Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.
- First Nations Proverb
I’m currently the Curatorial Assistant at the Loyola Chapel Development Project, located in the Montreal neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce at Concordia University’s Loyola Campus. This space has a long tradition as a Roman Catholic parish in the West End of Montreal, and lies in a part of town that is in many ways planned around the campus of the old Loyola College. I came to this project with very little knowledge of the Chapel, other than that it was a Roman Catholic place of worship and that my partner’s parents had been married there in the mid-1980s. Since I’m not Catholic I hadn’t ever thought to enter the space, and I found myself aware of the Chapel only as a peripheral object as I wandered around the Loyola Campus to go to class, use the library, and catch the inter-campus shuttle.
I first heard of the changes in the Chapel’s vision through an email I received as a member of the Concordia Oral History Centre’s mailing list. According to this email, the Chapel was changing its orientation to become a multi-faith space with programming and activities intended to promote spiritual wholeness and artistic creativity. My interest was immediately piqued by an invitation from the Chapel’s administrative staff for someone to coordinate an oral history project to honour the Chapel’s history and heritage. As a public historian and museologist who is increasingly interested in the possibilities of oral history as a storytelling and narrative device, this seemed to be the ideal convergence of my interests.
I’m starting this blog with a couple of goals in mind. Firstly, I’m rather new to the roles and responsibilities of curatorship, and I want to share my experiences as I both struggle with challenges and celebrate small victories. Most of all, I want to share with my “thrill of discovery” as I hear stories and touch objects that are part of the Chapel’s history. Secondly, I am committed to the idea of shared authority, a central philosophical and methodological position of public and oral historians. To put it succinctly, this means breaking down some of the traditional roles and assumptions around curatorship, and to share responsibility for creative and archival processes with people not usually included in these activities. It means breaking down the walls between the people who create exhibitions and author historical interpretations, and the people who would traditionally receive and view them. It means adding new and traditionally underrepresented voices to public dialogues on history and memory. I find all of these ideas exciting and fundamentally democratic. But subscribing to an idea and then putting it into practice in one’s own life and/or work are drastically different things. This project is my testing ground.
I hope that you’ll join me on this journey of discovery, and that you’ll add your own voices to the discussion by commenting frequently and at length to my postings. I welcome all perspectives!