Exhibits at home
Photo: Olivia Malley
Local museums and art galleries find inventive ways to reach their communities
Closed by the pandemic, Halifax’s galleries and museums are left with empty hallways and quiet exhibits. So instead, the institutions are coming to them.
The Army Museum at Halifax Citadel
This museum in the fortress atop Citadel Hill opened in 1953, spotlighting Nova Scotian military history from the First World War to the recent mission in Afghanistan. Normally, it would open for the season in May.
Three weeks ago, the staff had finished their off-season preparations and were cleaning the museum when curator Ken Hynes had an idea. “If we can’t have people come into the museum, why can’t we bring the museum to the people?” says the curator of more than six years.
Hynes created five videos about the museum’s exhibits. The videos will be coming out Wednesdays and Fridays. The first posted to the museum’s Facebook page on April 3. Hynes explored the museum shooting and narrated as he went. “When you are wandering around by yourself in the museum it is quite eerie actually,” he says.
The video begins with the cause of the First World War and ends with the four Nova Scotians who earned the Victoria Cross.
The other videos Hynes has planned will focus on the conclusion to the First World exhibit, the Second World War, the Korean War, and Nova Scotian units of the 36 Brigade, the war in Afghanistan, and the museum’s war art collection.
“I think the main take away is that we are reaching out to the community as best we can in this uncertain time, and to show the kind of exhibits we have and the storylines that we portray.”
Hynes says last season the museum hosted more than 90,000 guests but most of those people were from outside the province. He estimates around 1/4 were from cruise ships. That means that when the museum does eventually reopen, traffic will be lower, as the whole tourism industry takes a hit.
This is why he hopes that Haligonians, exploring their city post-physical distancing, will pay the museum a visit.
When the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia had to close, the team wanted to stay connected to the community. They thought about what they could offer patrons that they wouldn’t have discovered before.
That led them to think of the 18,000-piece permanent collection, says the gallery’s director of marketing and visitor experience Colin Stinson. Due to display space limitations, many of those pieces live in storage. Staff decided to dig through the collection and post pictures and videos to their social media accounts.
Doing this would “bring art to people and allow people who wouldn’t traditionally visit an art gallery to experience art, and even have conversations with others through social media platforms about art,” says Stinson.
Another thing people normally don’t have access to is the curators, so in addition to sharing art, the gallery is having the curators explain some of the pieces on Facebook.
Like the other museums and galleries, they are also hoping their content can bring people some solace. “Art can provide people with an escape from the new normal the world is experiencing right now,” says Stinson. On Wednesday the museum launched a virtual tour of its Maud Lewis exhibit, allowing people to virtually see and read about the art.
Yet the museum is also encouraging people to make art as well. In a video published Sunday to the Facebook page, gallery art educator Lux Habrich shows how to make a standing paper structure. The bronze statue outside the building inspired her.
“What I started with was a list of accessible materials. I wanted to start with the most basic like what I knew most households would have access to, which is paper pencil and scissors and a ruler maybe,” says Habrich.
Each Sunday there will be a new video focusing on the gallery’s permanent collection.
“Just some comfort, some autonomy as well: that is what I hope for,” says Habrich. “The instructional videos can be so focused on outcome but really just process, make and mess around.”
Sports fans miss watching and play their favourite games but this is the perfect time to brush up on their sports trivia. Katie Tanner, communications coordinator with the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame (NSSHF) came to the idea of trivia when she was looking for a way to share material from the museum’s book on Nova Scotian athletes.
“We have so many enthusiastic followers who have been following Nova Scotia sport for longer than I have been alive,” says Tanner. “It is kind of a way to go back to the book we made and let people show off their knowledge of Nova Scotia sport history.”
Tanner has been posting trivia to Facebook and Instagram stories every Thursday for the last month. She then posts the answers the next morning. Topics so far have been Nova Scotian sport heritage, Olympians, women in sport, and top university athletes.
The NSSHF is located inside Scotiabank Centre, hosting exhibits and artifacts covering 150 years of sport history. It’s alsosharing resources for working out at home (see Instagram) and an interview with Halifax-born Olympic gymnast Ellie Black. “We are trying to make sure people know there are ways they can still interact and be involved in our organization virtually,” Tanner says.
While they want people to feel connected to the museum, management also wants to instill a sense of community and pride. “Sport is something that is so applicable to all aspects of life, especially now in times that are challenging,” says Tanner. “The stories we learn from sport are about how to overcome challenges and how to persevere at times they may seem slightly impossible.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.