Preparing for The Michel Band Exhibit by Celina Loyer

My name is Celina Loyer and I have been working at the Musee Heritage Museum in St. Albert since 2008 as an Aboriginal Programmer. That means that I get to spend my day teaching children (and occasionally adults) about the history of St. Albert, a great job which I enjoy immensely.

Celina leads the ‘I Belong’ education outreach program with a kindergarten class

I readily confess that I don’t know a lot about the “other side” of museum work: curation, preservation, archives, and so on. The people across the hall are very nice, quiet and hard-working, but I was never really entirely sure what they did over there. It would get VERY busy whenever a new exhibit would go up, but it really didn’t affect me much.

That was until about 18 months ago. My boss came to me and said, “We want to do an exhibit on the Michel Band, but it’s not our story to tell. We would like you to guest curate the exhibit. We’ll help you.” I, in my complete lack of knowledge, jumped at the chance.

Michel Band, as it was originally known, is a First Nation which has a long and complicated history intertwined with that of St. Albert and area. You can come in and read it all when it opens. Rather than regurgitate the whole exhibit here, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned about museum work in the last year and a half.

First, the people across the hall that I work with are consummate professionals. They know an amazing amount of the history of St. Albert, and even my own family, some of which I have only learned now. They are also experts in the fields in which they work and we are blessed to have them working here in St. Albert. Without exception, each one could be working at a much larger institution with more recognition (and possibly pay), but they choose to work here.

Celina working on the scrapbook for the exhibit

Second, it may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a whole museum to launch an exhibit. Each one of them has an area of expertise and freely shared that with me. Joanne, the curator, has baby-stepped me through the entire process, from organizing me (no small task), research and writing of the text, and the preparation of the objects. Vino, our archivist extraordinaire, has handled all the photos and documents, with help from Jia Jia, his assistant. Shari, the director, has found money for everything. Kevin is basically a jack-of-all-museum-trades, literally, from building walls and cases, to making lines disappear on digital maps. Even Edna, the smiling face you see when you walk in, has been prepping the gift shop. My boss, Sharon, has let me do this work, rather than only programs, and my programming team has taken up my slack.

Third, a huge amount of care and attention to detail is taken by everyone involved. Facts, names, and dates are checked and re-checked, to ensure that there are no mistakes. Objects are literally handled with white gloves, and carefully packed for preservation. Photos have different resolutions when sent by email (who knew?) and are only used if they are “good enough”.

Fourth, they are all very patient with my lack of knowledge. At no point did anyone make me feel stupid for not knowing. And I truly did not know.

I am a member of Michel First Nation and a councillor. My own Chief and Council have actively supported this exhibit and even shared their own objects, photos and information to make this truly our story, told by us. As well, my husband has put in uncountable volunteer (what he calls volun-told) hours.

Celina’s husband, Darrell, working on the scrapbook for the exhibit

As it gets closer to Sept. 28th and the Opening, I am getting more excited and it promises to be an impressive event. Not because of me, but because of the great team I work with. And for that I am thankful.

The Michel Band Exhibition will be open to the public September 19, 2017 to January 7, 2018 at the Musée Héritage Museum in St. Albert.  Open hours at the museum are Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm and Sunday 1 – 5pm (closed on Mondays).

Join us at the Opening Reception on Thursday September 28, 2017 from 6:30 – 8:30pm. RSVP to museum@artsandheritage.ca