Over 10 years ago, I started my first job at a museum as a “costumed interpreter” at a historic site. When I told my grandma about the job she replied, “I didn’t know you spoke another language.” In fact, I hadn’t heard the word “interpreter” referring to those knowledgeable and friendly folk I had encountered in museums before either. Interpreters, docents and gallery animators bridge the gap between a museums collection and its visitors. They make exhibition content relevant and accessible and, hopefully, make the visitor’s experience more memorable.
Two weeks ago, 20 new volunteers completed their training to become Behind the Scenes gallery interpreters at the Royal BC Museum. They are joining over 110 dedicated people who give their time (over 11,000 hours in 2009) to share BC’s story with our visitors. While I was preparing for the training I realized that there are some great opportunities that happen thanks to our volunteers:
- someone to show you how to pan for gold and encourage you to put your hands into the cold water;
- someone to point out the highlights of the museum and the artifacts that often get missed – like Captain Cook’s murder weapon;
- someone to take school-children into the gallery and help them learn about Simon Fraser, mammals, climate change, natural resources and life a century ago.
Royal BC Museum School Program Volunteers
Recently, the museum received an email from a visitor, Garth Von Buchholz, who had visited the museum’s feature exhibition, Treasures: The World’s Cultures from the British Museum. Because we had wonderful and experienced volunteers, the British Museum sent us some artifacts from their handling collection including a 4,000-year-old terracotta British/Romano oil lamp, like the one found here. Exclamations of “wow” were common. Mr Von Buchholz was so inspired by his experience that he wrote, and has since published, the following poem:
Terracotta Oil Lamp
Terracotta oil lamp, nearly two millennia balanced in the palm of my hand: An archaic flashlight for some Mesopotamian householder. Hands over centuries transferring it from one owner to the next,
And to think that in its newest state, a sleepy flame from its spout
Cast a glow upon a bed, a table, a wife’s face, a scroll or a book,
Illuminating the momentary life that burns faster than oil.
Have you been inspired by an interpreter or docent? Share your story on the blog.