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Introducing Museum Musings: A New Resource to Make History Fun & Engaging

Posted by Jesika Arseneau
30 September 2014 - 6:35pm

With this month marking the start of a new school year, I have partnered with fellow historian Peter Koniecznto start Museum Musings, an educational resource to highlight all of the fun and interesting ways museums are teaching history.

Read below for one of our first posts: 14 Things I Love About Working in a Museum


1. The Security Guards

I don't know what it is about the security guards at the ROM in particular, but they never fail to be friendly, helpful, and chatty at the perfect times. A friendly smile in the morning and a point in the right direction in the afternoon is all I need to make my day complete. In all seriousness, the number of times that I have had to ask for directions from a security guard is absurd, yet none of them have made fun of me.


2. Philosopher's Walk. The walkway branching from Bloor street, past the museum, and through the UofT campus is lovely. Complete with benches and a picturesque backdrop of trees and flowers, it is the perfect place to enjoy lunchtime in the sun.

3. Having a swipe card. Having access to private parts of the museum provides a particular thrill that I still have not gotten over. Even though my access card does not have my picture on it and is labeled 'temporary' in all capitals, it still represents my privileged access into the hidden nooks and crannies of the museum. Not all of them, but some. There is just something about having visitors curiously watch you as you walk down a flight of stairs that seems to go nowhere, scan your card and go through a door that is explicitly labeled "Fire Exit."

4. The red armchair in the China gallery. There is a comfortable chair at the end of the China gallery, right beside the far windows, that is perfectly bathed in sunshine in the morning. I cannot envision a better spot to sit and reflect.

5. Hearing stories of visitor calls to the museum. Did you know that if you call the ROM about a scary spider you found in your kitchen that you are 87.9% sure is a tarantula, they will actually look at it and analyze it for you? Hearing stories of the crazy things that people call the museum about is the best kind of entertainment. It is even better that the museum actually follows through on these inquiries.

6. The Michael Lee Chin Crystal. Okay, if you remember any conversations you had with me about this during undergrad, do not be upset with me for changing my mind about it. I will admit that I was not always a fan of the Crystal, I did not like the way it imposed itself onto the streets of Toronto and so audaciously made its presence known. Working at the ROM, I have grown to enjoy the carefully curated noises of the Spirit House and to appreciate the space offered by the addition. Walking through the Crystal and the heritage building gives an appreciation for the convergence of the old and the new, a theme that is ever-present in the museum's efforts to remain relevant as time progresses. I have grown to find solace in the new space of the museum, enjoying the natural sunlight and the architecture of the exhibition spaces.

7. Teaching children. This is specific to my RA position at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, but I loved leading tours for children of younger age groups at the museum. I was always excited when we had grade 3 students coming in for guided tours. The inquisitive nature of children at this age makes a tour so much more fun, I cannot count the amount of times I was stumped or completely confused at a question that an 8 year old asked me. I loved the opportunity to be challenged about the little pieces of history that are typically overlooked in a museum presentation, often involving the differences in everyday life between the studied period and now. And I can't leave out the crafts! I should have been tired of designing pottery by the end of my position there, but I truly was not. I could still sit down for an hour prepare clay balls in anticipation of school groups with a smile on my face.

8. Free or discounted admission. Most museums offer a free or discounted admission one day a week, and I especially appreciate when they have free admission for students. I personally feel that it is a large part of a museum's responsibility to be accessible to the public in terms of their physical structure, cost, and more. In the case of cost, having a free night encourages more visitors to come experience the museum more frequently. Growing up, I have fond memories of my mother taking us to the ROM on Fridays when it was free admission. This experience was formative in my early decision to follow in this career path, and I know that we would not have had the resources to visit so frequently if not for the free admission.

9. Blockbuster exhibitions. Such a divisive issue and so many people hate them! But perhaps I have been lucky enough to experience good blockbusters, but I have to admit that I think they are so much fun! I recognize that they are largely tools of entertainment, but they are useful tools of entertainment that draw in wider audiences who may then continue to visit the museum after a positive exhibition experience. I understand that these exhibitions usually come with a steeper admission price, but it often is affordable when compared to other possibilities for a night out like going to the movies. The excitement that comes with a traveling exhibition, from Egypt for example, cannot always be replicated in the permanent collections of the museum. This is not to say that I think that blockbuster exhibitions should ever take precedence over the rest of a museum's collection, but it is fun to occasionally indulge.

10. Having lunch in the Food Studio. While the Food Studio is closing down at the ROM for the introduction of a Druxy's, the reasons why I love eating there will remain the same. I love going down there, enjoying a soup for lunch beside the window that overlooks the Philosopher's walk and observing the reactions of visitors to the museum. Families are often seen pouring over a map, deliberating which section of the museum to visit next. Couples are animatedly discussing their favourite parts of an exhibit, and friends are getting riled up about the itinerary for the rest of the afternoon.

11. Enjoying the exhibitions at my leisure during breaks. During my first couple of weeks at the ROM I regularly used my lunch breaks to explore the museum. I visited the wonderful Genesis photography exhibit and the Big textile exhibit several times over the course of one week. It is an amazing thing to leave your desk and be transplanted in a completely different world within 5 minutes.

12. Getting lost. As I have mentioned before, I have gotten lost a number of times over the last month. Whether I was looking for the Glass Room or a specific Iconic Object, I kept getting mixed up between what was in the heritage building and what was located in the Crystal. Getting lost allowed me to discover parts of the museum that I had never seen before, and I have loved that opportunity for discovery.

13. The Discovery Galleries. I will admit that no matter how old I am, I still love dressing up. When I went to the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa last month I spent a good chunk of my time at the museum in the children's section, playing dress up and roaming the interactive portions. That is why I will always have a soft spot for the hands-on galleries at the ROM. There is nothing quite as fun as interacting with materials in a learning environment, and these galleries offer a great opportunity for parents to interact with their children at the museum.

14. Events. Museum Cafe, Friday Night Light, the list goes on. The events that I have experienced at the museums I have worked at, including the ROM, have been informative and engaging. Whether it is a lecture series or a dance party, the events held at a museum have a way of transforming the museum's public perception in a way that collections cannot.

Share what you love about working in or visiting a museum!


Photo credit: Wiki creative commons