Museums Will Save the World
SHA is about museum leadership and it will change you. Today is graduation day and I am a strikingly different person from the “three weeks ago Janna”. The seminars are mind-expanding and challenging: they question not only what one is doing in life and leadership but also how one is doing it (including the anatomy of values and principles underlying the “what”), how to do it better and most importantly, why.
Orientation and finding connection are important in these seminars. The first week was an “entry” week, a “come on in”, setting tone and character with humor and insightful sessions. It felt like an invitation, but in the best sense it was an imperative. Do you remember a time when you stumbled in somewhere and suddenly felt at ease, utter camaraderie, urgency to become a better person, to contribute to creating a more inclusive and thoughtful society? This characterizes SHA. It has provided me with the tools, connections and inspiration to make the world better.
We (individuals) can do this. We (museums) can do this. But first things first. The organizational health which is the foundation of the museum will determine how big your big ideas can grow. Pay attention to the details, have them guide you, give them tough love: finance, budgeting, organizational structure, planning processes.
Museums are integral businesses. The business case is relevance.
Great management of the pieces of the “plant” are of value, but if not relevant measured in the context of society, community and culture, they lend nothing to meaning. The “relevance” makes these institutions real and allows them to share transformational experiences with visitors. Relevance spurs support, ideas flourish, and lends sustainability in that it creates revenue. Relevant museums do well in every sense. They are truly healthy entities in and of themselves and in what they deliver and contribute to community.
The big idea is that museums are places of community spirit – its their raison d’etre. They are places which provide for reflection in that they help us know ourselves. Museums talk about us, how we came to be, who we are, about what is happening today, and they give us a space to talk about what drives us: family, economics, dreams, whimsy, safety in a turbulent world, personal or family vision.
What is transportation? What is Yukon transportation? A two dimensional appraisal suggests that it is about engines, containment vessels (for humans or things), and infrastructure such as roads, airports, and rail track.
When looked upon from the third dimension, the entire frame changes.
Transportation becomes a human endeavour and it is the stories behind the movement of people, their physical things, and most revealing, their ideas. It is a necessity of all humanity and a unifying story. It is that airplane you first flew into town on. Its reliance: how the Yukon froze (figuratively speaking) when a backhoe in the northern British Columbia (our southern neighbor) dug up the only internet cable that links the 38,000 Yukoners to the World Wide Web. it is a memorable trip of the highway that made you want to live here. It is that Toronto newspaper in the Macs Fireweed Books that reminds you of home, it’s a recreational snowshoe trip where you made a friend, its all the times you ran your trapline because of the many ways it sustains you. It is trucks and planes and crazy overland Cold War Land Trains. And, it’s an international trip two hours to the US port of Skagway because it has a great Thai restaurant.
Where the Yukon Transportation Museum is concerned, it is a place to discuss urgent issues of social conscience: a drinking culture where drinking and driving remain commonplace; energy reliance and how we feed thirsty vehicles (a 98% reliance today); dog adoration and abuse; food security and networks and mixing locally grown with necessities from elsewhere.
It is a place where conversation can take place about current issues like Syria and immigration with our community. Where debate around the acceptance or rejection of refugees can be put in context by comparing and contrasting the changes experienced in the Yukon by its two historical and particularly frenetic times of territorial change – the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, and the building of the Alaska Highway in seven months over an initial 1800 miles. More recently the temporary foreign worker debate is a pertinent discussion of transportation in the Yukon. People live here and people come from elsewhere. Let’s talk about it.
YTM is now 25 years old and is firmly rooted in the community. Its ongoing success will be measured by its endeavours to engage new audiences, to reflect on the present and to deepen its relationships with current audiences. It’s relevance and therefore its business case is in its ability to help us all know ourselves more and to want to make the world a better place. This is where the physical meets the value proposition, which is the need to realize imagination and thinking within society, ultimately the pursuit of a civilization of quality, measured through its overarching societal health: physical, intellectual, spiritual.