Exhibit A


At the open forum of the April 23rd council meeting I approached council and proposed an alternative to what was tabled as a $40,000 – $60,000 spend on a temporary exhibit.

What was presented by the Aurora Historical Society was a static and non engaging display of artifacts with no public participation.

Along with David Heard I proposed a public driven display using crowd sourced curation to bring forward items from the community and their stories instead of relying upon the Aurora collection whose ownership has to date restricted its access.

Council at that meeting decided to pursue a “professional” curated exhibit as reported in this April 25th piece from the Banner here:

Shortly after the town and AHS reached out to the community, reported in this May 7th article here:

And it was posted on the town’s website here: http://www.e-aurora.ca/app/wa/mediaEntry?mediaEntryId=61441

In this May 7th piece by The Auroran: http://www.newspapers-online.com/auroran/?p=1914 The Historical Society is quoted:

“We have consistently worked with community organizations and individuals [and when we heard] David Heard and Christopher Watts came forward expressing interest, it was an additional impetus to see what others are interested in,”


This wasn’t “additional” impetus, the Historical Society had no intent of public engagement as evident in their proposal in the council agenda here:

It’s sad that residents had to pitch this approach to council before the Historical Society would even consider it.

It’s also sad that council decided to partner exclusively with the Aurora Historical Society because as I pointed out in Open Forum several families in Aurora have not brought forth items in the past because the Historical Society has show itself incapable of proper stewardship of artifacts.

The most recent inventory done by an asset management firm showed a loss of over 1400 artifacts, nearly 10% of the collection. It also reported improper storage and handling of the collection as I witnessed and posted along with photos here: https://wattstrending.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/the-aurora-collection/

The Historical Society said:

“There has been a history of working with volunteers and the community and that is how AHS started. It is fitting that in the 50th anniversary of the AHS, and the 150th of Aurora, we are going back to our roots and we hope there will be a response.”

So what was the response?

I checked out the exhibit with my family when it opened on July 1st. SNAP covered the event and even took some video here: http://www.snapaurora.com/index.php?option=com_sngevents&id%5B%5D=558686

The audience for the event is very thin and no surprise contains all the usual suspects, no new faces are shown. The facebook event shows only 1 attending:

Is this the response they were hoping for? If so that is equally sad.

I wasn’t able to make it for the speeches and arrived later in the day. Only 2 other people checking out the exhibit when we arrived.

The following are some photos I was able to capture of the exhibit:

The entire experience was void of passion and meaning and failed to include any of the 10 ingredients for successful museum exhibit design here:  http://sensingarchitecture.com/1713/top-10-tips-to-great-museum-exhibit-design/

If there were any objects provided by the public there was no way of determining what they were, or what the story was behind them.

All museum exhibits I have visited and participated in creating displays for have object labels.

This exhibit had none, meaning there is no rationale provided for any of the curatorial efforts.


For a Historical Society that purportedly values the “New Museology” none of the principles touched on in Peter Vergo’s book were evident in this display.

The International Movement for a New Museology is affiliated with the International Council of Museums (ICOM) They define a museum as a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.

Musetrain expanded upon this on their site here:

Objects don’t tell stories, they exist. People tell stories. Storytelling only happens when a person is involved. Objects alone don’t have merit and it’s only through sharing context that authenticity becomes valuable. Simply, Sigmund Freud’s chair, without it’s context—it’s story, is just an old chair.

Look at your collection. If you’re not sharing it as brilliantly as possible, in multiple ways, why do you have a collection?

Why indeed?

Curation is the drive to find the interesting, meaningful, and relevant amidst the vast maze of overabundant information, creating a framework for what matters in the world and why. There is an enjoyable video on the subject here:

There is no storytelling, no narrative elements at all in the Aurora exhibit, just old things presented in old ways.

Thomas D. Trummer talks about the core of exhibit design:

“It is a matter of taking viewers seriously and involving them in a process of questioning, considering, interpreting and judging. Arrogant overabundance and a patronizing, know-it-all manner not only fails to achieve this it can also intimidate or alienate.”

The latter is what we experienced.
The most engaging thing about the exhibit for my two kids was the one seat that they could climb on and continue to chant “I’m bored”.

The Aurora exhibit confirmed my original fears by being set up by professional curators for other professional curators not for real people.

None of the concepts in the book Planning for People in Museum Exhibitions:
http://www.amazon.com/Planning-People-Museum-Exhibitions-Kathleen/dp/0944040322/ref=pd_sim_b_4 were implemented, even considered for this exhibit.

There is nothing innovative or sustainable in this temporary exhibit, which cost the town tens of thousands of dollars only to be torn out next month.

If the town needed a clear example of how not to run a museum exhibit then this is it.

Make no mistake, this was not a “professional” exhibit.

By contrast the Brooklyn Museum ran crowd-curated exhibition last May:

Closer to home the R.O.M. opened up their wikipedia pages to volunteers on an edit-a-thon party back in August : http://torontostandard.com/article/rom

Musetrain.org hits the nail on the head in their assessment here:

The modern museum finds the past isn’t enough and is evolving in the face of a changing world. The values of our visitors are shifting, they expect new forms of engagement, and their needs are changing. And, while the soul of the museum is a constant,the ways in which museums and their staff need to engage has to emerge in new forms. These changes aren’t championed or lessened by a single department or idea but requires effort from across the entire organization.

One thing we know for certain is that change is a new constant.

The town needs to embrace this change, something the Aurora Historical Society continues to demonstrate they are incapable of doing.


Watts on your mind?

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