GLAM Symposium Invites new thinking on Collaboration

From time to time our Know History team members contribute stories to the History Hub on things that inspire and interest them. Below is a short piece by Senior Associate Rebecca Clarke on the GLAM symposium she attended in January 2018.

I had the opportunity this week to attend the GLAM Symposium “Taking it to the Next Level” at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. For those who don’t know, GLAM stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. This second annual symposium offered a number of amazing speakers who spoke about their experiences in bringing together these four sectors, which have distinct mandates but similar overarching purposes. The underlying theme for the symposium was collaboration, not only between the GLAMs but also between GLAMs and other organizations. In particular, I was moved by the conversation in the GLAMs and Indigenous Communities panel.

I have participated in a number of similar events focusing on how museums can and should work with Indigenous communities. However, this time I was struck by something new. Often, the conversation between museums and local Indigenous communities starts with an invitation from museums to Indigenous groups to help the museum tell the Indigenous group’s story/share their objects/present their culture. Hearing Chief Dr. Ronald E. Ignace of the Skeetchestn Band describe how viewing his people’s cultural objects in museums makes him feel “incarcerated” made me question the premise with which we (in the GLAM sector) are framing our conversations.

What makes us think exhibits, events or programs are the way Indigenous groups should choose to share their culture? Maybe there are other ways of sharing cultural experience that GLAMs have not considered. Or maybe the GLAM sector needs to better support the work that Indigenous communities consider their priority. In the spirit of new collaborations, I think it is time for GLAMs to listen to Indigenous groups to hear if and how they want to share their culture, and to offer as much support as we can.

This idea was brought home to me with the remarks of Jack Lohman, CEO of the Royal BC Museum. He made the point that GLAMs should be asking for funding to support collaboration in and of itself, and not just to produce an exhibit or program. If we truly want to start working together, whether to break down the barriers between our sectors, or to seek reconciliation with Indigenous groups and others, we must find the time and space to do so. For GLAM sector organizations and Indigenous groups who already have limited resources, one path to foster this is through funding. Funding to create the time and space just to listen. Funding to build relationships regardless of outcome. It is creating these relationships and fostering new understandings that will help us all to improve how we work and what we do, and build a strong foundation for future work together.