The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an unusual historic precedent, one that staff members at the Musée Héritage Museum hope to mine for historic posterity with the public’s help. The roots of this new cultural venture actually extend back in time only about 12 months, starting with the 2019 exhibit called Pandemic, which is coming back in a new form along with other new programs, too.
“We were just actually this time a year ago taking down the exhibition Pandemic! A Cautionary Tale, which had talked about pandemics over time that had affected our community previously, going back to the smallpox epidemic in the 1870s,” explained Shari Strachan, the museum’s director, remembering back to the exhibit’s development that the museum’s curator and researchers discussed the possibility of a future widespread disease.
“We knew that this was a ‘when, not if’. We talked about the possibilities of pandemics and how it would be different next time around.”
Now that it’s here, the staff hope to capture as much information and material about the public’s experiences as possible.
Starting on Wednesday, anyone from St. Albert and the surrounding communities can send their documented experiences to the public call for submissions via an online form at museeheritage.ca or by email to [email protected]. Those experiences – including photos and videos – will become another facet to the larger exhibit that illustrates how periods of major illnesses changed the course of local and global history.
“We're wanting to know how people are managing this, how they're feeling about it, how they're coping. It can be any kind of input. It can be pictures that kids are doing even for their school projects. Even the idea of, how do you feel about school online?” she continued.
“We're gathering this to add to that earlier exhibition, but it will now become part of it as we live this history. It becomes part of our community's story that moving forward will continue to be told.”
All of this material is very pertinent and will make for an excellent public record as well, she emphasized. There will be a section on the community impacts of the current pandemic, complete with written material or short audio or video testimonials from the public. People can share how their lives have changed, or offer their scrapbooks of photos and other items related to how they managed through these strange circumstances. It will become a permanent fixture on the website for the future.
Heritage Moments, the St. Albert way
The public participation in the updated Pandemic exhibition is just one of the ways museum staff are offering programming when the doors to the museum and the heritage sites can’t be physically open.
The Musée now also offers regular short videos as part of Arts and Heritage St. Albert’s commitment to “creating exceptional activities and services for people even during a time like this,” Strachan added.
Look for ‘Online videos and activities’ on the organization’s website or on its Youtube channel (search for ‘Arts and Heritage St Albert') to view its new series of Museum Moments, Archive Moments, Heritage Sites Moments and even Gallery Moments and Art Minutes from staff at the Art Gallery of St. Albert. The channel just launched last week but Strachan said that this is an idea that was ready and waiting for the right moment, such as this moment is.
“It's interesting. We've talked about these things for a long time, and we've done them in fits and spurts, but now we have the opportunity to truly explore it and begin working on it. Hard as this all is for everyone, it does open up opportunities to to do some of those things that have been on the shelf for a while.”