Creativity comes alive at the Royal BC Museum

Nikki Koutsochilis
Nikki Koutsochilis

I was an artist-in-residence at the Royal BC Museum. Well, at least I pretended to be for a few hours last Saturday at the Creative Collections Workshop. Creative Collections is a new program in which participants engage artistically with the museum. We got to peek behind the scenes, find an object that inspired us, and create a piece of art.

We met amongst boxes of pipe-cleaners, pastels, and popsicle sticks in the arts and crafts room. There were three leaders (Kim Gough—Adult Learning Team Lead, Chris O’Connor—Family and Schools Program Producer, and Megan Anderson—Exhibit Fabrication Specialist), six participants, and two “community champions” (volunteers Ben Fast and Lauren Chancellor). We began by cutting up photos from the archives (relax, they were prints) and turning them into name-tag buttons (mine featured Canadian suffragette Nellie McClung). Gough asked us to introduce ourselves and our favourite creative outlets. Answers ranged widely, including writing, photography, dancing, and interior design. But, we were all there for one reason—to create. OK, two reasons—to snoop around the museum and to create.

Gough and O’Connor took us on a tour of the collections. Our first stop was the Vertebrate Lab, where we saw shelves full of whale skeletons, mountain-goat horns, and fuzzy bats. Next up, the Entomology Lab, with its shudder-inducing assemblage of big bugs: “I’m glad I’ve never seen one of these live,” one participant said, holding up a jar with a giant centipede inside.

Afterwards, we walked through the Modern History collections, where O’Connor pointed out his favourite item—a nurse’s belt from the First World War, with a record of every place she was stationed hand-written on the inside. In each room, the leaders let us look through drawers and choose inspirational items for our final project. It was like being on a field trip—one where the grown-ups trusted you to wander off.

We wrapped up our tour and headed back to the classroom. Earlier, I had chosen a big cockroach in a jar as my object of inspiration. To me, this program was about the act of discovery—a concept which I find both wonderful (in a creative sense) and silly (Christopher Columbus, anyone?). So I penned a fictitious historical letter from non-existent entomologist, Sir Reginald Futts, about his discovery of the world’s only talking cockroach. (Spoiler alert: he killed it).

At the end, we all showed off our creations. There were all manners of art objects: an abstract painting, a photo collage, and even a butterfly chrysalis woven out of straw. Then we spoke about what we got out of the experience: “I wanted to tap into my creativity, which I haven’t done for a long time,” one of the participants said. I agreed. I haven’t been let loose in a room full of art supplies in ages, and it was great to have the freedom to do it again.

The resulting creations were featured in the Early Shift: Creative Collections event Nov. 21. The Early Shift featured the museum’s real artists-in-residence: Aimée vanDrimmelen, Lindsay Delaronde, and Gareth Gaudin.  Events included sketching stations, light painting photography by Shane Lighter, and new soundtracks for Modern History dioramas—recorded by UVic Anthropology of Sound students.