Ben Fast

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Tag: Royal BC Museum (page 1 of 3)

Mercator’s Atlas and the BC Archives Open House

While most people at the Royal BC Museum know me as “the new guy working on the Families exhibit” (officially the “Families Digital Intern”), or perhaps “that guy who tweets a lot,” one of my actual roles is to work with public programming for the BC Archives.  My unique internship situation – being shared between the Learning, Digital and Archives departments – means I spend approximately two days a week working on digital projects for the archives that are connected to the new exhibition or relating to genealogy, with a bit of general public programming on the side.

On Wednesday, all hands were on deck for the BC Archives Open House, an event for local archives, records management, and library staff to come see the BC Archives collection and learn what’s new with the provincial archives.  There were lots of interesting records and items on display (a huge hit), as well as an update on the archives’ role in the upcoming Family: Bonds & Belonging exhibition.  People could take tours of the stacks (always busy), there were holiday snacks (in the lobby, of course), and plenty of networking opportunities with the BC Archives archivists and staff.

My role was to answer questions about the archives’ role in the new exhibit, a unique situation where the archives were involved from the beginning of the planning process to provide materials and visual content for the museum exhibition, as well as to keep the video slideshows going (harder than it sounds) and answering basic questions as needed.  Thankfully nobody asked me too many hard questions, and I was able to talk a bit about my projects.

The poster for Family: Bonds & Belonging

The poster for Family: Bonds & Belonging

It was great to see some old colleagues and meet some archivists from around town.  The open house was a great success and people really seemed to enjoy their visit!  This was a great step forward for the BC Archives: engaging other institutions through fun, welcoming, and educational programming, and showing large-scale events are manageable (and good!) in the often quiet and reserved reference room.

The biggest highlight for me, however, was getting to spend some time at the end of the open house looking through the Historia mundi or Mercator’s Atlas, a volume from 1635 currently housed in the BC Archives special collections (reference number: NWs 912 M553).  I love old maps (though I admit to knowing very little about them) and had just purchased a book on maps, which featured Mercator’s atlas.

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The title page of a 1635 edition of Mercator’s Atlas, the original of which was the first collection of maps in book form to be called an Atlas! NWs 912 M553

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The frontispiece of the atlas, including a picture of Atlas holding up the world (though Mercator first published it with Atlas as king) and a poetic explanation of the image. NWs 912 M553

Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) was a Flemish cartographer and geographer who is famous for being the first to project sailing routes on maps as straight lines (see Mercator projection) and was the first to describe a collection of maps as an atlas (his 1595 atlas, published posthumously).

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There are actually more pages of text in Mercator’s Atlas than maps themselves. These small chapters explain the history of the region and its name. NWs 912 M553

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Them maps themselves are quite detailed, showing towns and some topographical features in an attempt to create as accurate as possible a map for navigation. Mercator’s use of straight lines for shipping routes (not seen as much in his maps of land) and stretching the globe into a cylinder (though distorting the northern reaches of the map) were useful for creating mathematically accurate maps. In this map of Ireland, you can see Dublin (Dublyn) in the bottom right though Belfast (Belfaft) is a bit harder to find. Take a look at it compared to a modern map of the northern half of the island. NWs 912 M553

Put anything old in front of me and I’ll usually be interested, if not impressed, but having the chance to look through this atlas that I had just read about was a lot of fun.  With my former colleague, Delaney, we turned the pages looking at the old maps and type fonts, laughing about the way things were written and marveling over the detailed maps from around Europe.

Having just talked about family history, we both turned to pages where parts of our family hail from (the Netherlands for me, Hungary for Delaney) and took the obligatory photo of the maps.

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This closeup of the “Lordship of Groninga” is for my grandma Angie. Can you see where you were born? I really loved the history Mercator wrote about Groninga (today’s Groningen). He said (with original 1630s spelling “Englished” by Wye Santonstall): “Groninga is the head Cittie of the Province of Groninga, and the faireft Cittie in Friefland. Some thinke it to bee that which Ptolemie calls Phileum. They derive the name from Grano a certaine Trojan or Friefland Prince, but Vbbo [Ubbo] Emmius, rejecting other opinions which are grounded on fabulous reports, fuppofeth that it was fo called from the greene Meddowes, and tufts of trees therein.” NWs 912 M553

A special thanks to Genevieve for her work on the Open House, and to Claire for letting me explore (and share) Mercator’s Atlas!

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!

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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!

The Curious Suitcase

Where do you keep your family history?  For the Royal BC Museum’s Head of Learning, Janet MacDonald, the family stories live on in her mother’s suitcase, full of turn of the century photographs and the family bible passed down since at least 1853.

The contents of the suitcase, items given to Janet by her late mother, are the focus of Janet’s upcoming article in Curious about genealogy, family histories, and keeping memories of ancestors alive.  On Tuesday July 21, Janet brought the suitcase to Royal BC Museum photographer, Shane Lighter, to create some images for the article.  I got to sit in on the shoot and see Shane at work as well as see the visuals come together for Janet’s article.

Janet's suitcase of ancestors.

Janet’s suitcase of ancestors.

Shane worked really quickly, moving strobe lights into place around the fragile paper objects and setting up the camera to best capture the objects according to the Curious style of white backgrounds, created by shooting on a lighted table.  It was cool to see him work while Janet told me more about the family bible, the people in the photos, and how she’s added her own touch to the hodgepodge of family mementos stowed between the bible’s pages.

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The RBCM’s photographer, Shane Lighter, sets up the lights and light table for Janet’s Curious suitcase shoot.

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Shane works to shoot the suitcase, which still has Janet’s mom’s initials embossed by the handle.

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Janet shows Shane some of the unknown ancestors and talks about her creative ideas for how to display the images.

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Some of the unknown ancestors, faces that Janet doesn’t recognize and/or that might not even be her family. She envisioned this photo as all the ancestors thrown into the suitcase, a jumble of unknown faces intertwined just as their lives might have been intertwined over a hundred years ago.

To learn more about Janet’s suitcase, and to learn more about ancestry, make sure you read the latest issue of Curious when it comes out in early September!

Sometimes Shane needs a step up to get the perfect shot.

Sometimes Shane needs a step up to get the perfect shot.

An example of one of the images that will be part of Janet's article in the next issue of Curious: the family bible with some of the myriad personal items from within its pages..  This was taken on my iPhone, Shane's photo will be much better!

An example of one of the images that will be part of Janet’s article in the next issue of Curious: the family bible with some of the myriad personal items from within its pages.. This was taken on my iPhone, Shane’s photo will be much better!

While not specifically the focal point of the shoot, Janet's family bible sure was interesting.  Take a look at the calligraphy from 1853 found on the inside cover!  The family bible used to be one of the most important ways for families to keep track of family trees, personal items of importance, and connections with other members of the family passed down through generations, although now it seems Facebook has taken over this role.

While not specifically the focal point of the shoot, Janet’s family bible sure was interesting. Take a look at the calligraphy from 1853 found on the inside cover! The family bible used to be one of the most important ways for families to keep track of family trees, personal items of importance, and connections with other members of the family passed down through generations, although now it seems Facebook has taken over this role.

Shortly after the photo shoot, I ran into Steven, a member of the museum’s Exhibition Arts team, in the basement.  He’s a really nice guy and I always enjoy chatting with him, and today he gave me a fig!  Turns out he grows them in his backyard and brings dozens of them to work during the harvesting season.  I’ve never had a raw fig before, and I have to say it wasn’t quite my favourite, but it was fun to have the experience!

It seems Stephen is one of the only guys who "gives a fig" at the RBCM!

It seems Steven is one of the only guys who “gives a fig” at the RBCM!

Pop-Up Museums: Potential for the RBCM?

In this paper from the Product and Market Innovations course taught by Rod Harris and Rose Nadon, I explored the possibility of the Royal BC Museum creating a travelling exhibit space (not just a travelling exhibit) in the form of a re-purposed shipping container.  This assignment focuses more heavily on the business scenario and planning surrounding this potential project and not the curatorial or exhibition components.  The paper provides a market analysis, competitive analysis, market segmentation and creative positioning strategy before examining relevant media vehicles and further considerations for such an endeavour.

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