Member Spotlight: Canadian Heritage Information Network

This post is part of our MIDEA Member Spotlight Series, where we feature projects, initiatives, and news from the museums and institutions that make us so dynamic.

The relationship between museums and emerging technology hasn’t always been an intuitive one, but the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN), a Canadian government agency, has been working for nearly 40 years to bring the two together seamlessly. When I look back on the museum experiences of my childhood, I recall standing behind a velvet rope, gazing at paintings and sculptures before being herded to the next without truly discerning any meaning. As a result, art often felt flat to me, and so far away. CHIN has found a remedy, connecting both art savants and novices to exhibits across Canada utilizing interactive multi-media.

Today, CHIN’s enthusiasm for technology is reflected in its members — 1,400 Canadian heritage institutions are engaging their audiences using digital media through the virtualmuseum.ca (VMC), a rich, interactive source of the latest museum news and collections. VMC is the go-to guide when planning a museum outing, or researching museum collections in Canada. People can get a head start on their trips by playing a VMC game tied to an exhibit. The Cobalt Mining Museum experience at CHIN, for example, includes an online silver rush simulation, where participants choose a character and are involved in the history that unfolds. Journey into Time Immemorial, created in collaboration with the Sto:lo Website Development Committee and the Xa:ytem Interpretive Centre, is an award-winning virtual exhibit that conveys how peoples’ oral traditions connect with the scientific facts.

The theme of fostering deep connections with audiences underscores another CHIN initiative, Community Memories, which awards $5,000 to local museums that commit to garnering community involvement in their proposals. CHIN helps the winners develop local history online exhibits that depict the people and events that defined a specific community. Launched in 2003, Community Memories now has over 350 participating Canadian museums. In turn, the audiences for these museums have access to a rich, digital history of the communities that are important to them.

“The messages we get from [people viewing the online exhibits] are so heartfelt and personal,” says Sheila Carey, Audience and Program Analyst at CHIN. “Plus, we’re helping small institutions get online in ways they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

Always future-focused, CHIN built the Professional Exchange — a space that makes the overwhelming notion of online engagement far less daunting.  Heritage workers collaborate on ideas, share their stories, and learn new tools and techniques together. If a museum is struggling with ways to digitize exhibits and add interactive components, the Professional Exchange offers a helpful repository brimming with guides, articles, and first-hand accounts.

CHIN’s message — inherent in all the resources, exhibits, and stories — is critical. By utilizing emerging technologies, museums can transform the way people view heritage. New life is breathed into exhibits simply because people are engaged on a deeper level through interactive features. That velvet rope that once separated audiences from exhibits is gone; CHIN encourages the audience to actively participate in their heritage.

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