I came into work at my usual 5:30am the other day and by 9:30am my left brain needed some distraction so that my right brain could do some thinking about this new Author Series. Ergo, off to the ROM.
The Royal Ontario Museum, is a ‘world leader in inspiring wonder and building understanding of human cultures and the natural world‘, according to the visitor guide. It goes on to say that ‘through our nationally and internationally outstanding and innovative research, collections and programs, we strive to deliver a high and continuously improving level of service to visitors to foster life-long discovery and learning.’ Generally I prefer to focus on good things in order encourage proliferation of them, but sometimes I think an institution needs to have its mandate held up against its execution.
For twenty-two bucks, you kinda want to stay all day and get your money’s worth, and in fact, I stayed from 10am to 5pm, exploring two exhibits and the FOOD STUDIO, which for sure is only in business because it has a captive audience.
One of the features at the ROM is the Stairs of Wonder leading from the main floor to the exhibit floors; easy to find, wide and peppered with glassed-in exhibits of toy soldiers, giant bugs and a repertoire of Pez dispensers (oh, my mistake, the Pez dispensers are at Sadie’s Diner on Adelaide, my FAV downtown diner). This stair-well is nicely and cleverly designed to get people to take the stairs rather than the elevator.
The same is not true if you want a bite to eat. To get to the FOOD STUDIO you have to use your imagination. Rather than going down a dirty concrete stairwell, for instance, imagine instead (this is for you, museum directors) that you descend the Stairs of Gourmets, a stairs lined with exhibits like seed collections or the evolution of cutlery through the ages and cultures. Imagine that you enter not into an industrial cafeteria that could take lessons from Ikea, but into a giant dining room with reproductions of dining tables and chairs in all shapes and sized from around the world. Imagine that it was not one big noisy room but several rooms featuring different food-related exhibits like the growth from seed to table or the importance of bees and pollination.
Best of all, what if the food wasn’t the most bland pizza and lank salads ever, rivaling even a high-school cafeteria, but really was wholesome, organic even local foods? This is not a question of budget, it’s a question of imagination, of forgetting the importance of the human needs involved in the process of experiencing any civic or cultural institution. All this could even be outsourced if it is not part of the core competency of the museum (which I would want it to be if I was a museum director). There are plenty of great entrepreneurs doing invigorating things with food and learning.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I go to the Museum, I want to be wowed. I want to eat thousand year old food, food that will inspire wonder and build an understanding of human culture and the natural world, maybe have a chance to sample the food of Kings or the food of the Gods.
If it had at least been good pizza, I might not have realized this about myself.