Wild Things wins the BC Museum Associations Award of Merit: (Excellence in Exhibitions category)

Wild Things wins the BC Museum Associations Award of Merit: (Excellence in Exhibitions category)

It takes a lot of Volunteers to win an Award

The exhibition Wild Things: The Power of Nature in Our Lives is a co-production between the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) and Nature Vancouver.  Wild Things opened in June 2018 and has been extended to January 12, 2020 due to its popularity with school groups and other museum visitors.  In writing this celebratory blog I hope to convey the power of volunteerism.  Since this is three years after the project began, I take the risk of leaving out names of some of the people who made this happen.  I hope they will prod me and allow me the chance to add their names after initial publication.  I am also not concentrating on the many MOV staff members who worked on this project.  The museum is a better source for those accolades.

The initial approach and application process for an exhibit began in March of 2016.  At that time, Bev Ramey, Lyn Grants and Elena Klein with some advice from David Brownstein began to flesh out a small display celebrating 100 years of naturalists.  It was hoped that this exhibition would open in 2018 and be part of Nature Vancouver’s centenary.  Initial design thoughts were that there would be several static displays showing the equipment naturalists used between the years of 1918 and 2018.  The accompanying text would highlight how the status of those who observe nature progressed from amateur naturalist to citizen scientists.  Ivan Sayers kindly allowed me to view his collection of historic clothing and was agreeable to lending items for display

CVA 660-138

In July, the Museum of Vancouver curator, Viviane Gosselin, enthusiastically embraced the idea of a co-production, but was not interested in a display of historical attire.   Ideas began to be fleshed out, but for an application to be accepted Nature Vancouver had to produce ten volunteers to indicate that the effort involved in producing an exhibition could be sustained. Bill Merilees, Stephen Partington, Paul Geddes, Janet O’Connor, Linnea Gibbs, Katheryn Ney added their names to the team which opened the door for this project.   

By September 2016, our idea had grown from 400 to 4000 square feet; a new working title was created: Green Design, the concept was to examine the key features that allowed one species to succeed and another to fail in an urban environment.  As this idea was built upon, one fun proposal was to do this in a tongue-in-cheek harlequin-novel theme with the working title Mutual Attraction.  One important component of the exhibition was a timeline of Nature Vancouver over 100 years.  Janet O’Connor did some preliminary sleuthing in the archives for any moving pictures, there were none, but she came back with some helpful information for future archive work. 

Before the end of 2016 both the CEO of the Museum and the board of Nature Vancouver had approved the co-production in principle.  We began to reach out to our network of dedicated naturalists and specimen collectors for general knowledge and material support.  Many Nature Vancouver members as well as other nature organizations, stepped forward with ideas that continued to flesh out the concept and practical issues.  Despite some wonderful concepts, if there are no physical items to display, then the concept cannot attract an audience.  MOV curator, Viviane, cautioned on word counts explaining that in a presentation of our size, visitors may end up reading the equivalent of an encyclopedia.  The important points needed to be made in entertaining and easily digestible bites.

Although Elena, Bev, Lyn and Viviane enjoyed the idea of providing the public with scientific knowledge in a cheeky manner, we questioned whether it would attract an audience?  A workshop in March of 2017 was attended by a goodly number of Nature Vancouver members, Metro Parks staff, museum staff including Sharon Fortney, the curator of indigenous content, and the designers Daniel Irvine and Chad Manley.  From that discussion it became obvious that the concept was not as interesting as we had hoped.  Although the working title remained for the time, we saw that a more serious display was necessary.  Two important ideas emerged; one was that the terms ‘wild and nature’ were open to different interpretations.  The other, was that our relationships with nature were very personal and began very early in life.

The momentum built over 2017, Daniel and Chad created an exciting design involving animation, lots of movement and sound.  To support this funds were needed.  The museum’s own curator of Philanthropy lead the charge on this, but again Nature Vancouver’s volunteers were needed.  A simple phone call or email resulted in Stephen Partington, Margaret Ostrowski, and Kitty Castle putting their names forth.Jeremy McCall stepped later in the year in to assist with grant writing. 

Clip of Original Concept Design by Daniel Irvine and Chad Manley

Themes around the link between nature and human health began to take hold; Nancy Prober provided suggestions on contacts and feedback on concepts.  Matilda Van den Bosch, Sara Barron and Emily Rugel from UBC began to join regular workshop meetings as did representatives from three indigenous communities;  Michelle George of the Tsleil-Watuth, Tracey Williams of the Squamish Nation, as well as, Musqueam representatives Larrisa Grant and Jason Woolman. 

Volunteers were busy providing content among these; Joan Lopez supplied and researched underwater sounds.  Karen Needham curator of the Spencer Entomological collection at UBC spent an afternoon reviewing ideas and possible display specimens.  Sheila Byers provided beautiful items for display and suggested many tantalizing ecological stories.  Nature Kids’ Louise Pedersen and Daphne Solecki provided ideas on the importance of interactive and child friendly displays.  Peter Ward and Ken Hall set out several mornings to attempt to record a dawn chorus interrupted by aircraft flyover for the display. Bev Ramey liaised with Liron Gertsman to produce a video about wintering Surf Scoters viewed off Stanley Park for the exhibition. While Jude Grass, Angela Bond and Joan Lopez examined the list of specimens available at the museum, others worked on a list of desired taxidermy specimens for display.  Susan Fisher took on the arduous task of researching and taming the Nature Vancouver timeline.  Suffering many slashes to her word count, the resulting timeline did not do justice to her research.  Fortunately, Susan’s research has been subsequently published as A Hundred Years of Natural History: The Vancouver Natural History Society, 1918-2018,  written together with Daphne Soleki.  Paul Geddes worked on John Davidson’s biography.  Funding didn’t support the initial animated display, but the designers were able to pare it down.  Lee Beavington, Nature Vancouver’s 2016 scholarship winner, and lecturer at Kwantlan Polytech University joined the project as a contracted co-curator. 

In the fall of 2017 the deadline was looming, material needed to be ready; text had to be finished for fabrication to begin.  Many items were slashed from the final design, and unexpected additions such as the generous offer of herbarium pressed plant specimens by Linda Jennings, Herbarium Curator at Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

Once the static content was decided, live interpretive events by our many volunteers were invited.  Quickly, many Nature Vancouver members stepped up to create a unique experience for museum visitors most  Saturdays from June to the end of October, 2018.  Presenters included: Lyn Grants, Eva Nagy, Adrian Grant-Duff, David Cook, Joan Lopez, Joseph Lin, Jude and Al Grass, Ron Long, Sheila Byers, Paul Preston of Wild Research; a special thank-you to Rosemary and Terry Taylor for travelling from the island for this; the South Coast Bat Society for their Workshop; the Northshore Bear Society and the Stanley Park Ecology Society.  

Prior to the opening Helen Aqua, Denis Laplante, and Bengul Kurtar worked on publicity. 

Congratulations to everyone for their hard work. 

  Except where noted, photos curtesy of Joseph Lin

The BC Museums Association Award of Merit recognizes a recent outstanding, innovative, and/or creative achievement in any and all aspects of exhibition development and design, including content and curatorial choices; presentation, organisation and format; interpretation (including exhibit-based signage, publications, live interpretation/performance, web-based interpretation); and community relevance.

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