Ben Fast

Culture - Community - Museums - Travel

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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!

Letter Writing Week and Postcrossing Meet Up at the Royal BC Museum

What’s the best thing you’ve ever received through the mail?  A birthday card?  A postcard from a friend on vacation?  A Christmas present?  A love letter?  Phone bill?

Ok, so phone bills and flyers aren’t likely your favourite things about the postal system, but when something sent with love from across the globe or around the corner arrives in our mailbox we are filled with a great sense of joy and excitement!

Old Letter-1-004

An old postcard from…Germany? Can anyone read this?

In today’s digital age, we’ve turned to instant communication for every type of message.  Our quick hellos, heartfelt apologies, and even our tentative notes of affection have become cold, impersonal clicks and swipes, sent off without a second thought and denigrated to the same level as that phone bill payment, food pic or work email.  And worst of all, we’ve relegated hand-written communication to the realm of “snail mail.”  We’re at risk of losing handwriting skills and long-form letter writing all together!

Letter Writing Week

But never fear!  The Royal BC Museum is hosting a special Letter Writing Week from January 2-9, 2016 to encourage visitors to re-engage with the art of letter writing by sitting down and spending time composing a hand written letter.  Between 11am-2pm, venture up to the 3rd floor and find the letter writing station to join in.  Oh, and did I mention that the museum is open by donation that week as part of their Community Days?!

“The act of sitting down to write by hand is quite different from using a computer or smartphone. We want visitors to re-engage with this simpler activity, to promote literacy, communication and community.”

The Royal BC Museum is providing all the supplies you will need, including paper, pens, envelopes, dictionaries, tablets to look up addresses, and even postage!  You can bring your own materials if you want, the museum will send any letters or postcards written at the station (no late Christmas packages though!).

Send us your mail

Want to take part but can’t make it down to the museum in January?  Then send a letter or postcard to the museum and we’ll put it on display at the station!  Please don’t send anything after January 1 as it will arrive too late.  You can send mail to:

The Learning Department

c/o Royal BC Museum

675 Belleville St.

Victoria, BC

V8W 9W2

Canada

You can send anything you like (so long as it is appropriate for children to read).  What did you get for Christmas?  What are your New Years resolutions?  What’s the weather like outside?

Postcrossing Meet Up:

Are you a Postcrosser?  Do you want to be?  Postcrossers are members of the Postcrossing Project, an online community devoted to sending real postcards through the mail.  If you sign up, you can send (real) postcards to random people all around the world and then have other random people send you postcards back!  It’s like a pen pal network, except with different people each time.

Postcrossers host occasional meet ups where members get together and all sign postcards being sent out.  If you’re a member or are interested in learning more, stop by the Letter Writing Week station on Saturday, January 9 between 11-2 and we’ll have our very own Postcrossing Museum Meet Up!  I’m running the station that day, and I’ll bring some of my collection of postcards from around the world to show visitors as well as let people sign some cards to be sent out.

One of the coolest Postcrossing cards I’ve ever received: a scratch-to-play Minesweeper card sent to me by a stranger in Sweden! You can see where some of the top layer got scraped away during the journey.

BC Archives

The Royal BC Museum is also home to the BC Archives where many letters, diaries and notes from BC’s past are kept for future generations.  While you’re visiting the Letter Writing Week station, keep your eyes open for archival letters in the exhibits or on display.  Notice how handwriting has changed, how letters were composed, how people said hello.

 

We hope to see you down at the museum this January for Letter Writing Week!  You never know, maybe the letter you write will find its way into an archive someday!

Not a Regular Week in Marketing

Note: this very long and detailed article was put together in spare time over the course of two months after May 15, 2015.  Feel free to just look at the pictures…

End of the Internship

My final week of interning with Parks Canada at Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites didn’t go quite as planned.  I was there to do marketing, which usually meant sitting at a desk sending emails, but in my final week it meant shouldering a 1916 Lee-Enfield rifle and trooping through the woods firing blank ammunition.  Oh, and a Bren machine gun!

One of the advantages of doing an internship in the Spring is that you can be around as the new summer crew trains and gets ready for tourist season.  At Fort Rodd Hill, that means training for historic weapons demonstrations runs a day after the “how to accept credit cards” talk.  As it does in most workplaces, right?

The new group of heritage interpreters for the site are excellent.  I really enjoyed getting to know them and spending some time sitting in on their training.  There was a fun atmosphere between us all, really relaxed but also keen to learn.  While I was in training as part of my job requirements for the internship (even though I was training in my last week for things completely unrelated to my job), and they were brand new to the site, we still had a lot in common and were able to work well as a team.  I wish them the best of luck this summer, but I know they’ll do fine!

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Bring out the Guns!

As I had an office just around the corner from the curator, I was able to get sneak peaks at the preparations happening all week.  Rifles magically appearing in the office, the sounds of bolts being worked behind closed doors, and muffled talk of “rounds for the musket.”  I was able to help Dave carry some things over from the storage building on Wednesday, the first time I’ve ever handled a machine gun!

Not your typical curator's office!

Not your typical curator’s office!

Thursday was when it all kicked off.  The boardroom was converted to an armoury, the guns were brought down, and the team spent the whole day going through a chronology of modern weapons.  Grant Tyler, Parks Canada’s military curator who teaches Parks staff historic weapons and tactical scenarios for demos, went through all the proper handling and inspection techniques to ensure all staff knew how to make safe any weapons that arrived on site or that belonged to the Fort.  It is especially important to recognize the difference between live and dummy ammunition, as well as to know anybody handling weapons is operating under safe conditions.

While Fort Rodd Hill focused on 20th Century weapons, we also went through other eras of weapons to prepare for other timeline events that occur on-site during the summer.  We learned about…

  • The India Pattern Musket, the primary sidearm in the War of 1812.  I’ve never had to use ‘frizzen,’ ‘half-cock,’ or ‘draw rammers’ in a sentence before, but I sure know how to now!
  • The 1853 Pattern Enfield Musket (Crimean War), a major improvement in rifled musket technology that allowed troops to operate more individually than in dangerous large formations.
  • The 1856 Snider Enfield Rifle, which could now use cartridges dropped into a breach block.
  • The Martini-Henry, a remarkable lever-actuated rifle with NO SAFETY that was used in the North West Rebellion but not much else in Canada, although it was well-known for its use in the Zulu Wars.  The British introduced it in 1877 but had moved on to other rifles in less than ten years.  Can’t picture it?  Just think of any cowboy movies (likely a Winchester rifle, but same idea).
  • The Magazine Lee Metford, the first magazine rifle.  While it wasn’t used by Canadians, it set the standard for the 10 round magazine.  It also sparked the transition between black powder cartridges and the more powerful Cordite smokeless powder which required sharper rifling seen in the…
  • Lee-Enfield Mk. 1 (1895), a remarkable gun that had some funny trust issues built-in.  The magazine held rounds for quick firing, but the gun had a magazine cut-off so soldiers still had to load bullets one at a time, only disengaging the cut-off when ordered to do so.  Was this because officers didn’t trust the soldiers to save bullets?  Perhaps…  It also had an innovative bolt that cocked the weapon as the bolt moved forward (saving time and actions), and is still known as the quickest bolt-action rifle in the world because of that.
  • The Ross Rifle.  Permit me a moment of history nerding out.  I held a Ross Rifle.  Ok, so many people have held a Ross Rifle, but nonetheless this is a rifle with a storied past and one that I have heard about for years in my First World War classes and books.  The Ross replaced the British Lee-Enfield in Canadian Service in 1905.  The Mk. 3 went overseas with the Canadian contingent in 1914/15, but it went through 80 variations in those 10 years!  One major issue was with the type of ammunition it could use.  While being the same .303 calibre as the Lee-Enfield, the Canadian and British-made ammunition was different.  Canadian cartridge cases didn’t expand much at all when fired, but the British-made cartridges expanded just a tiny bit more, which caused hard extractions and jams the cartridge in the breach (so the weapon couldn’t re-cock).  The rifle also didn’t do well at all when exposed to dirt, or mud…or water…..or really anything.  The overly complicated sights could move with the recoil force, making them occasionally inaccurate, and it got overheated which led to even more jams.  Mr. Tyler also described the gun as “not soldier proof,” meaning the bolts could be installed the wrong way around and it could fire back in your face.  Take ALL of this together and give it to brand new soldiers at the Second Battle of Ypres (when the Canadians entered battle for the first time as a contingent) and…very quickly Canadians were taking the rifles of dead British soldiers.  By the end of the summer, the Canadian contingent was refitted with British Lee-Enfields, and the entire Canadian army was refitted the following year.
  • in 1915-1916, in comes the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield.  This is actually an old cavalry carbine introduced at the end of the Boer War, but the idea was that everyone would get the same rifle from then on.  The Mk. 1 was introduced in 1895, the Number 1 Mk. 3 was introduced in 1907, and then the Number 1 Mk. 3* (yes, that’s a star) is the one Canadians used in the First World War, the star indicating the magazine cutoff (above) was gone.  This gun could still be in service in certain parts of the world (now the Mk. 4), and the Canadian Rangers even went back to using them in 2014 (although this link says they were phased out)!  The Mk 1 (1895) was the one I used when stomping around the woods (see below).
    • The Number 4 Mk. 1 was basically the same weapon but lighter, shorter, and with a different sight.

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We also went through a few pistols, sub-machine guns and grenades:

  • Sten Mk. 2 was a sub-machine gun first used on the infamous Dieppe raid.  It had a 32 round magazine, but it was recommended to only load 18 rounds at a time so the spring doesn’t get overloaded.
  • Percussion Revolver: We looked at an amazing 1851 Colt Navy model with an etched cylinder of ships.  These are still common in Canada as they were widespread through cavalry units in the 1800’s.  Each chamber needs to be loaded individually then put lard or oil on the top of each round so no chain reactions happen.  While a six-shooter, it was normally only loaded with five rounds, and while widespread was slow to load.
  • Enfield 1882 Mk. 2 revolver: this pistol was used by the North West Mounted Police and used a .476 calibre bullet, but could take ammunition from other guns.
  • We also looked at two other pistols, one by Enfield and one by Webley.  These were the standard service revolvers from the 1930’s through the end of the Second World War.  Unlike the Colt, this revolver ejected all six rounds at the same time and could be loaded quickly.
  • The grenades are common, with millions of copies being made.  The #5 Mills Bomb was introduced in 1915 and the #36 was introduced in 1918 but remained the main British grenade through the 1970’s.  The US Mk. 2 Fragmentation Grenade has a lever instead of a ring (like the older #5 Mills).  We learned how to take the grenades apart and check for fuses and explosives, but thankfully were told to call the RCMP if we found anything, rather than attempting to remove it ourselves!

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After going through all the firearms and learning how to make them safe as well as how to load and shoot them, we moved on to formation training.  The best part about all this was Mr. Tyler demonstrated everything with toy soldiers!  One of the best explanations was about the ‘tactical bound’, meaning the distance between the front section and the platoon commander.  The bound could be a field or set of bushes, or something that delineates the separation between the front and the commander so the commander could still see the front but communicate easily with the section commanders in the rear.

Machine guns and toy soldiers!

Machine guns and toy soldiers!

Military movements are very complicated.  I have studied formations/group makeups and some attack plans through researching in archives and studying for a history degree, but it is amazing what Parks Canada interpreters need to pick up in less than a day of training.  Not only do they need to know the names and what each formation looks like, but they need to know each command, how to execute them, and how to command them as well (as some staff will reenact the role of company commander, sergeant, etc.).  It all needs to be historically accurate too, minus the fact that Fort Rodd Hill National Historic site will demonstrate a frontal assault when that would rarely if ever be done at a section level.

Practicing using the Bren gun without ammunition

Practicing using the Bren gun without ammunition

We also learned the proper techniques for holding weapons, firing, loading ammunition, and much more, including heading out to our makeshift range and yelling “BANG BANG BANG” when Sgt. Tyler gave us a command.

Day 2: Really Loud Noises

The second day of firearms training involved putting what we had learned into actual practice.  I was a bit out of the loop already as the interpreters had been able to bring home training manuals to study, whereas I finished day one with emails and actual marketing work before heading home to watch TV.

Dressed in full period gear, the group spent the morning revising the load and fire steps of some of the guns we (they) would be using on site.  I went off and helped curator Dave load some black powder charges for the musket, which we were hoping to fire.  [note: we didn’t get to that day, but they did bring it out for the Firepower demo that Saturday.  It didn’t work, which was a shame…).

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Everyone got a chance to practice firing a few shots with the rifle they would be using when practising advances later that day, but we also tried the Bren gun (amazing, but I only got two shots off) and a pistol.  The pistol was interesting, much harder to fire than I expected as it took some muscle to pull back the trigger.  I don’t think I would have been great at accuracy had I had real bullets, because the weight of the gun and the effort to squeeze made my arm move up and down a lot.  The rifles were easier, but WOW they make a lot of noise!  They make so much noise in fact that although the Fort is quite secluded down in the woods, the staff had informed the Canadian Forces located across the bay, the local police, and local residents that we would be firing all day.

Click the following for videos of me firing the pistol and Bren gun:

IMG_0452 IMG_0450

The Long March

After lunch, Sgt. Tyler led us on a route march down the service road, going through formation drills and silent commands (which include some rather funny rude hand gestures!) and sending scouts ahead to survey corners and buildings.  Even though this was just fun, we were loaded with blank ammunition and the full uniforms and heavy guns made our hearts race by both excitement and exertion.

Heading up the side driveway into the Fort area, we definitely got some funny looks by visitors and volunteers who were setting up tents for the weekend event.  Sgt. Tyler, all smiles and friendliness would often halt our troupe with a rough yell, making us take a knee (oh those pants are scratchy) and turn all soft-spoken and joking to a long-time reenactor friend.

We began our attack training by marching in long winding circles towards a set of geese.  Setting up our formation, with the Bren gun to the side, we encircled and charged, firing from the hip first then running in and screaming.  The geese, for all it’s worth, barely moved, and just looked rather perturbed that we felt the need to be there in the first place.

Our attacks got a little more serious afterwards, storming through the bushes and trees behind the oTENTiks where the demonstrations would normally occur.  Two times through yelling our shots out and making stuff up when asked why we were out of position and we were ready for the actual advance.

Ear plugs in.

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We stormed through the trees in bounds, one section going five paces and dropping to the ground or a knee, firing as cover for the other group moving ahead by another five paces, and so on until the Sarge decided it was time to stand up and charge fully.  I’ll admit I was a bit lost.  For one thing, our guns only hold five rounds, and we very quickly ran out.  Most of us had trouble re-loading.  We also had ear plugs in and were somewhat deafened by the guns, so we weren’t paying attention to our line.  Needless to say, we were not the most successful squad ever.  All six of us plus the Bren section would likely have been shot before we made it to the treeline…

A second advance was a bit more successful (oh we got that oak tree we were charging for!) although we still ended up quite significantly past our original objective and in a line that looked more like a mountain range than a ruler.  And we made a lot of noise!

Guns away, just for fun

Marching out of the woods, sweaty and blistered, knees aching and arms drooping, we sat down at the picnic tables to learn how to clean our weapons and to recover all unspent ammo (we needed to pick up all our cartridges and blank rounds that fell out when our guns inevitably jammed, so that helped slow us down).

This time of cleaning helped provide some reflection.  We were charging through some woods, in a national historic site, with curious onlookers standing quite close by.  We were relatively clean, had ear plugs, and were all over the place.  Sure, we had only trained for one day prior, but we could all understand just a tiny bit the effort and training and fitness needed to be a soldier in the First or Second World War.  We also understand that much more how difficult it would be in combat situations, with loud noises surrounding you, adrenaline pumping, and a (rather mild-mannered) sergeant shouting at you above the din.  Our experience was just for fun, hard to imagine a real experience of war.  What an experience.

I managed to pull a desertion as I needed to get back up to the office to finish closing down my files and computer as this was my last day at Fort Rodd Hill.  Thanks to those who stepped up and cleaned my rifle for me, I appreciate it!

All in all, this was not a typical week in my marketing internship!  But it was a really interesting one with experiences I’ll likely never have again!

“National Gallery”: How a three hour film ruined my perception of the actual National Gallery

I started this post on February 26th and soon found myself 830 words through a diatribe against Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery and still only half-finished. No surprise with me, let’s face it, but also far too similar to the boring length of the film I was reviewing.

The night before I had the…pleasure of joining a few friends for a viewing of National Gallery at the University of Victoria’s Cinecenta theatre. The three-hour epic released at TIFF in 2014 is, in many ways, a masterpiece of museum filming. Wiseman takes the audience through many different aspects of the museum’s inner (and outer) workings from corporate staff meetings to children’s tours, art classes to restoration.

But, I didn’t like this doc.

There were some really interesting parts including sitting in on guided tours and seeing how the gallery provides art appreciation classes for the visually impaired. The children’s art tours were my favourite, great to see a young docent so good at engaging kids and making the art come to life at their level.

Larry Keith and the Rembrandt X-Ray

The art restoration and conservation scenes were amazing. Larry Keith’s hands-on work on the Rembrandt paintings made me hold my breath. The pressure of working with a masterpiece, the experience needed to not mess it up…I could never do that! His explanation of his technique and the history of the artwork itself was also great insight with some very subtle humour.

Two well-regarded local artists (who will remain nameless) were also in attendance and I had the chance to ask them about their thoughts. I was surprised that they universally panned the film, specifically the portions about the inner-workings of the gallery. In these scenes we see Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, duke things out with Jill Preston, head of communications, and the rest of the executive team, debating the merits of attracting larger and diverse audiences while remaining a world-class academic institution.

Nicholas Penny, the National Gallery’s greatest director?  Or turning away the “lowest common denominator”?

I liked these segments for what they represented. It showed me, the museum studies and tourism student, what a major museum or gallery goes through behind the scenes each and every day. While I was focusing on operations, the artists wanted to see art. The problem either way was we saw the same arguments five times.

What I and the artists really weren’t impressed with was the attitude of Mr. Penny. His arguments were that the Gallery shouldn’t just be “average,” that he wouldn’t let it “cater to the lowest common denominator.” Not acknowledging the importance of providing for the everyman – or at least diverse audiences – goes against everything I’ve been taught in both my tourism and social engagement in museums classes.  It also set the tone for the rest of the film: overly academic tours to non-diverse audiences (mainly white and elderly, other than the school tours), circular and nonsensical public speeches, the most pointless showcases of live-nude art classes, and a dance performance to cap it all off.

NOTE: When looking up images for this post, I came across a piece in the Guardian saying Mr. Penny is retiring from his post as director of the National Gallery after six years.  The piece claims that Penny “will be remembered as one of the National’s great directors” because of the level of new acquisitions.  But the article also suggests that Penny’s early departure is because of an encroachment by tourism pressures and a changing (negative) museum landscape in the UK.  The author states “Museums cannot just be machines for entertaining us. They should have a quieter side where the art comes first, the crowds second and a scholarly side that reveres someone like Penny.  This looks depressingly like the end of individuality in the museum world.”  I’m not sure I have the same view…

There wasn’t even any narration to explain it all! It was as if Wiseman had arrived at the Gallery with his camera, stayed for 12 weeks, and cut three hours of footage together. Yes, three hours…….

Instead of narration, viewers are treated to behind the scenes vignettes of other people explaining things. It’s a weird style that gets boring after three hours.

Many people left the theatre well before the end of the film. I almost left when Mr. Penny gave a talk at an exhibit opening – I don’t think I’ve ever heard a worse tour. There were mixed reviews from the friends I watched the film with, and I respect that artists and museum studies people will view the film through different glasses, but overall people thought it was too long and convoluted.

Still of one of the tours. She was good, but academic.

Worst of all, National Gallery made me not want to visit the National Gallery itself. The negative atmosphere, the lack of interest in bringing in diversity, and the impression of uninteresting (and poor) tours make the world-class institution drop down my list of must-see museums, and that makes me sad.

This is not meant to be a review of the National Gallery (which I have not visited) but of the film, although it’s hard to separate the two.  It’s hard to imagine a three-hour exposé by one of the best documentarians doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the subject, but I hope it’s not true. I hope the National Gallery actually is pushing for diversity, for the “common denominator” visitor, and making tours more interesting. Most of all, I hope that if and when I do visit the National Gallery, I’m not reminded of Frederick Wiseman.

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