Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Volunteers and the Vibrant Museum

This coming Friday March 20, 2015 the Museum of Antiquities will be hosting its annual volunteer appreciation event.  The event, which includes a wine and cheese reception, is held not only to acknowledge and thank the volunteers for the hundreds of hours they put in at the Museum every year, but also to celebrate their many successes gained through the experience and knowledge obtained while at the Museum.

As many of you know, the Museum has been around for some forty years now.  In some ways, the Museum and its collections had humble and lonely beginnings.  The collection was homeless for its first few years and had a keeper who wanted to reserve the collection for academic eyes only, as well as librarians who felt the nude statues should be covered up with fig leaves, or better yet locked away behind closed doors.  Fortunately in the early 1980s, a new permanent home for the collection was found in the Murray Library along with a new curator, Ms. Catherine Gunderson, which led to birth of the Museum’s volunteer program.  The first volunteer was Brian Hubner, a Master’s student in the Department of History.  Since then the program has grown from a few volunteers to a substantial 15-25 volunteers at any given time.  The majority of these volunteers are University of Saskatchewan students, but there are also several high school students and members of the general public.  The volunteers receive training and provide support in many areas of our Museum’s day-to-day operations including collections management and research, exhibit design, and educational and outreach programming.  Since the program began more than 125 people have served as volunteers of the Museum.

I became acting director and then full-time director of the Museum of Antiquities starting in 2008.   While my job as director includes many facets such as teaching, curating, research and administration, the part of my job that I find most fulfilling and rewarding is leading the Museum’s wonderful team of volunteers.   The volunteers have heard me say this many times before, but I WILL say it again, and again, and again: the Museum would not be as successful as it is without the help of its many volunteers.  As the only full-time staff person at the Museum there is no way that I alone could plan, organize and especially execute all of the programming that the Museum does.  The volunteers, who come from a wide range of academic backgrounds (Classics, History, and Education to name a few), have played a key role in helping the Museum to do all the things that the “Big Guys” do, such as special exhibits, conservation and preservation of artifacts, children’s summer camps, programs for elementary and high school classrooms, and cultural and community outreach initiatives.  And the list most certainly goes on.  I know I am blowing the Museum’s collective horn here, but one of the programmers from the Western Development Museum, arguably the largest museum in Saskatoon, considers the Museum of Antiquities to be one of Saskatoon’s “Big Three” museums, not because of its size, but because of the impact on the community of everything we are able to do.  None of this would be possible without the help of the volunteers.

Another thing that I am very proud of and willing to shout out from the rooftops is the success our volunteers have had once they leave the Museum.  The experience the students gain while volunteering and working here as student staff also has a significant impact.  I too was a volunteer of the Museum of Antiquities while doing my undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Saskatchewan.  I credit my Museum experience with helping me to achieve several professional successes including my PhD in Classical Archaeology from the University of Alberta, as well as being selected for the prestigious American Numismatic Society Summer Graduate Student Seminar in 2004.  One of the curators who taught me at the seminar said my Museum experience played a key role in my being selected.  Other former student volunteers have also done very well professionally, including Anneka Richer, manager of the Children’s Discovery Museum in Saskatoon, Carla Watson, manager of Admiralty House Communications Museum in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, and Sarah Vela, IT specialist and information architect at the University of Waterloo.  The list of Museum success stories is long and I wish I could list them all here, but I look forward to seeing the list grow!  Many students have said to me that the Museum played an integral part in their success.

This being my first blog I don’t want to go on and on, even though I have many wonderful stories to tell about our volunteers.  I look forward to taking the opportunity thank our volunteers formally this coming Friday.  And I am sure I will have much to blog about them in the years to come!

By: Dr. Tracene Harvey

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