I am a Canadian student from the University of Toronto, now in my third (and final) year of completing both a Masters of Museum Studies and Masters of Information concurrently. This past summer I interned at the Powell-Cotton Museum, primarily working with objects in Gallery 5.
My desire to experience museums abroad (as well as my sense of adventure) led me to making a connection with the PCM; am I ever glad I did! Throughout my time there, several aspects of the PCM stood out to me, not the least of which was the warm welcome and excellent hospitality of the staff, particularly my supervisor Inbal Livne to whom I am eternally grateful.
My day to day work entailed taking objects out of their cases, giving them a check-up, cleaning them, matching them up with their paper catalogue entry, researching whatever I could find about them, and putting all that information together into a growing collections database.
Looking up an object of interest reveals original documentation, materials, creation techniques, cultural names (historical as well as contemporary) and even a map of where it was collected from. While such efforts are all in a day's work for a collections manager, I found this undertaking particularly exciting because the aim is for this catalogue to be made publicly available. I loved being a part of a project that will enable the curious to explore the collection more personally, either by checking it out online, or requesting to know more while looking at it in person.
Working so intimately with these objects was a real treat. Who doesn't want to open a case and pick up something fascinating? Since most of my work took place during open hours, I often felt like the bearer of VIP access as visitors peered over my shoulder into the cases, and I invited them in for a closer look.
Throughout and after my internship, I was in touch with my peers at other institutions, and comparing observations shed light on what (in my view) the PCM does best. One of the things I admired most was the staff's ability to get things done quickly and collaboratively. There was a general atmosphere of communal effort that meant that if a snag became evident in the morning, it was usually addressed by the afternoon, and resolved by the evening. The tight-knit team effort at PCM was the envy of several of my friends, who bemoaned that similar issues regularly took weeks to resolve at their large and rather bureaucratic institutions. Naturally then, I happily trumpeted my pride and pleasure in having such marvellous co-workers.
The other thing I appreciated most about the Powell Cotton Museum is that it is multifaceted, and does not stand still. In the relatively short time I was there, the museum was busy actively participating in modern animal conservation, hosting guest speakers, developing a new gallery, teaching others how to create and use a handling collection, historically restoring the garden, and always planning what comes next. As an outsider, I had the benefit of perspective to see how much the staff has accomplished in a relatively short space of time, and the momentum with which the museum moves forward. The vision and energy at the PCM was tangible, even on 'business as usual' days. It's a place where good things are happening, and will continue to happen, and I am grateful to them for having been a part of it.