Ben Fast

Culture - Community - Museums - Travel

Tag: Museum Education

Wild Romance at RBCM’s Night Shift

Normal me on Valentine’s Day prefers to stay home, watch some sports or TV, and treat the day like any other (although I will bow to corporate pressure and buy some chocolate, of course).  Museum me on Valentine’s Day…well that’s another story!

With all my energy these days being spent on my thesis, I’ve found very little inspiration for writing a new blog post about my work in museums.  I’m most often found sat in front of my computer screen at home, struggling to keep my eyes focused on the latest article or with fingers flying to keep up with the latest interview I’m trying to transcribe.  With all this going on, however, I did manage to sneak out of the house each Tuesday morning for the past month for a few hours of volunteering at the Royal BC Museum to help plan the 2016 Valentine’s Day Night Shift event.

I’ve helped out at two Night Shift events before: last year’s Valentine’s Day event had me running the pheromones activity and Halloween saw me dressed as Judge Begbie leading ‘Dark History’ tours through the Modern History galleries.  But this year I wanted to do something a bit different, I wanted to help more with the planning of the event and learn more about what goes into putting on an event for 600 people.

The schedule for Night Shift: Wild Romance

The schedule for Night Shift: Wild Romance

Working with Kim G., the RBCM’s Adult Learning Team Lead and one of my mentors at the museum, and members of the Marketing department, we pieced together some ideas for activities guests could take part in during the night.  Some ideas were borrowed from the previous event, including the scavenger hunt, Sex Talks With Scientists, and dance areas throughout the galleries.  We also added some new event ideas, like the live model sketching, dance lessons and a missed connections activity for singles.

Because I could only help out on Tuesday mornings, I took on researching content for the activities.  Originally, I started with ideas for a Dating Game-styled improv activity, but we put that aside when we were able to confirm Paper Street Theatre and their awesome improv for the event.  I then went to work creating the scavenger hunt activity.  The scavenger hunt is one of the big ways guests can interact directly with the exhibits in a more formal museum way.  We decided on five stations across the two floors that would be far enough away from loud activities for volunteers to tell guests special information about whatever was on display.

The scavenger hunt sheet.  Volunteers were stationed (top to bottom) at the Climate Change display, Ocean Station, First Nations Body Adornment cabinet, uniforms next to HMS Discovery, and the Gold Mining display.

The scavenger hunt sheet. Volunteers were stationed (top to bottom) at the Climate Change display, Ocean Station, First Nations Body Adornment cabinet, uniforms next to HMS Discovery, and the Gold Mining display.

Though we had 100 gift card prizes to give out for the first completed surveys, only about 90 sheets were returned.  Looking back on the event, I can see a few reasons for this low number: drinks couldn’t be taken between floors meaning people would stop the scavenger hunt in favour of a drink, there were other activities with long line ups that people didn’t want to miss, answer stations were only marked by the volunteers wearing a red lanyard, and it’s really easy to get distracted by all the other cool events happening that night!  While these are all valuable lessons to learn, I think the event was still a success as many people engaged with the volunteers regardless of if they had a scavenger hunt sheet or not.

Someone drawing a Vancouver Island Marmot, one of the already-endangered animals facing further risk of extinction due to diminishing habitats caused by climate change.  Did you know marmots in the wild will sleep up to 210 days a year?!  They have 2-4 pups each year as well, in the few days they're awake.

Someone drawing a Vancouver Island Marmot, one of the already-endangered animals facing further risk of extinction due to diminishing habitats caused by climate change. Did you know marmots in the wild will sleep up to 210 days a year?! They have 2-4 pups each year as well, in the few days they’re awake.

Word Play in the Port Moody Train Station (Old Town).

Word Play in the Port Moody Train Station (Old Town).

Sadly, one of the activities we wanted on the schedule (a costume specialist undressing through the layers of clothing a bride would be wearing on her wedding night in Victorian times) had to be cancelled last-minute because our presenter got injured.  One week before the event, Kim, myself and one of the museum’s educators named Adriana had to come up with a new activity!  We decided on something to do with poetry, which morphed into romantic Mad Libs as an activity people could do on their own time or take home with them, and that we could ‘perform’ in between music sets.  The activity was a blast, and Adriana was amazing in both compiling the Mad Lib sheets and coming up with the idea of ‘performing’ the Mad Libs improv style.  Needless to say, they weren’t very poetic, and it would be a stretch to call many of them romantic, but they were lots of fun and the Train Station was full of laughter!

Paper Street Theatre Company's Dave and Missy performing some improv love stories between animals you wouldn't expect to fall in love.  I think this was the Squirrel/Salmon combo!

Paper Street Theatre Company’s Dave and Missy performing some improv love stories between animals you wouldn’t expect to fall in love. I think this was the Squirrel/Salmon combo!

Paper Street Theatre always draws a big crowd, and there was no exception for Night Shift!

Paper Street Theatre always draws a big crowd, and there was no exception for Night Shift!

Sex Talks With Scientists in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit!

Sex Talks With Scientists in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit!

Lots of the activities were consistently packed throughout the night.  600 people attended the sold-out event and feedback has been positive in the evaluations so far.  Night Shift is definitely becoming one of Victoria’s most popular cultural evenings!

DJ Kwe in the Totem Gallery

DJ Kwe in the Totem Gallery

One thing that the planning team really felt was important was to have some First Nations presence at the event.  While the First Nations gallery was closed off out of respect for the Halloween Night Shift event, the First Peoples exhibits and Totem Gallery were open for exploration, relaxing house music, and a chocolate tasting activity by one of the event sponsors.  It was great to have DJ Kwe, a First Nations musician, be able to come and perform in the Totem Gallery.

Chocolate, a favourite for couples or singles on Valentine's Day!

Chocolate, a favourite for couples or singles on Valentine’s Day!

Snuggle Stations provided some great places for couples to get away from the bustle of the event and see some of Victoria's inner harbour

Snuggle Stations provided some great places for couples to get away from the bustle of the event and see some of Victoria’s inner harbour

Thinking there wasn't much to lose, and that I should try and help promote the new activity where people might need some convincing to participate, I donned my singles badge and waited for someone to notice me...

Thinking there wasn’t much to lose, and that I should try to help promote the new activity where people might need some convincing to participate, I donned my singles badge and waited for someone to notice me…

One of the new activities we tried this year was Objects of Desire, a missed connections-style activity where singles – or people wanting a little more fun – could wear a button and hope they were noticed by another guest.  Singles are hard to plan for on Valentine’s Day when it is so much about couples and love and sex, so this was our attempt at something specifically tied to the romantic theme that anybody could take part in.  As the museum tries not to exclude anybody based on orientation, but knowing there were so many categories we’d need to cover to be completely politically correct, we made three button options that would indicate interested in the opposite gender, interested in the same gender, and ‘anything goes’ and let people make their own distinction or decision to reply.  People who found someone interesting and wearing the relevant button could go to our Objects of Desire wall to leave a message on the same-coloured sticky note.  While it did take a little while to warm up, the event seemed popular by the end of the night, though I can’t say if any partnerships did come out of it!

The Objects of Desire wall near the end of the night.

The Objects of Desire wall near the end of the night.

Someone even wrote a message for me!  There's a story here, as the person saw me while I explained a scavenger hunt answer in the Ocean Station.  You see, the male Neon Flying Squid reaches sexual maturity earlier than the females, so he leaves a spermatophore (sperm package) under the female's cheek until, a few months later, she reaches sexual maturity and takes advantage of the package she's been carrying around.  So, yah, that happened...

Someone even wrote a message for me! There’s a story here, as this person saw me while I explained a scavenger hunt answer in the Ocean Station. You see, the male Neon Flying Squid reaches sexual maturity earlier than the females, so he leaves a spermatophore (sperm package) under the female’s cheek until, a few months later, she reaches sexual maturity and takes advantage of the package she’s been carrying around. So, yah, that happened…

The whole corporate Valentine’s concept gets a lot more fun when you can go to a museum and explore the collections in a whole new light, and I think that’s what makes events like Night Shift so popular.  It takes some pressure off the holiday, bring about more fun and learning than a typical rose and chocolates gift.  If you love me, bringing me to a museum is far more effective than a flower!

People will love just about anything!

People will look for love just about anywhere!

At the end of the night I did have a thought or question in my mind, though, about the programming of an event like this.  Does (or how does) the message of the holiday change when presenting it to a mass audience?  When I think of Valentine’s Day I think of love, not just the act of sex, but that can be a difficult subject to put across as love means many different things to many different people.

For example, when Valentine’s Day has for so long been presented in very heteronormative ways, and many museums don’t have a large amount of collection material or exhibits that could present all aspects of love, then it’s easiest to present a topic (usually) common to all.  In a debrief meeting a few days later, the refrain “Valentine’s Day is sexy” kept being used when discussing the difference in feel between this event and the rowdy Halloween one.  Having half the museum (and thus half the event) about natural history also makes it a lot easier to focus on sex as animals don’t often exhibit the same romantic notions of love as humans do (some animals bond for life or do courting rituals, but it’s usually described as ‘mating behaviour’).

If you work in a museum, how do you approach the topic?  Do you struggle to find a balance between love and sex?  I’d be interested to hear what other museums think of this, how they tackle the subject of inclusivity in large events, especially ones relating to sometimes-touchy or weighted subjects like love and romance, and also just if anyone else has thought about the presentation of love versus sex in museums on this holiday.  Feel free to comment below or email me.

A big thanks to one of the Truffles chefs who I have worked with in the past who set me up with this amazing Tuna Donburi dish (rice, dash, shaved daikon, pickled shitake mushrooms) at the end of my long night!  I think the Sea lion was a bit jealous!

A big thanks to one of the Truffles chefs who I have worked with in the past who set me up with this amazing Tuna Donburi dish (rice, dash, shaved daikon, pickled shitake mushrooms) at the end of my long night! I think the Sea lion was a bit jealous!

Being able to help plan Night Shift: Wild Romance was a great experience for me.  It was…enlightening looking up all the animal sex facts (I’m so happy my computer didn’t get ‘red screened’), fun working with my friends in the museum, and educational to see how many people need to work together to make an event as big as this so successful.  As someone wanting to work in museum programming, it was a great opportunity to get some experience in a big event too.  I hope I can work on many more Night Shifts to come!

Being a Tourist at the Royal BC Museum

On Monday, my only weekday off until mid-May, I used the last of my Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown coupons to get 50% off admission at the Royal BC Museum.  There were two exhibits I really wanted to see, Our Living Languages and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 visiting show.  But this was no ordinary visit to the museum, as I would soon find out!

Started off by being first in line!

Started off by being first in line!  #MuseumBingo

I came to the RBCM for more than just seeing exhibits.  I had arranged meetings with some contacts there who I enjoy working with, look up to as mentors, and who might be able to secure internships, volunteer positions or even (someday, maybe, hopefully) paid work.  I had a great morning meeting with some really good opportunities presented to me, so I have a lot of thinking to do over the next week.

While walking to my first meeting I ran into Adriana, one of the people I volunteered with at the Wild Romance event in February.  She is an educator at the museum and we chatted over coffee before her next tour group came through.

It’s always fun talking with other younger museum workers.  We have such similar thought processes about weighing opportunities and employment, about how to get our ideas out into the world, and about what museums should really be doing.  Adriana has great energy in her museum work (she works at two museums!) and a great passion for education within the museum, so I was very excited when she invited me to tag along with her next tour, a group of grade 4 students from a local school.

Oh the questions these kids have! So inspiring!

The two-hour tour by her and fellow educator Bobby included a tour of the collection storage and accessioning areas of Fannin Tower, an art activity, artefact handling, and a jaunt through the exhibit space.

Sitting in on the RBCM’s Heritage School Program. Thanks Adriana and Bobby!

We examined how the museum accessions and stores artefacts, and why they do it. And anyways, what’s an artefact? Great exploration of the Fannin Tower

It was a great tour, really fun to see the energy and excitement of the kids, cool too to see their questions and thought processes.  It’s quite evident that Bobby and Adriana have a lot of patience, they described the class as a regular group, but any group of kids is a handful!

One of the coolest parts of the Heritage School Program, in my opinion, was watching the students get to handle real artefacts. Here, Bobby has just asked the students to examine the item in question and come up with evidence-based arguments for what it is. This group was smart, and with just a little prodding they determined it was some form of measuring or weighing device. True! It’s a portable gold weighing scale from the BC Gold Rush!

I also managed to arrange a coffee with Kim, one of the people I’ve volunteered with before and who organized Wild RomanceShe is a museum programmer, involved in creating the activities people can take part in at the museum and that the museum brings to people around the province.  I admit I used the opportunity to think through my museum future out loud while picking her brain about what I should do with my life, but she also told me of some great projects she has on the go and ideas about how the museum can operate in the future.  It was really insightful and inspiring, I hope I can be a part of some of those projects!

What a busy day — oh! And I haven’t even seen the exhibits yet!

This great theatre is the focal point of Our Living Languages

Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in British Columbia was inspiring and very well done.  I loved hearing the greetings in all the different languages, learning about active language teaching, and trying to guess the pronunciation of some very difficult and distinct orthographies.  The theatre presentation in the middle of the exhibit, the interactive language panels, and the video vignettes were very well done.

Such amazing and complex orthographies to try to make written sense of a truly oral culture and language. These listening stations were great, and really made the impression of being welcomed by the First Peoples themselves, not just some museum exhibit.

I was most impressed by the clean lines of the exhibit – it really looks modern and professional – and by the prominent mentions of First Nations advisory members, contributors and commissions.  This is not an exhibit about historical artefacts, it’s about living languages, and seeing contemporary artwork and First Nations perspectives is very important to making the exhibit mean anything.  There is a powerful use of the words “we” and “our,” alluding to the exhibit’s focus on First Nations culture and language as it stands today and as it is being strengthened in looking to the future.

Definitely inspired by the Our Living Languages exhibit.

This important exhibit should be visited by all Victorians, and by tourists visiting these lands.  It provides a great understanding of contemporary First Nations culture and language in a way I haven’t seen before.  It runs through June 2017, so there is no excuse not to see it.  It’s also conveniently located in the main third floor entrance way, so there’s no avoiding it!

The always good Wildlife Photographer of the Year show

I also saw the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 exhibit (no photos allowed, of course, which is somewhat ironic).  This travelling show from the Natural History Museum is celebrating 50 years of photographic excellence and raising awareness of animal and environmental conservation.  I’ll admit, as a photographer with no money for a new camera set up, I sometimes get jealous of the winners and their gear.  The 8-year-old who won the under-17 category has a camera worth three times as much as mine, and it’s hard not to think “well I could have done that with that camera.”

Regardless of the gear envy, these are amazing photographs (many by professionals, so it makes sense) of some of nature’s most phenomenal animals and environments.  This exhibit is always worth a visit when it comes to town, although someday the photographer in me would love to see real photographic prints of the photos alongside the back-lit screens.

I’m also really excited for this Gold Rush exhibit opening this summer!  All in all, a great visit to the RBCM!

This should be great! I hope there’s an exhibit opening event I can attend.

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