NW Museum & Archives a place both ‘of the people’ and ‘for the people’

This is a guest post from Rob McCullough, Curator at New Westminster Museum and Archives. The museum is running a “Community Visioning Workshop” on May 4 at 7pm in search of inspiration for fresh exhibits in its upcoming gallery redevelopment (call 604-527-4640 for more details). The event description says, “We are seeking new ideas and a progressive outlook so we can create interesting and dynamic exhibits. What can we do to accomplish this? What would make you visit your museum?” Interested, we pressed Rob for more, and this is what he had to say:

Photo: New Westminster Museum & Archives
Photo: New Westminster Museum & Archives

“Make it personal” I was told, “explain why it needs to happen”.  Uhmm Okay, I think I can do that, but where do I begin…?

I suppose I can take it back to my earliest years, to a time when much of the world was unknown to me.  I cherished new experiences and ideas that stimulated my imagination.  I loved fairy tales that took place in times of yore, but those were just for children, right?  Then, I discovered the Choose Your Own Adventure books; I loved the way they carried me to another place. The Cave of Time sticks out the most.  It took me right back to the dinosaurs, through the Middle Ages and up to when the Titanic slipped beneath the waves of the Atlantic.  Suddenly, for me, a whole new world was opening up; a world of the past where stunning tales of adventure might really have happened.

I had to learn more about history to see if the stories were true… and thank god they were.  I wasn’t just being led astray, but hold on a minute, there was much more to these stories.  There were people, and with those people came ideas and objects that didn’t make it to the pages of my Choose Your Own Adventure.  I needed to find out more.  Low and behold there were places dedicated to storing these objects and documenting the ideas.  To think that I could actually be in the presence of a stone-age spear point that brought down the mighty mammoth! This alone had the power to take me back ten thousand years.  I’ve now been to several museums that hold such treasures, but some of them made the stories seem more real than others.  They managed to stimulate my imagination. There was a gift to this method of storytelling – the kind that uses objects and ideas.

After spending time in a few museums, I began to realise that the objects on display were just a special chosen few from the entire collection.  Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of others were being stored behind locked doors.  I had to see them, so I began looking for work in a museum.  Then one day, after finding such a job, it struck me: how do I choose which items to put out for others to see?  How do I choose which stories to tell?  Now I was living the Choose Your Own Adventure and the many possible outcomes were at my fingertips. My conundrum was selecting the stories that stimulated other people’s imaginations.  What do they want to know about?  What would make history real for them?  After all, everything that I’ve been hired to care for belongs to them.  Whoa, this is gonna be a big task.  How can I create a museum gallery that connects to the toddler, the parent, the teenager, the tourist, the old timer and the teacher all at once? It occurred to me that the best way to find out is to ask them, so I’ve arranged to have a visioning workshop at the New Westminster Museum and Archives on May 4th at 7pm.

I was told that in writing this I should make it personal.  It is personal, to every man, woman and child that comes through our doors and lives in our city.  I was also told that I should explain why it needs to happen.  Well, I suppose this visioning workshop needs to happen because everything held in the bowels of our institution belongs to the people of New Westminster.  No one person can know what stimulates the imagination and curiosity of nearly sixty thousand people.  A visioning workshop is at least a place to start finding out.  Our museum must be more than a place “of the people”, it must also be a place “for the people” of New Westminster.


New Westminster Museum and Archives Community Visioning Workshop event details:

The New Westminster Museum and Archives is undertaking a gallery redevelopment. The purpose of the museum is to tell our City’s story in a manner that best connects with our visitors, supports Parks, Culture & Recreation’s comprehensive planning and encourages the community to feel at home in their museum. We are seeking new ideas and a progressive outlook so we can create interesting and dynamic exhibits. What can we do to accomplish this? What would make you visit your museum?

Residents are encouraged to provide their ideas on future exhibitions and programming and assist us in understanding what stimulates curiosity and inspiration. Join us at this visioning workshop and help us share the story of New Westminster’s rich history.

When: May 4th, 2010

Time: 7:00 pm

Where: The New Westminster Museum and Archives, 302 Royal Avenue

Contact: 604-527-4640

2 Replies to “NW Museum & Archives a place both ‘of the people’ and ‘for the people’”

  1. Rob, is the visioning workshop kid friendly? As in, if my child comes, if that okay? And is it a drop in open house type of thing or does it start promptly at 7PM?

  2. What an exciting prospect. Our heritage and history back to our peoples. Well done, all.

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