Well. I left this longer than I intended…..
My only excuse is that, now that my internship is coming to an end, I have been spending my spare time on the job hunt for my next adventure. And also Netflix. And Youtube….
That being said, work has been very hectic over the last several weeks, and I have finished and begun a whole list of projects. The past couple of weeks have been all about getting messy and making mistakes, so thanks for the heads up, Miss Frizzle! In my last post, I mentioned that I had finished my first small exhibit that was going to be installed at the North Peace Regional Airport. Well that was installed shortly after that, and I couldn’t be happier with it!
One of the hardest parts of this exhibit for me was that I had only been to that display case once before to change out an old display, so I couldn’t remember very well what the size and shape of the case was. While I had Heather’s guidance in terms of writing the appropriate amount of content, I realized when we got there to set it up that I had not really planned out how the panels were actually going to sit in the case. It took about twenty minutes of fiddling for me to fit everything in so that it was visible and I was happy with it. One of our archives volunteers, Tamara, told me a few days ago that she has been out to the airport quite a few times lately, and each time she saw people looking at my exhibit and children who were very excited about it. For me, that’s about the best “job well done” that I could receive.
On February 7, I finished one of my biggest projects of this job. I completely catalogued all of the Rudy Schubert negatives! Remember how we originally thought there were about 450, and then I discovered that there were in fact 600? Well, turns out that there were some prints with no negatives which I also catalogued, rounding the whole collection off to 609.
One of the most exciting things about this was that in the process of cataloguing them, I discovered two negatives of the African American troops that were assigned to build the Alaska Highway. When the highway was built, the American Army sent seven regiments to do the job. Three of those regiments – the 93rd, 95th, and 97th – were composed of African American soldiers led by white commanders. At this time the American Army was still segregated. The African American troops were generally given the broken equipment discarded by the white regiments, and often had to do the work that others did with bulldozers, with shovels and axes. They faced constant racism, with the American Army reluctant to send them in the first place, believing that they did not have the mental capacity to operate heavy equipment, or the constitution to weather the extreme cold of Northern Canada.
Our museum produced a calender for 2017 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the construction of the Alaska Highway this year, featuring Rudy Schubert’s negatives. Because Schubert was white, he was part of the 341st Engineering Regiment, and entirely white regiment. His assignment was to take picture primarily of his own regiment, who he would have traveled the highway with. At the time that the calender was put together, no one realized that the two images I found later were of the African American soldiers. Looking at a negative, it can often be difficult just to discern what is happening in the image, much less who is featured in it. When I scanned the negatives, however, that process reverses the image into a positive one, so it is perfectly clear what the photo is of.
We had one woman who bought the calender call to tell us that she was disappointed that the calender did not feature any images of the African American troops, and all that we could tell her was that Schubert hadn’t taken any. This was true, to our knowledge, but it bothered me that we were not, at that point, able to show that the construction of the Alaska Highway was made possible because of the work of all of the regiments, not just the white ones. It is extremely important to me as I build my career to do work that is diverse and reflects the fact that we live in a diverse world with diverse experiences.
Finding these two photographs was more than just exciting for me. I actually became a bit emotional as I sat at my desk processing what I had just found. I felt compelled to tell the stories that they showed. Of all of the wonderful photos that Schubert took, these are my favourite because they are making it possible for me to not just tell, but show visitors the experience of EVERYONE who was affected by the construction of the Alaska Highway in my exhibit. In the grand scheme of things, this is a very small thing, but I think that as long as I keep trying to do these small things so that my work reflects, as much as possible, all of the people in the stories I tell, then those small things might someday add up.
Over the last several weeks, I have also been turning my research into writing. I wrote a research report, an exhibit brief, a storyline, came up with an idea for an interactive activity and started planning it, and now I am in the process of writing my exhibit script. All of these new projects have presented all kinds of new ways for me to learn and make mistakes. And, as it turns out, I am in fact a mistake-making human. I know, who would have guessed?
I worked for weeks writing my research report, sculpting it to perfection, editing it multiple times, and asking lots of questions throughout to make sure that I did it absolutely right. Now, if you haven’t written/read a research report for an exhibit before, as I had not until that point, there is a section where you discuss potential themes. As it turns out, one of the things that I am slowly learning to shake is being an academic. Academic prowess has served me well for over six years now, but apparently the real world doesn’t really care about that, and that’s okay. I worked so hard to think of brilliant themes for my exhibit, including ideas such as “pioneer road,” and “changing landscapes.” What I found out after Heather had read it was that my definition of a theme was not only academic, but also extremely not what they want in the context of an exhibit. Ooops.
Themes in the exhibit world as essentially what I would consider your topics or “body paragraphs”. It is the questions or different topics that you intend to discuss in your exhibit. So yeah. WAY OFF. I’m someone that has a very hard time accepting that I am a fallible human and that I will make mistakes, sometimes big ones, and that that’s okay, and this time was no exception. I am learning to be grateful for that experience though, because the only way that I am going to learn to be okay with getting things wrong is to actually get them wrong sometimes……most times…..
Last weekend we celebrated Heritage Day at the museum. The theme was “My Canada”, so I put together 15 signs that detailed important moments in Canada’s history that relate to this region and our exhibits, which we called Canada 150 Facts. We also had an interactive board with quotes from famous Canadians about what Canada means to them, and asked visitors to contribute by writing down what their Canada is and adding it to the board. The event wasn’t very well attended (as hard as we try, we can’t compete with hockey tournaments!), but the people who did come seemed to enjoy themselves. As it turns out, my Canada 150 Fact cards ended up being a bit of an Easter egg hunt as people worked their way around the museum trying to find all 15.
This past Thursday was possibly the busiest of all. Never again in my life do I want to do a tour and a meeting back to back. Ever. Please. This tour was a rather difficult one, with the kids not being very keen in listening or letting me speak, and the adults not being much help with the kids. I have given lots of tours in my time though, so I got through it, and as soon as the class was out the door, I started setting up for our Acquisition Committee Meeting.
At the beginning of my internship, I had said that I wanted to work on my leadership skills. While I do have a good amount of experience in leading classes and giving presentations, I really hate doing it. I don’t like being in charge, being the boss, or being in the spotlight at all. However, if I want to become a fancy museum curator lady, these are things that I have to get comfortable doing without it requiring a full evening of recovering with Netflix and a Ben & Jerry’s. Heather offered for me to lead a meeting to practice this skill, and I agreed.
This was the last Acquisition Committee Meeting that I could lead because by the time the next one is scheduled, I will be done here, so it was either do it now or don’t do it at all. Really, this turned out to be the best situation to practice leading a meeting because I already knew everyone who was on the committee very well. It was hardly the hotseat. I spent the past week going through all of our items that were up for possible accessioning, checking whether or not we already had similar items, and deciding on my own recommendations to the committee. I made an agenda, organized the items, and talked the committee through each of them in turn. This was a big meeting because, with all of the backlog from the holidays, we had a lot of stuff to get through. The whole meeting took an hour and a half. And remember, this was immediately after giving a one hour tour to first graders. I have never been more grateful for my pajamas in my life.
I only have one month left here in Fort Saint John, and a lot of work to finish. While I only have a short time left, I think it’s safe to say that it’s going to be just as much of an adventure as it has been here all along. Here’s hoping I make it to the end of March without making too many mistakes!