The Royal Ontario Museum Turns 100: A Q&A with CEO Janet Carding
This March the Royal Ontario Museum turns 100 – a milestone, even if it is still a baby compared to the millions-of-years-old artifacts it houses. In anticipation of the centennial, I sat down with the ROM’s Director and CEO, Janet Carding, to discuss the museum’s history, it’s relevance, and a highlight of the big birthday plans – throwing the doors to the collections open so “people see things that you can only see once in a hundred years.”
MIKE CRISOLAGO: A lot of the centennial celebrations are still being planned, but you’ve noted that the centerpiece of those plans includes the general public having the chance to venture behind the scenes. Give us an example of something you have in storage that would amaze people to see.
JANET CARDING: We have meteorites that have come from the moon, and meteorites that have come from Mars. One of the things that we sometimes allow people to do is hold a piece of Mars. We’ve [also] got a whole jewel collection and a lot of it is Christian Dior, [and] we have textiles that are thousands of years old that we’ve been protecting.
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MC: The ROM’s centennial is a celebration of its history, but in many ways the museum also reflects the history of so many Canadians.
MC: Imagine you get a call from one of your researchers out in the field, and they say, “You’ll never believe what we’ve discovered…” What would you like to hear at the end of that sentence?
JC: One of our scientists is working with NASA to analyze some of our meteorites from Mars and from the moon, and if they phoned up and said that they’d found proof of life on Mars I think that’d be pretty special. [Laughs]
MC: What does the museum of the next 100 years look like?
JC: I think museums are going to feeling like a more dynamic work in progress. When we get a new phone every two years, why would we expect you build a gallery and it would have a 20-year lifespan? And I think for the visitor, whoever they are, they’re going to feel as at home exploring the physical space [as they do] exploring the museum digitally. Thinking about (the ROM) as a living organism is great, because actually it’s about reanimating the museum.
MC: Finally, a very important question: If you were locked in the ROM overnight and all the exhibits came to life ala the movie “Night at the Museum,” what part of the museum would you want to be in?
JC: I would love to be in the Egyptian gallery. Such a lot of Egyptian history has come down to us that we feel as though we know people from this culture, but I think if you actually met someone from that culture and they came to life it would be fascinating.