Collections Management Courses

Courses open for registration

Core Courses

Caring for Museum Collections

This course provides an introduction to preventive conservation. During the 14 weeks of this course, we focus on identifying and quantifying the environmental factors or agents of deterioration that affect collections, and on developing strategies that mitigate those factors. We build our understanding of the materials that make up a museum collection, both in how they degrade and in how they react to their environment and the objects around them. As well, we explore strategies for evaluating conservation requirements for the safe exhibition and storage of museum collections. Finally, we explore the role of an integrated planning and a risk management approach to collections care.

Collections Management

Central to the museum’s existence—from nature preserve to anthropology museum, contemporary art gallery to historical site—is the collection and use of objects and specimens: the material evidence of humans and their environment. This course addresses the roles of those collections within the framework of institutional mission and community objectives, and goes on to explore a range of management topics including:

  • ethics
  • policy
  • technology
  • accessioning
  • cataloguing
  • registration
  • documentation

…along with factors influencing collection development and management.

This course is intended to provide you with a thoughtful and balanced understanding of principles and practices that strengthen your ability to engage and lead the processes of collections development, registration, documentation, access, care, use, and planning. Together we will focus on the roles of collections within the institution and the community and the impact that our changing society and profession is having on managing collections for the future.

Curatorial Planning and Practice

In early 19th century English museums, a curator was the person charged with "keeping" a collection: that is, cataloging, organizing, caring for and displaying the myriad and oft-times chaotic array of objects. In the 20th century, as museums evolved from dusty buildings with monotonous displays into dynamic community- and market-oriented institutions, the curator’s role changed dramatically. Curators were typically scholars responsible for researching and acquiring objects and then working with a designer to develop scholarly and educational displays. Today, in the 21st century, the roles and responsibilities of curators far exceed the traditional "keeper" and "scholar" roles. Whether employed by an organization or working independently, today’s curators act as "cultural producers"—curators research, acquire and care for both tangible and intangible objects, and they also work with diverse communities to create meaningful exhibitions and interpret meaning to the public.

This course is designed to familiarize students with both the theory and practice of curating in art, history, anthropology, science and interdisciplinary museums. The first five weeks of the course will focus on theory, history and ethics. Through reading, analysis and online discussion, students will explore and debate the evolving definitions of what is involved in curating. The remainder of the course will focus on practice. In addition to continued reading and online discussion, students will select one public site in their community and engage in a series of exercises that encourage them to explore best practices in curating. Each student will critique two exhibitions at their case study site, propose the accessioning of an object into that site’s permanent collection, communicate intellectual content for that object to the public through a blog post or tweet, and create a concept and plan for a new exhibition that incorporates that objects for their chosen case study site.

Elective Courses

Building Community Relationships

This course provides a safe place to undertake conversations, create new knowledge and develop workable strategies to contribute to that good society. The course is designed to provide you with new tools and perspectives for inquiry, and practical understanding so that you can work effectively within a rapidly changing world. It also gives you the opportunity to:

  • share your insights with fellow learners
  • build upon your own experience, skills and knowledge
  • critically and creatively meet the challenges facing your organization and profession

Strong, sustained and mutually beneficial relationships with communities are critical to cultural and heritage organizations that seek relevant, positive and socially responsible roles in society. However, while the benefits of meaningful community partnerships are generally recognized across the cultural heritage sector, the knowledge and skills associated with effective community cultural and social development activities are not widely understood or applied.

Communicating Through Exhibitions

This course is about creating exhibitions that communicate clearly, that tell stories well, connect with the visitors as people and get them thinking. 

As a foundation, we shall analyze what makes exhibitions successful and how to look at all exhibitions with a critical eye. Making good decisions throughout the exhibition development process is essential to effective communication.

We will explore the entire planning process, however the primary focus will be on the story and how it is told. Mastering the art of interpretation is essential to creating exhibitions that work for visitors. We will look at the principles of powerful interpretation, the construction of the story and the particular art of writing for exhibitions. And, we will explore the tools a designer uses (including display cases, signage, lighting, digital presentations and more) to construct an exhibition that has a point to make, that moves the visitor emotionally and goes beyond simply conveying information. 

The course relies heavily on real life examples and practical exercises. You will also gain experience in developing interpretive content for an exhibition through collaboration as a member of a team.

Community Engagement and Social Change

Museums and other cultural heritage organizations have the capacity to serve as dynamic social spaces for community engagement and action. This course explores the profound social changes that are reshaping the nature and purposes of museums in a pluralistic society and considers the implications for all aspects of their specialized functions. Participants utilize a group of core resources to assist their learning about how the museum and cultural field has evolved, why social and community engagement is a critical foundation for all other professional practices, and how other organizations have begun their journeys towards engagement. The course introduces participants to a series of skills and practices to initiate, facilitate, and support community engagement and embed them in organizational life. Participants complete either a community engagement assessment of a museum or cultural heritage organization utilizing a number of assessment tools or a community engagement plan, with components on strategy, participants, proposed engagement process / steps, and follow up activities to embed community engagement into ongoing practice.

Curatorship: Contemporary Perspectives

Curatorship: Contemporary Perspectives reflects our growing understanding of the important relationships that exist between museums and their constituents. Museums and other public exhibition sites of all disciplines, sizes and settings are not only mirrors of society but also play influential roles. As societies change, these sites become zones of contestation in which notions of popular and high culture, old and new technologies, science and art, race and gender, individuals and communities interact. They can develop into arenas for important public debates about the definition and creation of a good society.

Museums are no longer expected simply to be civilizing sites of knowledge where the information flows in one direction; they are now places of dialogue where the visiting public and community partners are invited to bring their own perspectives and expertise into the learning and sharing process. Within the museum arena, these perspectives, beliefs and ways of doing things can either collide or fracture apart or they can become new hybrids: fresh sources of greater understanding and collaborative ventures.

Digital Planning for the Cultural Sector

The question is no longer whether digital technologies have a place in museums and cultural organizations, rather the question now is how to best implement them. From providing engaging learner experiences, digitizing collections, improving wayfinding for visitors, curating the visitor journey, connecting with new audiences and streamlining operations, technology has diverse and growing applications in the cultural sector. The Digital Planning for the Cultural Sector micro-credential program looks at ways technology is being used in the cultural sector and gives you the in-demand knowledge and skills you need to help your organization thrive in the digital economy. Embrace the opportunity that technology in the cultural sector can offer.

Digital Planning for the Cultural Sector provides just-in-time training for professionals in the museum, heritage and cultural sector to develop the critical competencies and skills needed to make informed decisions around the future of digital technologies for cultural organizations. Learners will develop a comprehensive understanding of the opportunities for cultural organizations in a digital economy, alongside tools and strategies to successfully plan and implement digital initiatives.

Exhibit Fabrication

Topics covered will include:

  • the basics of case design, layout and installation, including a summary of conservation-approved methods and materials
  • basic lighting of collections
  • simple mount making and support of objects on display
  • how to produce affordable yet professional labels, signage and other graphic elements
  • how to lay out and hang framed artwork
  • ideas for special effects such as scents, sound and light effects, projections, etc.
  • basic faux finishing, sculpting, and molding and casting for creating props, replicas and other creative/decorative elements

Join us to find simple and achievable solutions to your exhibition challenges.

View information on accommodations in Victoria.

Exhibition Planning and Design

Exhibitions are the public face of your museum or gallery. They should inspire powerful visitor experiences. This immersive course examines the entire exhibition development sequence. It explores the principles that lie behind creating successful exhibitions that engage visitors' minds and emotions. It will address the following topics:

  • the foundation of planning
  • the planning process
  • storytelling and interpretive planning
  • exhibition design
  • design of graphics and signage
  • interactive exhibit design
  • fabrication and installation

Fieldwork, teamwork and presentation of an exhibition design concept provide you with opportunities to build exhibition planning and design skills. The course is designed for anyone who is, or might be, involved in planning an exhibition in a museum, gallery, science centre, and heritage site or tourist destination. 

View information on accommodations in Victoria.

Indigenous Cultural Stewardship

Develop an understanding of the historical relationship between the museum/heritage sector and Indigenous communities, and develop foundational knowledge and skills to support the preservation and stewardship of Indigenous tangible and intangible culture and heritage.

Managing Archival Collections

Many museums hold archival materials—including documents, maps, photographs and other documentary evidence—that require specialized care and management. This course focuses on archives as an important component of museum collections and develops your understanding of ways in which archival materials should be organized, managed, preserved and shared.

This course strengthens your understanding of:

  • the nature of archival materials
  • theories, principles, and practices governing archival management
  • legal, administrative, and professional frameworks
  • appraisal, acquisition, and accessioning of archives
  • archival arrangement and description, including the application of archival descriptive standards
  • physical processing and storage
  • the importance of preventive conservation
  • reference services and access issues
  • using archives to enhance exhibits, educational offerings, and outreach initiatives
  • the impact of digital technologies on the management of records and archives
  • the role of archives in culture, heritage and society

While there is common ground between the management of artifacts and the management of archives, recognizing the distinctions is important to caring effectively for documentary materials and increasing their role in the museum environment.

Managing Cultural Organizations

This course provides participants with an opportunity for intensive study of the application of management theory and practice in cultural organizations, with particular emphasis on: characteristics of non-profit cultural organizations; governance and leadership; establishing mission goals and objectives; roles of executive and artistic directors; policy development and implementation; personnel management and team building; financial management; strategic and operational planning; information management; public relations; marketing; volunteer development; and ethical and legal issues.

The course will explore of the role of cultural organizations in society and the complex legal, ethical, and social values that shape our organizations and the people that lead them. Various issues, including leaders and leadership, social relevance and impact, and management systems and tools will also be examined. You will be challenged to critically analyze the trends and tools at your disposal and the role of your management style and values in guiding planning, goal setting, decision-making and evaluation.

Museums as Learning Environments

Education is never neutral but rather, highly political. Museums and art galleries are first and foremost education institutions and therefore, they are not neutral sites of teaching and learning. Through this six-day intensive course we will explore together the complexity of how museums and art galleries understand, are framed, take up and/or resist acting as learning environments. The course will include academic literature, large and small group discussions, site visits, and guest speakers - both educators and curators - who will share with us how they understand and enact education and position exhibitions as sites of learning.

Through these varied means, we will discuss and debate theories of education and learning in general and as applicable to art and cultural institutions, learn about diverse nonformal education activities and philosophies and informal learning strategies, and explore the historical and contemporary pedagogical challenges these institutions face as learning environments in a troubled world. Students will have the opportunity to engage in two education activities - curatorial-pedagogical dreaming and a Museum Hack - and design their own pedagogical programme or activity (complete with education philosophy) for adults, children or an inter-generational audience. There will be an emphasis in this course on education as a means by which museums and art galleries contribute to the pressing social, gender, political and cultural issues we currently face.

Public Programming

In this course, you will examine the critical role of interpretation and public programming in helping museums and heritage organizations engage their communities in meaningful and long-term ways. You’ll explore how organizations can create memorable learning experiences for visitors by understanding their needs, motivations, learning preferences, and contextual influences.

This course also examines:

  • the role of interpretation in public programs
  • the process of developing thematic interpretive content
  • the strengths and weaknesses of various interpretive and program approaches

You will learn about some powerful interpretive strategies that use the senses, material culture, multiple perspectives, stories and memory. You will look at planning, delivery, staffing, management and evaluation issues for a range of public programming approaches that occur on-site at museums and heritage organizations.

This course will also explore community outreach approaches—including the new realm of web-based public programs—and consider how museums and heritage organizations can embrace learning as a valued outcome for internal and external stakeholders and develop effective, long-term community partnerships.

Visitor Experiences

This course explores the evolving concept and implications of an holistic approach to visitor engagement in museums and other cultural heritage institutions. Topics include:

  • museums’ relationships with their publics
  • museums’ capacity to serve as social spaces
  • strategies for audience research
  • the characteristics of visitors
  • communications
  • exhibitions
  • formal and informal learning activities
  • evaluation strategies
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