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Aug. 4, 2020 | Tuesday
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NOTL Museum thinks big with mobile Tiny Museum
A design rendering of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum's new Tiny Museum, which will debut at the Santa Claus Parade Dec. 14. (supplied)

Local history and culture will soon hit the road with the launch of Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum’s Tiny Museum – a 7-by-16-foot miniature replica of the centre’s link-building of the museum, on wheels.

The travelling structure will provide dynamic exhibits and offer modified programming to match the Ontario school curriculum. It will also give the museum more community exposure by giving the organization a clear, interactive presence during festivals and town events.

Faith Bell, past president of the museum’s board, said she came up with the idea for a mini museum built on a trailer after seeing “tiny homes” on TV.

“I love watching shows about tiny houses. I think it’s a great idea,” Bell said. “Libraries have bookmobiles. Why can’t a museum have a tiny museum that travels around?”

Bell said the concept solved a “convergence of needs” for the museum. The board’s strategic plan called for more community exposure, she said, and it also wanted to reach out to area schools more effectively.

The museum’s managing director and curator, Sarah Kaufman, said the idea is to take the museum experience into the community, especially to schools. She said many schools have trouble funding activities and field trips.

“We’ll bring whatever they’re interested in, whatever they pick from our program, and put original artifacts inside. They can come inside and look at the objects on display and talk about the programming,” Kaufman said.

As far as she knows, no other museum has developed an idea like this. Many offer programming on the go but she said she hasn’t come across anything like the Tiny Museum before.

“Other museums do go out to schools and they have their education program kits and stuff, but this will be an entire miniature museum. The museum is coming to them,” she said.

But right now, the tiny building is still in the construction phase. Kaufman said she hopes it will be ready to take to schools by September 2020.

After confirmation of a $124,900 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation in early 2019, she said they were able to move forward with construction.

The $156,000 project was partially paid for by private donors, and the Trillium grant covered the rest.

“That (grant) helps with the build and also helps to purchase the vehicle to tow it. We had a few private donors as well – an anonymous donor and David and Faith Bell,” she said.

Kaufman said the project was Bell’s “baby.”

“It was her idea and we jumped on it. We’re working with her to develop it,” she added.

Bell said another reason for creating the Tiny Museum on wheels was to solve the museum’s annual dilemma of deciding on a parade float concept.

“Every year we were scrambling to get ideas for a Christmas float,” she said.

This year, the structure will join the Santa Claus Parade to represent the museum, but it will just be the “skeleton” of the building for now, Kaufman said. The interior isn’t complete yet, but she said museum staff was eager to showcase the project.

“It’s a very basic exterior, it’s in progress at the moment … It’s just an idea to show people what we’re doing. We’re bringing it to the Santa Claus Parade this year – we just wanted to show it off.”

Kaufman said after the build is complete, the next step will be to find more money to develop the programming for the travelling museum.

“So, basically to hire a staff person to make curriculum connections from our history in Niagara-on-the-Lake to the curriculum here in Ontario. In particular, Indigenous history, black history, War of 1812, agricultural history, and more, of course,” she said.

The museum is also seeking donations to complete the next stage of the Tiny Museum.

“The faster we get funding for the development of the programming the faster we can get it out and into the community,” Kaufman said.

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