27 February 2012

News Flash - SAMA EC Confenerence is ON!

by: Zongezile Matshoba

Grahamstown and the Makana Municipality welcome the delegates attending the 2012 Eastern Cape South African Museums Association (SAMA) conference. The conference, hosted by Albany Museum starts in the afternoon of Monday, 27 February until the 01 March 2012.

The theme for this yea's conference is Multidimensional Museums.

The keynote address will be delivered by the Makana Municipality Councillor, Prof Julia Wells, on Project 200, reflecting on Grahamstown over the past 200 years.

The Annual General Meeting will also be part of the SAMA conferrence where governance of the organisation will be discussed, as well as electing new office bearers.

Delegates will present papers on various topics. These include "Undervalued Natural History Collections" by Dr. Sarah Gess, Curator Emeritus of Albany Museum's Entomology and Arachnology, "Interactive Displays" by Louanne Kirton of East London Museum, and "Bearing Witness to the struggle: Oral History and King William`s Town" by Stephanie Victor of Amathole Museum.

The confenerence will not be about presentations and discussions only. There will be a gala dinner dubbed Colour Evening at Graham Hotel on Wednesday, 29 February.

There will also be a Walking Tour with Basil Mills and Fleur Way-Jones on 27 February, and a short tour to the International Library of African Music (ILAM) where Prof. Andrew Tracy will hopefully inform and delight delegates with his knowledge and expertise on African Musical Instruments.

25 February 2012

A brighter future for Museum's archaeology and Palaeontology

By: Zongezile Matshoba

There seems to be a light at the end of the channel for museums' archaeology and palaeontology. The South African government is determined to inject the much needed money into the severely under-funded museums like Albany Museum.

The Star newspaper reported that the Government was forging a strategy to further the study of SA’s palaeontological and archaeological past.

Albany Museum is known for its footprint and contribution in these two fields, especially in the Eastern Cape, thanks to Dr Johan Binneman and Dr Billy de Klerk (archaeology and palaeontology respectively).

According to the government spokesman Jimmy Manyi, the strategy is intended to provide a “holistic framework for the development of the palaeosciences,” the Star reported.

This strategy would see more money poured in museums and heritage agencies which will be spent to ensure that they continue with the various archaeological and palaeontological researches.

How much investment will go to the museums, and how long will it take for that money to reach museums will forever remain in the minds of museums' archaeologists, palaeontologists and museum curators or directors.

The Star - Delving more deeply into SA’s past

22 February 2012

Visioning Museum

Governments departments, the municipality and the private sector are known for their spending spree during this time of the year, mostly known as strategic sessions in some fancy resorts. Albany Museum, on the other hand, with its limited resources and under-funding, spent half-a-day, using its Rennie Wing Hall as a venue, to strategise.

First and foremost, the close to fifty staff members were tasked with sharing their personal visions for the next 10 years. Interestingly, many highlighted the fact museums offer an educational environment, making them to want to continue furthering their studies until they achieved PhDs.

Following that, it was the vision of the museum, and what each staff member wants to see happening in the next decade. Many wished to see the museum playing a more vital role in the field of research, collection, exhibition and education.

Shortage of curators, museum professionals and technicians featured promptly in the challenges session. The lack of funding for museums, resulting in the shortage of resource was also highlighted. These are seen to be hindering the progress and development for any museum department, its collection, and its outreach programmes.

Some of the possible solutions to the challenges were that a united front is needed, to convince the government, the private sectors and donor funders of the need to support the museum financially and to employ more staff, especially in the scarce skills.

A task team of five members then volunteered to find ways of dealing with the challenges and to try and implement the possible solutions. Though some of the solutions were seen as impracticable, it was nevertheless agreed that the team will do its utmost best to try and solve them.

By lunch time, it was all over, and everyone returned to work in their respective departments. Many agree that the idea was a good eye opener.

21 February 2012

Join the Museum profession

By: Zongezile Matshoba

Well, Albany Museum has done another milestone, if not breaking new grounds for South African museums! Catherine Lambley, the Education Officer at the Museum, followed up her Manager’s idea, Bongani Mgijima, of developing a careers booklet, and produced a must read for any high school learner or tertiary level student.

The booklet, known as Museums Careers Guidebook, covers almost every career at Albany Museum. Surely these are not that different from careers found in other museums in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, or even internationally.

Teachers, students, parents and museum practitioners will read with joy various museum professionals giving their own insight of what attracted them to join the museum sector in first place, and what they did to ensure that their dreams are realised. They also talk of their love for the museum job, and their favourite moments.

Interestingly, the booklet has shown that Albany Museum has the most women professionals that are dominating in the field of archaeology, anthropology, education, mobile museum, freshwater invertebrates, history and entomology. They include the likes of Dr Sarah Gess, Fleur Way-Jones, Phumeza Mntonintshi and Dr Helen James. A rare thing, indeed.

So, museums are out there, and they will continue to recruit professionals particularly in rare skills. Do not pretend as if you do not know, or you have not heard because the Museums Careers Guidebook is out for you to follow a career in museum! Forget the myth that a museum is a very old, boring place with dirty, old stuff. Read the TRUTH about museums that they are fun, clean institutions that collect and safeguard artefacts and specimens in trust for society. In return, they offer exhibition spaces for public interaction, thereby creating an inpirational learning environment.

20 February 2012

Museum to record local history

By: Zongezile Matshoba

Albany Museum, in association with the local Makana Municipality, will record histories of the local people, in particular the previously disadvantaged in Grahamstown East, better known as eRhini. This project, to be known as Busy Bees, was initiated by the local municipality as part Project 200. Project 200 aims to encourage Makana community to reflect and imagine on how great to be in Makana.

Speaking on a recorded video played during festive lauch of Project 200 opposite the City hall, Daily Dispatch quoted Bongani Mgijima, Manager of Albany Museum saying that the Busy Bees would visit once marginalised residents who felt left out during the writing of Grahamstown’s history, to collect and compile their oral versions of local history.

The Busy Bees project aims to recruit 2 to 4 unemployed graduates from the Makana area and train them in the processes of history collection and application. They will be based at Albany Museum where their training in various skills, mentoring and monitoring will take place. Once trained the four graduates will go out to communities and guide them on how to collect and make good use of their own histories.

The Busy Bees will also work closely with Mobile Museum the to ensure that the project is linked to the school curriculum and student assignments. The collected information will also be blogged with the view that it will be used as an information resource for learners and all community members.

The name Busy Bees is symbolic in many ways:

  • Bees collect various ingredients from plants and other things and turn this into honey. This is how history is written. Historians use very diverse sources of information to weave a story of the past together.

  • Xhosa oral traditions claim that Makana could command bees to attack the British at the time of the early frontier wars.

  • Grahamstown is also known to commercially produce iqhilika from honey. This initiative led by Dr Garth Cambray has created many local jobs as communities are encouraged to keep beehives which in turn are used to produce the iqhilika, a unique African mead.

17 February 2012

Herbarium benefits from its outreach education programme

On Thursday 29th of November 2011 up to 1st December 2011 I (Phumlani Cimi) practically demonstrated Ncubeko Balani (a grade 10 learner from Mar Waters High School) on how herbarium operates and I worked with him as a volunteer until 1st December 2011. He assisted in filing and data capturing.  On the13th of December 2011 I also practically demonstrated Aphiwe Mame from same Mary Waters High School on how herbarium operates and I worked with him as a volunteer until 23 December 2011. He assisted in mounting, data capturing and compiling a numbered list of 40 genera. This was like a miracle to Tony Dold our herbarium curator when I submitted to him this evidence. Especially that Tony Dold was not even there when I was working with the volunteer. Tony Dold was on a field work most of the time.
These two volunteers Ncubeko Balani and Aphiwe Mame from Mary Waters High School have learnt a lot from the herbarium and in return herbarium has gained a lot from them as it is experiencing a shortage of staff due to a high rate of sick leaves.
The above mentioned learners are the product of herbarium outreach education programme. Our objectives are promoting an understanding of the holistic nature of the environment, which is characterised by interrelationships between, social, cultural, ecological and economical issues in local, national and global spheres interdisciplinary, integrated and active approaches to education developing environmental knowledge and understanding of concepts developing skills such as analysis of environmental issues promoting environmental values, including a respect for indigenous ways of knowing creating opportunities for people to take action to address environmental issues.