The Rise and Fall of Emilio Picariello travelling exhibit that opened at the Fernie Museum on September 19, 2015 revealed a deep-seated desire to understand Fernie’s past. This was particularly true for members of the Italian community. At museum visits and the Chautauqua event people came to speak to me about the information in the exhibit about Italian pioneers. A number revealed that they were descendants of some of the people mentioned. Spontaneously, a group of Italian community members including Mayor Mary Giuliano met at the Museum to discuss a research project, which I was invited to lead.
The International Council of Museums defines museums as institutions that are “in service to society and its development.” Their core functions – collection, preservation, research, intrepretation and public programs – are vehicles for community service and for public engagement.
Twenty-first century museums are under pressure to demonstrate, in tangible ways, the value that they offer to their communities defined in geographic and demographic terms, and also as “communities of interest.” They must be vehicles for building community identity and pride, for economic development and also for formal and informal education.
In order to position the museum to be able to undertake a series of community engagement activities, board, staff and volunteers must constantly be involved in mapping community characteristics, interests and needs. Since the museum cannot be everything to everyone, strategic partnerships must be sought as well as relationships with potential stakeholder groups. Among the most important are the ethnocultural communities, from past to present, that have helped to build the geographic community, and which today make up the museum’s core audiences.
The Picariello exhibit was the catalyst for the development of an Italian Cultural Memory Project and, in the next year, a whole range of activities will be undertaken to build new knowledge of Italian community history in Fernie from the pioneer era to the present.
This project will create a template for working with other ethnocultural communities and communities of interest served by the Fernie Museum and Archives. It will build archival and museum collections as well as knowledge of the history of Fernie and the Elk Valley. It will provide opportunities for members of Fernie’s pioneers families to share their stories and artifacts and documents associated with them with the Museum and the community at large. The information gathered will be used to create archival exhibits, enrich programming and perhaps even result in a publication.
Adriana A. Davies
Fernie’s Italian Cultural Memory Project Research Consultant