Gold, Elaine – abstract

Elaine Gold, Director, Canadian Language Museum, Toronto, Canada

Developing Exhibits for the Canadian Language Museum

Since its founding in 2011, the Canadian Language Museum has created a travelling exhibit each year about an aspect of language in Canada. We now have exhibits about each of Canada’s official languages, English and French; about the two largest Indigenous languages, Cree and Inuktitut, and an exhibit that gives an overview of all of the languages spoken in Canada. Each exhibit has been curated by a small group of students in the graduating year of the Master of Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto, under my supervision and in collaboration with linguistic experts and native speakers of the languages in question. These exhibits have toured to dozens of venues across the country.  In September 2016 we opened our 1400 square foot gallery space at Glendon College in Toronto.

In this talk I will discuss some of the challenges we have faced in creating engaging and informative exhibits about Canada’s language heritage. Some challenges reside in the knowledge the individual visitor brings to the exhibit:

• the visitor might have no knowledge at all of the language being discussed, or stereotyped and erroneous preconceptions
• the visitor might have little or no familiarity or social contact with speakers of those languages
• the viewer might have no familiarity with linguistic concepts and terminology

As curators we have to make many decisions about the content of each exhibit, and answer such questions as:

• Why is this language or language issue important?
• What aspects of the language should we discuss?
• How do we introduce linguistic concepts and explain terminology?
• How can we capture this primarily oral heritage in a primarily visual exhibit?
• How can we integrate the visual and audio aspects of the exhibit?
• How can we present the information for maximum impact?
• How do we guarantee that the content is accurate and respectful?

I will discuss the ways in which the curatorial teams dealt with the above challenges and worked with advisors to arrive at the final exhibit content. I will illustrate my discussion with examples drawn from three of our exhibits: ‘Speaking the Inuit Way’, ‘Cree: The People’s Language’ and ‘A Tapestry of Voices: Celebrating Canada’s Languages’.  I will point out, too, those aspects of the exhibits that have turned out to be the most interesting to visitors.  Our exhibits are created specifically for the Canadian public and I will put my presentation in the context of Canadian attitudes to bilingualism, multilingualism, language retention and the revitalization of Indigenous languages.

Canadian Language Museum Opening, 2016