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The story behind the story

Learn how the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic puts together a temporary exhibit

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North From Nova Scotia6

Some museum exhibits may only be temporary, but a large amount of work goes into each new project.

It starts with an idea.

New at the Maritime of Museum of the Atlantic on Lower Water Street is the temporary exhibit North from Nova Scotia. The exhibit shows how Nova Scotia connects to the Arctic with six themes: geography and climate, resource extraction by Europeans, Indigenous adaptions to the landscape, Royal Navy exhibitions of the 19th century, the American quest for the North Pole, and Nova Scotia and the North today.

  • North From NS
    Pop-up signs near the exhibit tell viewers what's on the horizon at in the special exhibit space.
  • North From Nova Scotia2
    A museum technician works on a replica cairn, a key interactive element of the exhibit, as seen through a viewing window in the construction wall.
  • North From Nova Scotia3
    Museum technicians Corey Mullins (left) and Troy Cole (right) work on the cairn activity area.
  • North From Nova Scotia4
    Museum technician Corey Mullins (left) prepares a stand alone display wall, while fellow technician Troy Cole (right) works on the cairn replica.
  • North From Nova Scotia5
    Museum curators Roger Marsters (left) and Gerry Lunn (right) discuss the placement and mounting of artifacts in one of the exhibit display cases.
  • North From Nova Scotia6
    Museum curators Gerry Lunn (left) and Roger Marsters (right) carefully installing a cane made from the tusk of a Narwhal into the exhibit.
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Each year, museum staff begin determining what will fill the temporary space by pondering a list of suggestions. They consider engagement level, feasibility, uniqueness, and if the exhibit can be shared with another museum after.

“We think of the whole thing as an interpretive project where the exhibition end of it is one means we use to relay the message and stories that we’ve chosen,” says Gerry Lunn, curator of exhibitions.

Once they settle on an idea, design and planning begin.

Curators have to find out which artifacts to use and how they tie into an overarching theme. Roger Marsters, curator of marine history and creator of North from Nova Scotia drew on objects that connect to the idea of movement and “how people have moved through these landscapes over time.”

“You don’t want the exhibit to be a bunch of unrelated stuff,” says Marsters. “We needed to identify key themes that would be used to draw these diverse bodies of artifacts images and texts together.”

Some of items chosen were kayaks from Greenland, photographs from Alexander Hugh Sutherland who was on the quest for the North Pole, and cairns or rock piles used to help travellers know where they were.

At the same time other tasks, like fact checking and editing panels in English and French have to be completed and exhibit features like displays, panel typesets and a colour schemes are built or designed. A key display also has to be chosen to promote the exhibit, which for North from Nova Scotia is a ship stuck in the ice.

“We’ve chosen this because the people in the north couldn’t move, even in the summer time, without encountering ice,” says Lunn.

Once everything is completed the exhibit is open to the public and their own interpretations of the display, which staff hope will be positive.

“Even if you only saw one of those six themes, you can still come away with a meaningful story,” says Lunn.

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