school writing has been mostly personal or creative projects.  The ease of being able to open a simple notebook and start writing has been great.  I find I often fall victim to being distracted by the internet or email when I sit down at my computer to write.  Removing distractions and setting time goals for writing has been helpful.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Order Through Processing

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today's prompt: Small Pleasures: What small pleasures did you discover this year? 

Part way through this year I reconnected with some of the archival work I love.  My role as a Researcher/Curator meant that I was spending less time focused on archival practice.  Reconnecting and spending a few days accessioning and physically processing a collection reminded me how much I enjoy archival work.

I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with seeing order brought to a jumble of papers. I find physical processing oddly relaxing, perhaps it's the organizational side of me rejoicing at the rules of processing and description.  Knowing that the work I do makes material accessible and discoverable online is a huge motivator. It's rewarding to see archives actively being used and researchers engaging with the material that was previously an unorganized box of papers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Volunteering and Service Projects

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today's prompt: The Plank: It has been said that you must learn to take care of yourself before you can be effective at taking care of others.  How did you take care of yourself in 2014?  How will you take care of yourself in 2015?

One of the most rewarding personal things I've done this year is to continue being engaged in projects that matter to me.  Taking on extra projects outside of work might seem counter intuitive to self care.  But working on history projects that are intellectually challenging and interesting is something I greatly enjoy. I find engagement in this type of project rewarding and something that helps lift my mood.

Projects I've continued to be a part of this year:
  • Volunteering with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario's digital archive project.  This project has focused on making oral history interviews conducted by the MHSO accessible online.  It's been great to be able to volunteer with this meaningful project from a distance and be able to help out with interview transcription, research/writing of biographies, and indexing of interviews.
  • Serving on the membership committee of the National Council of Public History.  NCPH is a great organization that I've enjoyed contributing to.  Serving on the membership committee has allowed me to become more engaged in the organization and connect with a number of public historians from both Canada and the United States.  
  • Active History Website.  I've continued to be a co-editor at Active History.  I've been involved with this project for a number of years now and it is something I have continued to enjoy participating in.  The site promotes the dissemination of historical knowledge and often focuses on the intersection of history and everyday events.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Everyday Heroes

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today's prompt: Hero: Who was your hero this year? Tell us why. What makes a hero in your eyes?

 The residential school survivors I have had the opportunity to work with over the past few years are a constant source of inspiration.  Many of these individuals are in their 60s, 70s, or 80s yet they continue to be advocates for awareness around the legacy of residential schools.

They were founding members of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and have promoted education and healing around residential schools since the mid 1970s. Many of these elders routinely speak about their residential school experience to indigenous and non indigenous audiences.  For students of all ages this can be a powerful learning experience and is often the thing that makes them realize the lasting impact of residential schools.

These kind and generous people are heroes in my mind. They have worked tirelessly for years to raise awareness about residential schools and many have worked to promote healing within their own communities. I only hope I have nearly as much energy when I'm their age. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Community and Student Supervision

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today's prompt: Victory Laps: What was your biggest accomplishment this year? 

I was fortunate to be part of many great projects this year.  Being part of the effort to bring Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) to Sault Ste Marie was a humbling and amazing experience.  WWOS is a commemorative art installation honoring missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the United States.  The project is community and ceremony driven.  It was inspiring to see so many people in Sault Ste Marie work together on the project and so many people visit the installation.  I learned a lot during this project and had the privilege of working with a great group of community volunteers.

This past year I also had the opportunity to supervise a fourth year undergraduate history thesis.  The student's thesis focused on the early years of the Shingwauk Residential School.  Acting as a supervisor was an extremely rewarding experience.  The sense of community amongst the supervisors and thesis students was inspiring and allowed for many a good historical debate. 

Being able to see a student work their way through an idea, background research, archival research, and the writing of a thesis was a unique experience that I am glad I had the opportunity to be part of. Having the chance to talk about writing strategies, research methods, and archival research with people who are just as enthusiastic about history is always a great thing. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Peer Review: Letting Go Of Doubt

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today's prompt: Letting go: Next year I'm letting go of...

A couple of longstanding project I've been working on have wrapped up this year.  I finished an article on community archives that uses the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre archives as a case study.  It took me a long time to address the peer review comments on this article. Procrastination combined with fear of the revisions not being adequate made it easy to avoid working on this project.

 I found a session Jo VanEvery offered on dealing with criticism particularly helpful in getting myself motivated to address the peer review comments. It helps to have an outsider remind you that you are capable of doing good work and that you should take reviewer comments with a grain of salt while still responding to them in a meaningful way.

This past year taught me a lot about letting go of self doubt and the importance of believing in your work.  Imposter syndrome is fairly common amongst academics and tends to be even more prevalent amongst women. Building supportive communities which provide criticism in a nurturing way can be extremely valuable. Finding good role models and supportive peers can be invaluable and provide much needed sounding boards in times of self-doubt.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Year of Prioritization

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today's prompt: Coulda woulda shoulda. What didn't you do this year because you were too scared, afraid, unsure? Are you going to o it next year? Or maybe you don't want to anymore.

I passed on a number of projects this year that I felt I couldn't commit enough time to. I stand by my decision to prioritize projects and work toward a balanced life. That being said it was hard to pass up offers to contribute to a couple book projects and conference panels that focused on community archives, Indigenous heritage, and archival outreach.

There is always next year, especially in the case of the National Council on Public History annual conference and various Canadian archival conferences. My status as a new parent has made me acutely aware of the lack of supports built into conferences for parents. I believe the Society of American Archivists has offered minimal childcare arrangements at past conferences but very few academic conferences offer this service. Practically I put conference presenting on hold while I adjust to life as a mother.

This past year has been filled with prioritization. I can't do everything and I shouldn't feel the need to try to do everything. I keep reminding myself that saying no is okay.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

From Pulp and Paper to Community Hub

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today's prompt is: When did you feel beautiful this year? Why? Altered prompt: Discuss a beautiful heritage project or site from the past year.

St Marys Pulp and Paper Complex
One of the most inspiring revitalization projects in my community this past year has been the transformation of the St. Mary's Paper Mill site. Initially known as the Sault Ste. Marie Pulp and Paper Company, which was built by Francis H. Clergue in 1895, the site remained operational until St. Mary's Paper went bankrupt in 2011. A shot history of the pulp and paper industry in Sault Ste Marie can be found here.

Riversedge Developments purchased the site in 2012 and since that time the site has undergone significant revitalization. Much of the unique architecture found on the site has been preserved and there are plans for the site to be developed as a cultural and tourism hub.

The first phase of the project has seen the opening of the Mill Market in the former Board Mill Building, the former machine shop being developed as a concert venue, and the Algoma Conservatory of Music moving into the old administration building.

The site is being used for both public and private events and is slowly integrating itself into community life. It is great to see the revitalization of this industrial site and the preservation of such an important piece of heritage. Overall this is a great example of adaptive reuse of an industrial heritage site.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Reverb14: Art Installations and Archives

In 2010 I participated in #reverb10. This year I plan on participating in #reverb14 as a way to get my writing habits back on track. The first prompt is Where did you start 2014? Give us some background on this year.

My year started with a lot of thinking about digital preservation, digitization, and community archives. The beginning of 2014 was also marked by me working to organize the Why The Caged Bird Sings: Here I Am exhibition by Cheryl L'Hirondelle.

This past year was filled with great experiences working with Indigenous artists, thinkers, and researcher focused on residential schools. My organizational and planning skills were put to the test as I managed multiple projects and helped bring a handful of art installations to fruition. I had very limited experience with art installations prior to this year, so there was a definite hands on learning curve.

I also reconnected with archival work that had been put on the back burner. Introducing work study students to archival work reminded me of the importance of ongoing learning and the love I have for archival practice.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Community Space: Craft Show at the Bushplane Heritage Centre

Yesterday the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre hosted the second annual holiday gift and craft show.  Held inside the museum the show featured over 100 local craft and artisan vendors.  This was my first time attending the show, it was a great way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy Saturday.

The event brought hundreds of vendors and local residents into a heritage site.  Walking through the craft show I was struck by the contrast of the permanent displays (eg. large airplanes everywhere) with tables setup for the vendors.  It was interesting to see the space being so well utilized for a public event and great to see a local heritage site supporting local artists. The event's location also made the craft show a bit more child friendly - I saw a number of children eagerly climbing into and enjoying many of the bushplanes on display as their parents took in the crafts.

Additionally, admission to the craft show was by donation and all donations went toward the Bushplane operating costs.  I've now been to a couple of larger non-heritage related events at the Bushplane. The space is often used for concerts, weddings, community fundraising activities, and other activities.  The space is essentially a large airplane hanger with a large open floor space making it a large venue with lots of capacity and potential for community events. 

The revenue model of using heritage spaces as event spaces definitely isn't unique to the Bushplane.  But it is one of the more prominent and successful examples in my community.  Hosting community events at heritage and cultural sites have the potential to bring in extra revenue, expose the general public to the site, and raise the community profile of a site. 

The holiday season brings a wealth of opportunities for heritage sites -- Christmas parties, craft shows, and special holiday programming using the site.  What innovate community uses of heritage sites have you seen recently?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Archives Meet Public History

Earlier this week the Students and New Archives Professional (SNAP) Roundtable of the Society of American Archivists hosted a joint twitter chat with the New Professional and Graduate Student Committee of the National Council on Public History.  The chat focused on the intersection of public history and archives and generated a lot of interesting ideas for collaboration.

The first portion of the chat focused on introducing participants, discussing what interested them in archives and public history, and what they learned about archives in their public history program (or vice versa). The vast majority of responses seemed to indicate that many archival programs didn't talk about public history and that most public history programs might include a class or two focused on archives.  A number of participants also mentioned gaining exposure to other fields through internships and work study opportunities.

The second section of the chat invited participants to share how they have interacted with public historians or archivists as part of their work.  A number of people (@Sam_Winn, @PubHistPhD, and @jessmknapp) mentioned that reference, outreach, and engagement work often allows them to interact with people from a variety of fields.

This was followed by a discussion of why archives, public historians, and museums don't work together more frequently on advocacy issues. Holly Croft suggested that this disconnect might be rooted in the fact that archives only recently began to advocate for themselves.  Croft's comment garnered a lot of discussion and highlighted the issue of similar fields committing for the same funding sources and lack of engagement between professional groups. 

The chat closed with practical suggestions of how these two related fields can work together.  A number of participants suggested holding more tweet chats or similar discussions which invite people from different backgrounds to engage.  Using digital and local history projects as points of collaboration was also suggested, as was the idea of holding joint professional meetings.

As someone who holds an MA in Public History and works in an archive I found the chat very interesting.  While I've worked in an archives focused role for the past four years many of the outreach and engagement practices I've undertaken are rooted in public history and the idea of a living archive.  There is tremendous potential for collaboration between fields to bring history to the forefront.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Interactive Libraries: the New Halifax Central Library

Image from Wikimedia Commons, Citobun
The Current on CBC has been running a series recently focused on all elements of design.  By Design looks at traditional design as well as new technologies, education practices, and other human constructed ideas that shape our world.  This week By Design featured a segment on designing libraries in a digital era.

The feature focused on the design of the new Halifax Central Library.  Set to open in the fall of 2014 the library is the first of scale to be built in Canada in many years.  The library features gaming stations, meetings rooms, community spaces, cafes, and takes the approach of libraries as gathering spaces and communal spaces of knowledge.

The discussion questioned the future of libraries and placed libraries as much more than a place for books, but as an actively engaged center of a community. This sense of community engagement was integrated into the design process for the Halifax Library. Five public consultations were held which invited Halifax residents to provide input on the design and components of the library. Many of these sessions were interactive.  For example in 2008 library patrons were asked to write down what they wanted in a new library on a 'graffiti wall.'

Interactive events including knit-ins, talking fences, and community art projects are other examples of the Halifax Library already beginning to engage the community through non-traditional means. The library is position itself as a welcoming multipurpose environment that encourage conversation.

It is great to see such a large scale library project being funded and supported by a community.  As the library opens it will be interesting to hear feedback from the community and see how this new community oriented space is being used.  

For those interested in checking out the design of the new Halifax Central Library a virtual tour is available:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Public History and Environmental Engagement: Scotland's Coastal Heritage

The recent special issue of The Public Historian focused on public history and environmental sustainability.  This issue builds on the sustainable public history theme that was the focus of the 2014 National Council on Public History conference and the digital collection Public History in a Changing Climate which appeared on the Public History Commons.  The special journal issue contains a number of interesting articles on the desire to engage the public with environmental history and a changing environmental landscape. 

The article "A View from Scotland's Coast" by Tom Dawson which looks at coastal erosion and the impact of erosion of heritage sites provides a glimpse into the potential of engaging the public in issues of heritage, climate change, and natural heritage. 

Dawson's writing focuses on the work of the Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion Trust (SCAPE Trust) and highlights examples of coastal erosion's impact of heritage sites in Scotland.  For example, in Bora, a small coastal town in Northern Scotland, industrial buildings from the sixteenth century were uncovered on the coast.  Beginning in 2004 SCAPE worked with the local community and organizations to excavate buildings and begin to document the site.  However in 2012 a winter storm destroyed the sixteenth-century salt pans that had been uncovered.  All that remained were piles of ruble on a beach below.

This and other examples of heritage sites endangered by coastal erosion reminded me a lot of my trip to Ireland.  While touring the Dingle Peninsula there were a number of site that had been partially destroyed be erosion or were at risk because of the changing shoreline.  I remember thinking at the time about what could be done to save such sites, particularly in a country that is filled with similar heritage structures.

Dawson argues that "being able to demonstrate the value of an asset is key to getting the item preserved, or at least recorded before it is destroyed."  Heritage sites need to advocate for the value of their existence and preservation, especially if an economic advantage to preserving the site isn't immediately apparent. 

SCAPE believes that involving communities and local populations in archaeological and preservation projects is key, "working directly with heritage gives people a greater understanding of its importance, and this appreciation spreads through the community and beyond"  Additionally local residents often hold valuable knowledge which has been passed down through generations about local heritage sites, landscape changes, and past events. 

SCAPE's development of the Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk Project (SCHARP) highlights a collaborative effort to engage communities in preservation.  The project relies on the public to update and correct information collected via coastal surveys and report any changes to the sites.  The SCHARP project website includes data for 12,000 coastal sites and invites the public to update information based on local knowledge.  The site is relatively user friendly and interesting to explore even for those without a local connection to Scotland.

SCAPE also asks community members to nominate sites for preservation.  Though the ShoreDig project SCAPE works with communities to facilitate community excavation and to encourage engagement with threatened local heritage. 

Dawson's work highlights the crucial role the public has to play in the preservation of coastal heritage.  Community engagement is essential to assessment of local heritage sites and working with the public can help preserve information and sites which would otherwise be lost in changing landscapes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Signage and Not So Common Sense in Galleries

The Art Gallery of Algoma is currently featuring an exhibit titled Imagery from the Canadian North in its Project Room gallery. The exhibition contains works in a variety of mediums from the AGA's permanent collection that were created by artists from Canada's North. 

The small exhibit contains wall hangings, prints, drawings, paintings, and stone carving.  The pieces included provide a small glimpse into the rich artistic traditions in Canada's arctic and Indigenous art in Canada.  I particularly enjoyed an untitled wall hanging by Joanne Akoptanuak depicting both humans and animals sharing a space.

However, very little contextual information was included in the project room about the featured artists, the impact of climate on art, and where in Canada's North the works were created.  Two maps were included as part of the didactic material in the exhibit but didn't really provide detailed context about the location of the Northern artists whose work was being featured.

While taking in the exhibition a few other visitors to the gallery were also in the space.  The exhibition features a few soapstone carvings on pedestals without a glass enclosure.  The signage at the entrance to the space did include a note about not touching the artwork.  However, during my time in the space I had to restrain myself when two other visitors repeatedly touched the uncovered artwork.  The one visitor also commented to a friend, "oh these pieces are uncovered, that must mean they want us to touch them."  Cringing and sideways glares abounded.

If nothing else that experience reminded me of the importance of exhibition design, signage, and security in galleries and museums.  Things gallery staff might think are common sense aren't always.  Having visible signage explaining appropriate conduct, contextual information, and educational information is a crucial part of any exhibition.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Group of Seven in Algoma

I recently visited the Art Gallery of Algoma (AGA) to take in their fall exhibitions.  Though I have worked with the AGA a number of times on collaborative exhibitions I haven't really explored the gallery as a visitor before.

The main exhibition at the AGA right now is the Group of Seven in Algoma and a Mysterious Death.  The show is part of the Algoma Fall Festival and focuses on the Group of Seven's connection to Northern Ontario and the impact that the artists continue to have in the artistic world.

 The Group of Seven portion of the exhibit features 38 pieces of artwork done by different members of the Group and was guest curated by Tom Smart, from the Art Gallery of Sudbury.  The exhibit contains pieces from the AGA's collection but also brings together works from other private and public collections around Ontario. 

The exhibition features a variety of works, styles, and artists.  It was interesting to be able to compare the different styles within the group and recognize numerous locations in the paintings.  The exhibition featured a number of works by A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, and Franklin Carmichael that I hadn't seen before. 

The only disappointment of the exhibit was the lack of any work from Lawren Harris, who tends to be my favourite artist from the Group of Seven. But that's more of a personal preference and the exhibit is excellent regardless.

Paired with the works of the Group of Seven is George Walker's The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson which contains over 100 prints made from wood engravings.  Walker's work initially appeared in 'wordless novel' format and highlight the impact of Thomson's impact on Canadian culture while telling the story of Thomson's life and death.  Digital reproductions of the 109 engravings can be seen here.

In addition to the over 100 prints the exhibit features a few of Walker's tools, original plates, and a reproduction skull of Thomson.  The prints effectively tell a life story without words and the intricacy of the woodcuts which created the prints was inspiring.  The Walker exhibit was an interesting contrast to the Group of Seven exhibit and worked well in the same space.

Group of Seven in Algoma and a Mysterious Death is open until October 26th at the Art Gallery of Algoma.  Since the event is part of the Algoma Fall festival the admission price is slightly higher ($9) than the regular ($5) gallery admission,  but it is well worth a visit.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Changing Expectations: Parenthood and Work Balance

I've started, rewritten, and deleted this post a few times.  I've been struggling with how to broach a topic that is intrinsically personal - pregnancy, parenthood, and workplace expectations - but has a need to be discussed more broadly.

 My partner and I are approaching a life changing event, the birth of our first child.  As the due date creeps ever closer I've been thinking a lot about how parenthood and concepts of gender interact with workplace expectations.  Particularly in relation to the archival profession, academia, and historical trends in Canada.

A few years ago I had taken a sick day and was shocked when a colleague responded with "You aren't pregnant are you?  Because you know that would pretty inconvenient timing for us all right now and throw a wrench in our plans."  At the time I laughed it off.  But now that I am actually pregnant the words shed light on some of the obstacles many women face in the workplace.

That single comment isn't representative my experience -- I'm extremely lucky to have a very supportive workplace and access to generous maternity benefits (yay for living in Canada).  I plan on taking seven months off work and my partner will be taking the remaining five months of the parental leave. I decided not to take the full year off work for a number of reasons - the desire that my partner have a chance to bond with the baby, a strong feeling that I might go stir crazy at home, and because I don't want my professional life to stop when I enter this new phase of my personal life.

On a professional level I've been struggling with how to prioritize my semi-work related commitments.  Things that aren't required by my job but that I've always associated with work and professional development.  Namely journal issues, book chapters, and conference panels I've been asked to contribute to.  I've declined a couple of contribution requests out of a desire to try and simplify my commitments in the upcoming year.  But, I've committed to a couple of lower pressure and longer deadline projects for 2015-2016 and hope to keep up with most of my current commitments (albeit scaled back a bit). I know my life is going to drastically change in the next couple of months and it's impossible to gauge how that will impact my commitments long term. 

When thinking about this issue I've found it helpful to read about the experiences of others in the heritage field and academia who are discussing work/life balance in the context of parenthood and gender expectations. A few of the most useful sites have been:
  • Nursing Clio a collaborative blog project that links historical scholarship to present day gender and medicine issues. 
  • The Women in Archives series on the Chaos ---> Order blog. A two week series focusing on the issues of gender and social inequalities in the context of institutional/professional/social legacies. 
  • Hook and Eye is a group blog dedicated to writing about the lives of women in the Canadian University system.  Contributors are from a range of backgrounds affiliated with universities such as undergrads, grad students, postdoc, sessionals, professors, administrators, alumna, emerita, etc. A number of posts have been written on parenthood, gender expectations, and life balance. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Orange Shirt Day

September 30, 2014 is the second annual Orange Shirt Day.  The day grew out of a residential school commemoration event held in Williams, Lake BC in Spring 2013.  During this event Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a Survivor of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School described her experience of arriving at the residential school and having an orange shirt that was bought for her by her grandmother taken away from her.

Speaking about her experience Phyllis said that "the colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn't matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing.  All of us little children were crying and no one cared."  Phyllis complete story can be viewed here.

As a result of Phyllis' experience and the 2013 commemoration event Orange Shirt Day was created as a way to inspire conversation around residential schools and reconciliation.  Similar to the anti-bullying pink shirt campaigns, the Orange Shirt Day/Every Child Matters campaign encourages people to wear orange and begin discussing the issues behind the cause.  Many school boards across Canada are using this as an opportunity to begin discussions of residential schools in their classrooms.  More information about Orange Shirt Day can be found on their website and facebook page.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Bringing the Legacy of Residential Schools into the Classroom

My latest post, "Bringing the Legacy of Residential Schools into the Classroom" can be seen over on Active History.  The post focuses on resources that can help teachers integrate residential schools into their lessons. I look a handful of education tools which can be accessed digitally and are good starting points for teaching the history of residential schools.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Art and Wellness: Community Partnerships

The current issue of Muse includes an article by Shirley Madill focusing on the relationship of "Art and Wellness." Madill's piece focuses on the role of museums and art galleries in communities, the connection of arts and health, and the wellness benefits associated with public engagement in the arts.

She argues that "Investment in the arts produces important social benefits that have a strong positive impact on both individual and community health."  Madill includes examples of numerous Canadian initiatives that highlight the collaborative partnerships between health organizations and art institutions.

For example, The Art for Healing Foundation aims to bring art into hospitals and other care facilities as a means of creating inspiring, peaceful, and beautiful environments for patients and healthcare workers.  Since 2002 the Foundation has been responsible for installing over 8000 works of art in institution across Canada.

The integration of artwork into hospital settings can also be seen at the St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg and their decision to to open the Buhler Gallery in 2007.  Located within the Hospital the Buhler Gallery has seen over 75,000 people visit the space with more than a third of the visitors being hospital patients. The Gallery has successfully created a welcoming reflective space for visitors and highlights the intersection of art and healing. 

In addition to hospital based art programs, Madill also highlights the benefits of programming created by community galleries that is geared toward people dealing with health issues.  The Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, where Madill works, partnered with the local Alzheimer Society to create a "Gather in the Gallery" program.  The programming focuses on engaging Alzheimer patients and their caregivers within the gallery space.  Current in it's fourth year this program has been seen as a success by the gallery, Alzheimer Society and its participants.

Overall Madill's work reminded me a lot of the Journey Women exhibit I was able to be part of in 2014 that focused on using art based healing to create 'body maps' which reflected personal healing experiences.  The article also made me think about the potential within in many museums and galleries to collaborate with health based organizations.  There are tremendous opportunities for engagement, public outreach, and the creation of new programming that is beneficial to both communities and galleries.

If you're interested in the intersection of art and health I recommend checking out the September/October 2014 issue of Muse as it contains Madill's excellent piece and others focusing on the role of museums and galleries in health.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Community Conversations and Libraries

Earlier this week I attended a music night at my local public library.  The night featured a couple of local musicians as well as Tenpenny Bit a traditional music group from out of town.  The evening was free to attend (but a number of people did give small donations), included a couple of hours of good music, conversation, and snacks.  The event was well attended and made me think about the relationship between libraries, art, and communities.

When I first moved to Northern Ontario I remember being baffled by the fact that the library wasn't open all the time.  The town I grew up in wasn't huge but it had enough people and funding to support a large library with great hours.  The library in the community I live in now is only open 29 hours a week but still manages to offer a range of programming.

In the past year the library has hosted a handful of small art shows and music nights.  The art shows and displays have featured works by local artists and the music nights have highlighted both local and visiting talent. The events bring people into the library that might not normally visit and provide a needed creative venue within the community.

The most recent music night also highlighted the idea of libraries as community spaces and places of conversation.  Most businesses in our small town close at 6pm.  But the library is open from 7-9pm four nights a week. The library also has a visible presence in the local paper, community nights, and local events. This presence might be as simple as offering hot chocolate and cookies during the winter 'midnight madness' event to encourage people to step into library.  The local library is an integral part of the community and actively works to engage locals outside of traditional library programming. 

I like the idea of libraries as being flexible spaces of engagement where patrons can engage with knowledge, arts, and community.  Books bring people together.  But so do free cookies, music nights, and children's programming.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Contested Public History and Public Engagement

The Spring 2014 issue of The Public Historian focused on contested histories, addressing controversy through public history, and the relationship of controversy and commemoration.  Christine Reiser Robbins and Mark W. Robbins' piece "Engaging the contested Memory of the Public Square, Community Collaboration, Archaeology, and Oral History at Corpus Christi's Artesian Park" is an excellent example of the challenges and potential benefits of tackling contested histories, issues of identity, and public input.

The article uses the case study of Corpus Christi's Artesian Park to highlight the potential of using community engaged methods and collaborative designs that integrate oral history, archaeology, and archival research to build historical narratives.

The history of the Artesian Park and its commemoration has been filled with controversy.  In 1975 and 2002 attempts to commemorate the the park were filled with community disputes, disagreements of interpretation, and debated history.

In 2012 a public archeology and oral history project was launched in the community to focus on expanding historical narratives relating to the Park.  The project highlighted the possibility of creating a new narrative that combines personal histories, civic history/myth, and national narratives.  And the results showed the diversity in experiences and histories relating to the park. 

Christine Reiser Robbins and Mark W. Robbins' argue that "engaged public history frameworks that are community driven and incorporate multiple methodologies can be a 'source of empowerment' in the pursuit of more open and contested cultural heritage."  This project was open to all segments of the community which allowed for a range of participation and an increased understanding of the community itself and the history of the park.  The project also allowed for "new relationships to the place and to the community to be formed."

This case study is a great example of the importance of community participation, collaboration, and the integration of multiple narratives into historical interpretation.  The long held nostalgic civic histories of the Park represent only a portion of the complete heritage of the Artesian Park.  Community collaboration and community input is crucial when addressing heritage the is contested and deeply community rooted.  Public history projects have the potential to bring together communities and start conversations relating to heritage and broader community issues.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Walking Tours and Public Art in Chicago

Four Seasons, Chagall.
I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the seventh post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

While researching things to do in Chicago I came across the itinerary for a self guided walking tour of public art in the Loop area of Chicago.  The tour includes 21 different public art pieces as well as recommendations of additional buildings and sights to see along the way.

There was lots of other public art to take in just walking around the city on a daily basis.  The city of Chicago has a vibrant public art program which include over 700 works found in over 150 municipal properties in the city.  So it's hard to not see at least some of the public art. Details on the Public Art Program and highlights from the public art collection can be seen here.

I've done a number of guided tours in other cities but never a self guided tour. The walk was a good
Chicago Picasso
experience. There was only one or two instances where the directions on the guide weren't terribly clear.  And we explored parts of the city and artwork we might have otherwise overlooked.

A couple of my favourites stops along the tour were the Chicago Picasso sculpture, the Four Seasons mosaic mural by Chagall, and the Town-Ho's Story by Frank Stella.

While visiting the Art Institute of Chicago earlier in the week the small exhibit focusing on public art spoke about the controversy that surrounded the Chicago Picasso when it was installed as the first large scale public art piece in the downtown. It was nice to be able to see it in person and being used as a giant slide by children.

Town-Ho, Frank Stella.
The amount of work that must have went into Four Seasons by Chagall amazed me. The 70ft long mural is made up of thousands of pieces of coloured glass and stone. The mural depicts seasons and landscapes of Chicago.  The work includes pieces of Chicago brick that was added by Chagall after the work arrived in the city. Four Seasons was donated to Chicago in 1974.  In 1994 work was done on the mosaic to restore the piece after and a protective canopy was added in an attempt to shield the work from exposure to the elements.

Frank Stella's Town-Ho Story is located in the lobby of the Metcalfe Federal Building.  The 18 foot high metal sculpture is named after a chapter in Moby Dick and it part of larger series by Stella relating to the book. There has been numerous complaints and controversy surrounding this work with many people calling it a 'pile of garbage', 'not art', 'metal scrap', etc.

One of the nice things about exploring public art in a self guided tour is the ability to spend as much time at a work as you want, to take time to see other sites not included in the tour, and the option of setting your own pace.  This particular self guided tour involved a fairly lengthy walk but made for an enjoyable day exploring the city.

Photo Credit: Andrew MacKay

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the sixth post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

Photo credit:
While exploring the waterfront on our first day in Chicago we ended up at Navy Pier.  The flashiness, cheesy feel, and crowded nature of the Pier didn't appeal to me all that much.  But, there is a quiet hidden gem amongst all the children running around.

Autumn landscape, Tiffany Studio. Credit:
The Smith Museum of Stained Glass features over 180 stained glass windows in the lower level of Festival Hall.  The Museum opened in 2000 and is the first museum in the US dedicated to stained glass windows.  Many of the windows in the collection were originally installed in residential, commercial, and religious buildings in the Chicago area.  The windows range in age from 1870 to present and highlight a range of artistic styles. Some of the more modern pieces include a window created from pop bottles and a portrait of Michael Jordan. A PDF catalogue of the stained glass window collection can be found here

The Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass features prominently within the larger Smith Museum.  The Driehaus Gallery features 13 windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany.  The Tiffany windows are showcased in a dark portion of the Museum and are lit with artificial light.  The visual effect is well done and makes these windows standout amongst the rest of the of the Smith Museum collection.

The Smith Museum was an interesting surprise.  Typically stained class is preserved in religious building or privately owned homes.  Having the collection in such a public tourism place where visitors can walk right up to the glass is unique. I've never seen so much stained glass in one place.  The Museum has done a good job of contextualizing each window and preserving the windows in a way that is accessible.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ethel Stein Master Weaver Exhibit

Ethel Stein. Portrait, 1999. Art Institute of Chicago.
I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the fifth post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

One of my favourite exhibits during my visit to the Art Institute of Chicago was Ethel Stein, Master Weaver.  Located down in the basement of the Institute the exhibit included drawloom weavings created by Stein from 1982 through 2008.  This retrospective exhibition includes over 40 works that have either been donated to the Art Institute or have been promised as future gifts.

I was blown away by the detail in Stein's work, the complexity of the weaving, and the thought behind each piece.  Weaving at the most fundamental level seems like a very simple artisan craft.  But the drawloom technique that allows for each warp thread to be controlled separately has tremendous potential for creativity, complexity, and skill.  Some of Stein's work does at first glance appear uncomplicated but works like Portrait and Circus and Slapstick by Stein illustrate the artistic process and elaborate nature of her work.

In addition to the textile works by Stein the exhibit space includes a video installation.  The video shows Stein working in her studio and provides insight into the labour intensive, detail orientated nature of her work. For me the video also highlighted the vision, math, accuracy, and planning required to execute textile works on the scale the Stein has.  A copy of the short video can be viewed here.

The exhibition is located on the Lower Level of the Art Institute and is a bit out of the way.  But it is definitely worth the effort to find the one elevator that gets you down there.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Technology and Highlights of the Art Institute of Chicago

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the fourth post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

When people say you could spend hours at the Art Institute of Chicago they aren't kidding.  I spent a full day there as part of my trip to Chicago.   Overall I enjoyed the day exploring the galleries. There is a huge range of artwork and themes in the Institute and everyone should be able to find something that interests them.

There are ipad and other technology stations throughout the Art Institute.  However I saw very few of them being used during our visit.  It made me wonder about what type of media and digital interaction is most effective in museums and galleries.  In addition to the technology stations the Art Institute has a free app and open wifi.

Despite loving the possibilities of technology integrated into heritage sites I've rarely downloaded apps for the sites I've visited.  But while waiting in line for tickets to gain entry to the Art Institute I downloaded their app.  As much as I wanted to love the app I found it a bit awkward to use.  The app offers 50 tours categorized by collections, themes, or time limits.  The apps location feature that showed where you were inside the gallery was well done.  However including more than just the gallery numbers on the maps might have made it more useful.  The app does support some basic searching of the collections.  However this feature is fairly basic and not fully developed.  The app has potential but I still found myself relying more on the paper map and traditional text panels.

The floor plan and layout of the galleries in the Art Institute can be confusing at times.  This is mainly due to the how the Institute developed.  The first permanent building of the Art Institute opened in 1893 and since then eight expansions for gallery and administration space have been undertaken.  The nature of adding additions onto older buildings has resulted in parts of the Institute being disconnected and only accessible by one or two routes.  For example, not all of the galleries on the second floor are accessible from the same stairwell or elevator.  Even with good planning this can add some additional walking to a visit as you often have to loop back to access a gallery that is only accessible from one spot.

Some of my favourite exhibitions from my visit included: Ethel Stein, Master WeaverMargritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, and the public art section that includes Chagall's America Windows. An interesting video about the conversation and installation of the Chagall windows can be seen here.

I also found the Indian Art of the Americas gallery interesting. I had assumed that this gallery would focus mainly on First Nation artwork from the United States.  The collection is much more broad in its scope and includes works from both South and North American with a large percentage of the collection being made up of Mesoamerican and Andean ceramics, sculptures, and textiles.

The gallery had more of a museum feel to it focusing on the history of the numerous Indigenous peoples and their traditional practices.  The gallery contained very little from the 1900s and didn't address current trends in Indigenous artwork.  That being said, the Institute is well known for its Amerindian art and the items on display were well contextualized and highlights a number of cultures.  Though I did wonder how involved (if at all) Indigenous communities have been in collection, display choices,  and interpretation. 

The Art Institute is definitely worth a visit if you're in Chicago.  If you have a limited amount of time I would recommend doing some research beforehand to map out what you want to see and planning your visit around must sees.  Looking at everything in the Institute in great detail during a single visit simply isn't possible.