When Megan Richardson (Class of 1990) graduated, back in the era of floppy disks, AOL and the long forgotten information superhighway, almost no one could have predicted that there would one day be a Virtual Museum of Canada. But Richardson, who didn’t write a paper on a computer until she was in grad school, is now the Virtual Museum’s director.
“The technological revolution is the biggest change in my era, and the advent of social media been very impactful for museums as well,” she says. In her role at the Virtual Museum of Canada, a federally funded investment program managed by the Canadian Museum of History, Richardson supervises the awarding of $2.2 million per year to museums and heritage organizations across Canada to develop online products. These range from virtual exhibits to virtual tours to educational resources.
Richardson says she loves having a job so focused on the big picture. “I have a great 30,000-foot view of an aspect of museology right across the country. To try and get a sense of the digital capacity of Canadian museum professionals and volunteers, it’s an interesting thing to be studying on a daily basis.”
Richardson joined the Ottawa museum world through her Museum Studies internship at the National Gallery of Canada after her first year in the program. Based on that experience, she focused her final year’s major research paper on ways to create new interpretive materials for children to use at the Gallery. “When I finished my degree, they hired me to develop a series of self-guides for teenagers. It was directly related to what I had researched,” she says. “I was basically hired to put my money where my mouth was.”
Following that contract, Richardson became the founding educator of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (CMCP), setting up that institution’s education department. In 2000, key staff from the long-affiliated CMCP were absorbed into the National Gallery and Richardson entered the larger institution’s education department. “It was very much like going from a wind surfer to an ocean liner. CMCP was a little nimble place: I was the only educator,” recalls Richardson. But joining a bigger team of nearly 20 educators also had its perks. “It was fun to have colleagues who ‘spoke education’, a group of peers to bounce ideas off.”
After starting as manager of education and public programs, Richardson moved up to head of the department, leading programming for major summer exhibitions, and getting involved with digital initiatives including developing the first app for collections, and creating a distance learning program and award-winning websites. After eight years in the role, Richardson took on her current position in 2015.
A lifelong creator who still makes her own art (she’s currently into felting), Richardson says her interest in museum studies came from visiting museums as a child. “That dynamic between person and object was always a fascinating space to be in and to explore,” she says, adding that she still visits lots of museums on her many travels. “There’s something about informal learning in a museum setting that I really find very appealing.”