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Canadian Museum Association invades Whitehorse

If the past is a foreign country, then the future will be a very disturbing place, according to renowned historian and Whitehorse native son, Ken Coates.

If the past is a foreign country, then the future will be a very disturbing place, according to renowned historian and Whitehorse native son, Ken Coates.

Coates was the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Canadian Museums Association, which was held here this week. This is the second time this event has been held in the Yukon, the first being in 1998, during the centennial of the Klondike Gold Rush.

According to Coates, the future of museums presents many challenges as they look toward the future. The traditional book, music and movie industries are being turned upside down by rapid technological change. The national demographic is morphing as the many new ethnic Canadians are unlikely to travel to the North or be interested in what is up here. The aging population is becoming a huge market for cultural tourism, while the younger generations are headed toward a digital universe.

The biggest challenge will be adapting to the digital revolution embraced by the younger generations, and finding the tools to attract and engage this segment of the population. The most important person on the museum team in the future will be the social media expert, says Coates.

The Canadian Museums Association is the national organization for the museum profession in the country. The theme of this year’s conference was “Cultural Collaborations,” a topic which, according to Mary Bradshaw, the chair of the local organizing committee, was conceived locally. Working together, the Yukon Museums and Historical Association and a team of volunteers spent endless hours with the national organization developing a program for visiting museum professionals. Nearly 300 delegates and exhibitors are attending the event, which officials at the Department of Tourism state will leave nearly a half million dollars during the course of the five-day event.

Addressing the topic of “Collaboration” in The CMA Fellows Lecture on Wednesday afternoon was Rhonda Paku, acting kaihutu of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. “Te Papa,” as it is widely known, is a model of bicultural partnership and multidisciplinary partnership.

In her address, Paku related the story of the slow transition of the Maori people from a population that was objectified in the early Colonial Museum as a dying culture, to its emergence in the 1960s as a vibrant culture struggling for recognition, to a full participant in the expression of its culture today in a national museum. “Te Papa” opened in 1998 and despite growing pains, has matured as a bicultural partnership.

The underlying theme of collaboration at this year’s conference was reflected in many of the presentations in the program, which included examples of partnerships, youth exchanges and collaborative programming. Speakers included a selection from within the Yukon museum community, institutions from across the country as well as others from New Zealand and Italy.

Pre- and post-conference study tours to Kluane, Teslin and Dawson City, as well as tours on the White Pass and Yukon Route were offered to delegates, while others attended workshops on topics related to current museum issues. The evenings were filled with social events sponsored by the Old Log Church, MacBride and Copperbelt Railway and Mining museums.

Events also were offered at the Yukon Arts Centre, where, on Tuesday afternoon, the Yukon Showcase of local talent welcomed delegates to Whitehorse. The showcase performance of Kim Barlow, which included a video pre-recorded in Keno City, combined with her live accompaniment from centre stage, received rave reviews from all who saw it.

Delegates arriving from outside the territory were surprised by the unexpected warm weather. Most who came with sweaters and coats, prepared for the cold weather of the week before found themselves dashing off to local shops in search of sunglasses and sandals. Visitors attending the conference were seen shopping in many stores around Whitehorse.