Interview Analysis: The Community’s Voice

As part of the Dawson City Museum Project, I conducted fifteen interviews with people associated with the institution historically and today. Most of the transcripts have been approved. So, my Research Assistant and I are analyzing them now. The Interview Analysis series considers this analysis and the insights people have provided.

Within this post, I am continuing to examine the role of the Dawson City Museum as a community resource (Community Resource, Museum as Employer). In particular, I am considering the Museum as the community’s voice – that is, a place for the community to tell stories. Becoming a place for the community to tell its own stories is also a goal for current staff, but interview data demonstrates it was a reality for the Museum in the 1990s into the early 2000s.


In the 1990s, the Museum was seen as a community hub, telling the community’s stories. As one Interview Participant described:

I would introduce it as the community’s museum, telling the community story in a grand building that has a story of its own. An immersive experience and it was a hub in many ways to the


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Community involvement led to some interesting exhibitions about the community. One Interview Participant described “Dawson at Forty Degrees Below Zero”:

There was a really awesome project that they did one year where they pulled together just interested community members that wanted to tell visitors what their life was like in the winter and they helped them take good quality photographs and they created a slideshow for the summer. And it contained sort of these iconic images of what a day in the life of a Dawsonite was like in the winter. It included things like learning how to soak a roll of toilet paper in kerosine and set it under your vehicle to warm up the oil pan.

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“Dogs” provides another example:

There was another exhibit that asked people to bring their favorite photo of their dog in… The idea was that people could bring in their dog portraits. The exhibit took place in the courtroom. So it was a fairly small space but those walls were filled with people’s dog portraits, and it was just an ability for people to come and honor the dog, which… has played such a large role in the community, in Dawson.

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Ideas for these temporary exhibitions or programming came from the community. As a participant recalled:

But there were tons of exhibits that came on suggestion from the community. People would walk into the museum and say, “hey, I’ve got a great idea, and I’d like to do this.”

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Notably, the Museum also actively sought out community members’ contributions for traveling exhibition on the Gold Rush in the 1990s, circulating their stories to a broader audience.

I was there during the time that the traveling exhibit for the centennial of the Gold Rush was coming together and that involved multiple stakeholders and partners. And it also involved a lot of community input for everything from gold miners donating gold and sharing their story about what they wanted the world to know about their experience to community members in general that had a buy-in about what narrative was going out there in the world about their town. And so there just seemed to be a lot of interplay between the community voicing their opinion and then that directing exhibits and activities within the Museum.

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In short, during the 1990s, the Museum was actively listening to and telling community stories through an active temporary and traveling exhibition program.

The Importance of Leadership

The timelines created for the project (1990s, 2000s, 2010s) and interview data suggest there has been a less dynamic temporary exhibition program since about 2006. There is no one change that explains the shift. However, some have pointed to the importance of leadership in creating the relationship needed in the community for the community to approach the museum with ideas and enthusiasm. Most notably, the Museum had a Director in the 1990s widely recognized as charismatic, drawing the community into the Museum:

So there was what feels like to me a real Heyday time, but I don’t think it was one single component that shifted that and made things a little more challenging at the Museum. But certainly would not want to understate how formative [he] was as the Executive Director of the Museum as well as that incredibly involved community member who was very good at engaging people and keeping that interest, keeping the Museum as the community’s hub.

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Other changes that help explain the shift include a move from project based funding to more operational funding for museums at the territorial level, changes in employment considered in Museum as Employer, and the reality that the 1990s was a decade of anniversaries for the Yukon, which can contribute to more enthusiasm for heritage.


What do you think? How to museums become vehicles for the community to tell its own story?

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