Last weekend, myself and many Edmontonians paid our last visit to the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) to celebrate its final days in its original location. Thousands of visitors packed the exhibits, taking time to contribute to the museum’s many opportunities to share thoughts and memories. For the first time in my life, this tucked-away museum felt like the popular and essential cultural institution it could and should be.
What can we learn from this?
Museums are so much more than their collections. RAM’s exhibits have hardly changed in decades, offering nothing new for the seasoned visitor. But last weekend it seemed that, for many, it was like visiting for the first time. Adults reminisced about early visits during school trips, bringing up old stories with friends and passing on this sense of wonder and importance to their children.
More importantly, RAM filled the space outside the exhibits by collaborating with local arts organizations. Programming from Happy Harbor Comics, Metro Cinema and the Edmonton Short Film Festival provided opportunities for visitors to get creative while learning about local arts.
The party brought together many new philosophies pressuring cultural organizations today in their fight against obsolescence. Museums are not only the keepers of information and story; they are also connectors. Whether it’s parents, children, strangers or artists, museums bring us together to collectively reflect on where we’re from and where we’re going. In order to survive, museums of the future must embody this in ways far beyond the contents of their exhibits.
When the new and improved Royal Alberta Museum opens downtown, it will have double the space and redesigned exhibits. But if it wants to cement itself as an essential part of our changing cultural landscape, it must continue opening its doors to new opportunities, new partnerships and new ways of sharing our story.V