Good afternoon. My name is Madeline Smolarz and it’s my pleasure to be the first programming presenter. I was Programs Intern at the Bytown Museum in Ottawa under the supervision of Megan Bocking, Programs Manager. My main role was to develop a year-long program plan for 2017…
…which will be the Bytown’s centennial and the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The Museum is right beside Parliament, so it will be an exciting time. I also assisted with operations, facilitated programs, and visited many cultural heritage institutions and events.
By the end of my first week, I had drafted a long list of all of the things that could possibly impact my project negatively. It was supposed to make me feel better, but it didn’t. My supervisor kindly sat me down and gave me the following advice:
Planning museum programs is like trying to build a puzzle with pieces that are always changing. What are these pieces? I will discuss five that I dealt with during my internship: stakeholders, funding, collections and exhibitions, visitors, and unexpected circumstances.
I performed several stakeholder analyses over the course of my internship and learned the importance of assessing and managing the stakeholders of a programming project. Even small community museums like my host institution have remarkably large list of stakeholders.
Stakeholders’ interests, impact, position, and status can shift over a long period or immediately. Therefore, stakeholder analyses documents ought to be “living documents,” easily edited and altered for the benefit of staff who will be referring to them in the future.
In order to ensure stakeholders support a project and to reduce the obstacles they may pose, communication really is key. I created strategies for keeping in touch with all of the stakeholders I could identify and personally met with, emailed, or called many of them.
When you literally live in the shadow of one of your biggest sources of funding like the Bytown, it’s hard to forget their significance. Museums may rely on municipal, provincial, and federal government funding along with annual grants, earned revenue, admissions, and so on.
Many of us know that cultural heritage funding is increasingly difficult to access. No two years are the same. I had to ask myself, will the grants received this year still exist in two years for my program plan? Depending on their availability, certain sources of funding may not be viable for a project when it comes to fruition.
Ensuring that your institution’s financial statements show a diversity of funding sources is critical to the success of any project, including programming. If an important cheque doesn’t arrive, there must be appropriate alternate options for a project to survive financially.
Collections connect to all of the work that happens in museums. This is especially true at the Bytown, where the community gallery changes quarterly and the temporary exhibition is refreshed annually, as Collections and Exhibitions Manager Grant Vogl demonstrates above.
This turnover presents an exciting opportunity for programs to correspond to specific exhibitions, as my project was designed to for 2017. Constant liaising with collections and/or exhibitions staff is critical, so when an exhibition and its artifact content changes, the program plan does too.
This inter-departmental approach helps combat departmental silo-ing. It allowed me to glimpse into the exhibitions world and keep my program plan realistic and updated. Museum exhibitions are dynamic spaces that programs can enhance further, and working across departments ensures this outcome.
Visitors are a museum’s lifeblood. Visitorship at the Bytown is at an all-time high and is set to increase steadily. Programs as simple as a tour can be used to attract visitors but even so, visitor numbers remain hard to predict and individual visitor needs and wants are diverse.
The role of tourism in boosting attendance can’t be ignored, especially in large cities like Ottawa. Working with tourism organizations to track trends, inviting operators for familiarization visits, and researching what tourists look for are great places to start.
The immediate public must also be considered carefully. The Bytown is a museum of Ottawa’s history, and locals are proud of the city. These visitors are often repeat visitors, and unique programs like guest lectures alongside annual offerings such as Doors Open offer an attractive programming mix.
Inclement weather such as rain during the Franklin Car visit, built heritage concerns, tenancy-landlord relations and more… As a century-old museum and tenant of Parks Canada, the Bytown has seen its share of unexpected circumstances, all of which can impact programs.
A parade, fireworks show, street festival, high-profile gala, or any other activity that offers an appealing alternative to your program can happen at a moment’s notice. No matter when a program is developed, it should be adaptable to a changing environment.
The canal, locks, and associated stairs and bike pathway have caused a few accidents in the past, and there are indoor hazards as well. Programmers should always be prepared for an emergency because they have a responsibility to help keep participants safe.
So, in the end, when it comes to your programs puzzle of ever-changing pieces like unexpected circumstances, visitors, collections and exhibitions, funding, and stakeholders, often you can’t control the pieces in your hands. You just make the best picture you can with the ones you have, regardless of the shape they’re in.
Smolarz. Programs Session. Bytown Museum Internship.
Programs Intern, The Bytown Museum, Ottawa
Credit: Mitchell Gleeson, Single Step Photography
“A PUZZLE WITH CHANGING PIECES”
PLANNING FOR 2017 AT THE BYTOWN
Credit: Megan BockingCredit: Courtney King Credit: Corrie Bouskill