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Museum Studies student rethinks ROM’s Discovery Gallery

Submitted on Monday, March 06, 2023

Museum Studies student Marcel Robitaille describes himself as an emerging museum professional and proud Indigenous Canadian, who’s keenly interested in Canadian and Indigenous histories, as well as the ways immersive engagement in those histories can be created for museum visitors.

Over the summer of 2022, Robitaille completed an internship with the Institute for Learning Innovation, an independent not-for-profit organization, where Museum Studies lecturer and alumna, Judith Koke, is Deputy Director. His assignment was to contribute to a report on the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) Discovery Gallery, which closed at the beginning of the pandemic after more than 40 years of operation.

The ROM’s intent is to renovate, revise and reconceptualize the popular family and learning space with a focus on reconciliation and interdisciplinarity. The museum wants something “very playful, less directed by experts, and based on its collections,” said Koke, whose organization was hired to write a report outlining the principles and ideas that should shape the design of the space.

Marcel Robitaille on assignment at the ROM’s Discovery Gallery office. As part of his internship he completed a documentation review, helped survey Museum members, and co-authored a report. Next up he will be talking to ROM employees about the report.

Robitaille’s role in the project was to lead a review of decades worth of ROM documentation of the Discovery Gallery as well as to explore the best practices found in the literature on playful learning, family learning, and use of digital interactives in similar and relevant spaces. “I spent a lot of time reaching out to people in order to gather their thoughts on previous iterations [of the Gallery] and how we can improve the next one,” said Robitaille, who was awed by the resources available at the ROM.

Robitaille also worked to make clear the fundamental land-based, holistic and interdisciplinary nature of Indigenous pedagogy, and how well it could support the ROM’s intentions for the space. He pointed out the importance of storytelling in identity development as well some of the key differences in story telling in western and indigenous cultures.

The team also did a membership survey as the Discovery Gallery was “a much beloved space,” according to Koke, who noted how innovative it was at the time of its opening in 1977.

Robitaille will be an author of the final report and also speak at workshops to inform museum employees about the report’s recommendations.