14 May 2015

Into the Rockies–CMA 2015

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Museum conferences are a wonderful thing. They provide plenty of opportunities to network, meet long-distance friends, collaborate with other museums, and learn from others all while enjoying a brief getaway from the office. We were lucky to attend a great conference this year, hosted by the Canadian Museums Association and held in Banff, Alberta, Canada.

For those of you who have never heard of Banff (it’s above the western edge of Montana), you’re missing out. It’s beautiful. As in “I’m going to just look out of my hotel room window for 30 minutes solid”.

The view of the Rocky Mountains from the Banff Springs Hotel

The view of the Rocky Mountains from the Banff Springs Hotel

Thinking Outside the Square was invited to attend and host three educational sessions during the conference in Banff. After much preparing, we were ready for our sessions discussing a variety of topics including alternative income generation for museums, museums as “town squares”, and object agency. So, with materials and suitcases in tow, we headed off to Canada on April 12th!

From Buffalo, we drove to Hamilton, ON. It’s about halfway between Buffalo and Toronto, and flying out of there allowed us to avoid the insane traffic that often snarls Toronto. Our flight was direct, on a brand new aircraft, and 4 hours later we had landed in Calgary, Alberta.

This was the farthest I’ve (Steve) ever traveled. I was thrilled to be travelling in Canada, as well. You see, growing up in Buffalo means that Canada is very much a part of your life from the very beginning. Driving around at home, there’s almost always a Canadian flag flying next to the American flag. Countless trips to Ontario for a variety of reasons, getting Hockey Night in Canada on TV, and tourists going to and from the United States and Canada means that while in Buffalo, you’re never far from one of our Canadian neighbours. It’s accurate to say that even though we were in Canada, it definitely still felt like home!

Banff is an hour and a half from Calgary, and leaving Calgary you can almost immediately see the Rocky Mountains. However, the mountains are so HUGE that even though they seem so close, they were actually 45 minutes away! Pretty soon, we wound our way through the mountains, into Banff National Park, and to the impressive Banff Springs Hotel. The hotel calls itself “Canada’s Castle in the Rockies”, and they aren’t kidding. It’s gorgeous!

The Banff Springs Hotel, home of CMA 2015

The Banff Springs Hotel, home of CMA 2015

 

We called the Banff Springs home for 5 nights, and did a fair amount of touring about the hotel and the town itself.

The Banff townsite, looking down Banff Avenue and at Cascade Mountain

 

Our first session of CMA 2015 was “Museums: The New Town Square”, which discussed the many things that a museum can be to its visitors. Here, we discussed how museums can become a “town square” of dialogue, conversation, and learning at any age. When we asked our attendees (about 45!) what makes a town square, they came up with some great responses: meeting place, safe, forum, playful, evolving, civilized, multi-generational, and others. It’s crucial for museum to explore this role continuing into the 21st century and digital age.

Hearing the keynote speech of Dr. Richard Sandell, from the Museum Studies department at the University of Leicester

Hearing the keynote speech of Dr. Richard Sandell, from the Museum Studies department at the University of Leicester

 

Even though the digital age is upon us, there just isn’t anything that can replace the emotions and experiences that come with direct interaction with museum objects. Our second session, called Perfectly Good Guitar: Object Agency, explored that concept. Object agency is a transaction, between an object and the person who is viewing it–how does it make you feel? What experiences and thoughts does a certain object inspire in you? To look at this in the real world, we examined guitars, which no doubt has relationships with their owners and those who play them. In the session, we also listened to a little Neil Young and discussed his guitar–which, according to Young, has a life of its own…and that’s object agency! We wrapped up the conference with a favorite of ours, “Alternatives Rock: Alternate Income Generation for Museums”.

During our session "Alternatives Rock"!

During our session “Alternatives Rock”!

 

Museum professionals in a large group aren’t just entertaining–they’re inspiring, too. It was fantastic to rub elbows with great museum minds from across Canada while we were in Banff. Besides the sessions, there were plenty of social acitivities, including a great night at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. The museum addresses the history and beauty of Banff National Park and Banff, AB through numerous stellar art and history exhibitions.

Our VP Client Services, Brian McAlonie, checking out the Bow River

Our VP Client Services, Brian McAlonie, checking out the Bow River

Our Director, Interpretive Services and Social Media manager (Hi!), Steve Bukowski

Our Director, Interpretive Services and Social Media manager (Hi!), Steve Bukowski

Leaving Banff was hard to do after such an amazing week there! A conference in the Rocky Mountains was a great way to break up months of work and left us refreshed and motivated. Clean mountain air, a stunning hotel and breathtaking views all added up to a conference that was an invigorating as it was inspiring. Even as the plane took off and headed back East, we’re already thinking about next year–and about all the lobster that’s waiting for us at CMA 2016 in Halifax, Nova Scotia!

 

 

 

 

 

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