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Double Master’s grad lands job at Aga Khan Museum

Submitted on Monday, November 12, 2018

When Erin Canning landed a job in her field, after graduating from Mount Allison University with a B.A. in art history and anthropology, she considered herself one of the lucky ones. Entry-level employment in the art world, whether commercial or non-profit, is difficult to come by.

Over the next few years, however, Canning decided that working at private galleries and in client services at Sotheby’s auction house was not for her. “I don’t like sales,” she explained. “It was great related work immediately out of undergrad but it wasn’t the kind of work I wanted to pursue.”

Instead, she headed back to school to try to solve some of the problems she had encountered in her four years on the job in the art world, including the fact that its information systems weren’t meeting its needs.

Erin Canning testing photo booth with colleague

Erin Canning (right), with Marketing Manager Sahar Bhaloo, testing out the functionality of a photo booth installed in the main entrance of the Aga Khan Museum. The photo booth was a digital project that ran at the Museum over Summer 2018.

While working, Canning had seen software systems that were overwhelmingly large, difficult to figure out, and one size fits all. There was a steep learning curve that was difficult for users without tech backgrounds to master.

Information was also too “siloed,” causing difficulties associating client, artist and inventory information, for example. If a gallery received a new work by an old client’s favourite artist, there might not even be automatic notification.

In 2015, Canning enrolled at the Faculty of Information in concurrent Master of Information and Master of Museum Studies programs. Her specialty was Information Systems Design and User Experience Design.

During her three years of study, Canning made a point of not just studying, but getting as involved as possible in the digital museum community. “I know this gets said a lot, but what you get out of it is what you put into it. Don’t be scared to reach out. I wanted to use the opportunity of being a student to have conversations, go to conferences, get funding.”

She found Twitter, which she describes as “huge with the museum technology community” to be especially vibrant. “Everyone’s on there and talking actively,” she said. “It’s a good place for this little community.”

Earlier this year with graduation rolling around, Canning was still facing uncertainty about her job future. To keep in the loop, she applied successfully to speak at various conferences about her thesis work on building information systems for art museums.

Then, in the week leading up to her thesis defence, Canning was offered the position of  Digital Platform Administrator at Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum. It was a permanent fulltime position that  she originally discovered on an online job board. “I was over the moon,” she said.

Coincidentally, Canning’s boss, Hussein Rajabali, is another Faculty of Information Class of 2018 graduate. His studies were in knowledge and information management with a focus on identity, privacy and security. He and Canning never met during their time at the Faculty,  but he was able to assess her skill set and wanted someone who knew the museum world.

In the new gig, Canning says she does a “a little bit of everything when it comes to digital information systems and museums” including managing the back end of the website and looking at how systems have been set up and are being used. “I’m kind of just involved in any digital initiatives being discussed at the museum,” she says. “It’s an ideal job.”

Read another Class of Fall 2018 success story: Co-op grad now does the hiring