Thursday, November 25, 2010

Yelping Museums

I've been writing up all sorts of reviews on Yelp this year, and today I got to the point where I decided to finally write my 100th review - so I picked a museum! The Royal Ontario Museum, which is my favourite here in Toronto. I now need to kick myself into gear and finally write up reviews for the Ottawa museums I visited way back in MAY. I've got a blog post bare-bones drafted, just need to find the time to plump it and I can post here AND on Yelp. You can read my ROM Yelp review here..

* General *

- First of all, let me get this out of the way - I think the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal looks awesome, and they did a great job of making modern renovations integrate with an older building. (The internal staircases are crazy awesome, too.)
- More generally, the museum is a pretty big one - they've done a reasonable job at making it easy enough for people to find their way around, but I think the wayfinding and signage around the museum could be more obvious and helpful. The maps you get when you enter are a big help though!
- Accessibility-wise the museum is fairly good - wheelchair accessible, large print guides available and a reasonable amount of audio tours/descriptions are on offer. There are even frequent guided tours throughout the day that are free with admission if you're a fan of getting a little guidance and information from docents.
- In addition to this, the ROM runs a great events program and there are often special lectures, tours that tie in with special exhibitions, and the fantastic (and free!) ROM Walks program - through all of this the ROM prove they are not just a building, and foster visitor involvement which is fantastic to see.

* Exhibitions and Galleries *
I could get out of hand with this, so i'm going to try and keep it simple:

- An excellent variety of subject matter on display - natural history, social history, world cultures, ancient cultures, and even a little art and design.
- Great visual draws without dragging you down with too much text to read (yet not leaving you info-starved either!).
- First Peoples gallery is a great feature, deserving of the large gallery space it's been situated in.
- The quality of objects and specimens being exhibited is excellent, and accompanying information is engaging and interesting.
- Recent renovations have really made a difference to not just the quality of space in the galleries, but also the quality of how everything is displayed.
- Some fun hands-on stuff that's probably meant for kids, but that I love even as an adult visitor.
- Special exhibitions are of a reasonable standard, often drawing in international travelling exhibitions (the Terracotta Army one is a great example).

* Practicalities *

- Getting to the museum is pretty much a breeze on the TTC - a short walk from Museum station and not too far to walk from St George, either. It's a pity that there's no internal link from the TTC stations into the museum for bad weather, but it could be worse (like a certain Ontario Science Centre).
- If you're feeling like you might perish from all the exhibition wandering, there are food options within the museum. Downstairs is a cafeteria-like environment with a pretty decent range of food/drinks that aren't actually hideously expensive as far as museum cafe prices go. There is a fancier restaurant/lounge in the upper reaches of the ROM too, if you're feeling in a Yorkville kinda mood.
- The shop feels like a mini-gallery in itself, so much so I feel guilty sometimes when I pick up stuff to look at it. Good range and variety of stuff that covers most (if not all) of the museum's subject range. Clothing, books, trinkets, jewelry, etc.. I just wish they had a bigger range of postcards. Things can run pretty pricey here.
- Ticket prices can be a bit hard on the wallet, but there are some ways to save. Friday evenings from 4.30 - 9.30pm are half price, the CityPass deal means you can save on all sorts of attraction admissions including the ROM, and the Toronto Public Library MAP program (http://www.torontopubl...) offers a limited amount of free tickets to members every Saturday. Sadly the free hour on Wednesday afternoons seems to have passed by the wayside.

For dollar value, for variety of exhibits and for experience, the ROM is pretty much your best bet if you're only going to visit one major attraction like this in Toronto. (It's definitely a comparable quality to other Canadian/North American museums, too.) It's great for repeated visits too, and has a little something for everyone. The only thing stopping me giving the 5th star is the price factor and the inconsistencies in wayfinding around the museum. Definitely worth your time!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Museum funding cuts in the UK

8 UK Museums lose government funding.

I don't want to be pessimistic here - but there are limits to how much a museum can function on public support. I have worked at small museums before that have struggled along because they have little to no paid staff & small operating costs due to the size of the museum. The museums listed in the above article? They are going to struggle and possibly fail.

These are some of the bigger & more well-attended museums in London and the UK. I don't think that the public support and attendance will translate into enough funds for them to carry on as they are. Most who are free will have to introduce an entry fee, which a lot of people will balk at. The Horniman Museum - one with a fantatically rich collection and history - will, according to the above article, "lose more than £4m a year, around 85% of its budget." I suspect that is going to bleed the Horniman dry of staff and resources to the point it will be in danger of shutting down.

I am so sad to see this happen. Every one of these museums has its place, but it doesn't seem to be important to the UK government when it boils down to the numbers. I truly hope this isn't the start of a cultural drought that will leave the UK a desert in years to come.

If you can, get out there and support these museums any way possible!