Last week, MOV hosted a talk with the directors of three Vancouver museums on the future of museum collecting. This posts offers a follow-up Q&A with MOV’s CEO Nancy Noble. Next week, we’ll look at the trends discussed by the other speakers, Dr. Anthony Shelton of the Museum of Anthropology, and Dr. Wayne Maddison of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.
How have the Museum of Vancouver’s collecting practices changed over the years?
Typically, museums have collected a lot less, including the Museum of Vancouver. We have also put tighter controls over the process of collecting, which includes a Collections Policy and a Collections Committee—of board, staff, and community—that makes recommendations to the Board for all acquisitions.
Also, I believe we are being more considered and reactive in what we collect. It is rare that the Museum spends time or resources to actively collect, although I think this needs to change if we are going to amass collections of relevance now and in the future.
So, if I had something I felt was an important object from the city’s history, a letter, an object, etc., how would I approach the Museum about it? How do you judge or evaluate what should be a part of the collection and what you’ll pass on?
You would call the Museum and they would put you in touch with the Director of Collections and Exhibitions or a curator with expertise in the type of object being offered.
Typically, the curator would do an initial assessment to determine if the object was something the Museum was interested in collecting. That interest would be based on the criteria set our in our mandate, mission, and vision, our Collections Policy, and on the knowledge the curator has of what already exists in the collection. Given the limit on resources, if we already had a collection that illustrated or told similar stories, or had better provenance, we might not accept. In addition, we often don’t accept collections because they are too large, or we don’t have the resources to adequately care for them, which are also factors in determining whether something is accepted.
Once the Curator does a preliminary assessment, he/she would take a proposal to the Collections Committee and a recommendation would go to the Baord.
What are some of your favourite recent acquistions? Which pieces speak to you, or most interest you?
I love the neon collection. I know it is challenging for the curators to find space for, but it speaks to so much of Vancouver. I love how a sign off a building on East Hastings informs us of the changes to that neighbourhood, both past and present.
I also love the Stanley Park collection given to us a few years ago by Peggy Imredy. The postcards, for example, are a stunning collection that documents so many aspects of one of Canada’s national treasures.
Museums are incorporating multimedia into their exhibits and visitor experiences—things like podcasts, videos, Flickr photo sites and the like. Are such things retained as a part of the Museum’s collection? Is the very definition of “object” changing?
The Museum is retaining some of it, but like many things we are behind in keeping up with changing technology. I believe we need to seriously consider how much of this will be collected and how we will store and use the material. I am a strong believer that the ‘real thing’ still has a great deal more appeal to visitors, but at the same time, I recognize that we need to use these new media to help us make collections and their supporting information even more accessible to the public.