Why a Museum?: Community Resource (Part seven)

This post continues to consider the Dawson City Museum’s Role over time in relation to government policy and community action, focusing on the Museum’s role broadly as a community resource.

Why a Museum: The Dawson City Museum’s Role (Part one)

Community Resource (Undefined)

The idea that museums are or can be a community resource intersects with the roles articulated in the previous posts but is also distinct. For example, a belief that museums are valuable heritage resources assumes a value to community based on the museum’s work with the collection, including preservation, documentation, and making the materials accessible through exhibitions. The argument for museums’ value as community resources can include this collection-based work but necessarily emphasizes communities’ ongoing relationship(s) with the collection and considers other connections that may exist.  As such, a museum as a community resource perspective involves a multiplicity of uses. As the Dawson City Museum’s curator, now Executive Director, articulated:

I value the response of our community members. I really want the Dawson City Museum to become a community resource for research, for recreation, for understanding, for whatever. I feel like that is my chief goal.

Interview 6 (emphasis added)

Importantly, she mentioned the Museum’s use for research, recreation, and understanding, but ends with “whatever.” Her whatever refers to the community’s use of the Museum in ways that may stem from its collection but also other available resources (e.g., staff expertise, space, or audience). 

To provide an example of long-time relevance, the Museum attracts a tourist audience in the summer that purchases things from their gift shop, which can be a platform for community artists to sell their work. For example, when I visited the Museum, I purchased two wonderful pieces by the photographer Priska Wettstein.

Notably, the emphasis in the gift shop has changed over time in an attempt to respond to community need. For example, at one point, the DCM had a coffee shop in an attempt to fill a need for lunch foods like soup in the south end of town. While they no longer provide food, the different uses demonstrate the use of the gift shop for the community. In addition to generating earned income for the Museum, gift shops provide a space with infrastructure and audience that can become a community resource. 

Another example of the Museum’s long-standing use as a community resource is their role in research due to the archival collection. Many community museums have archives and archival activities could be included in the Museum’s role as a heritage resource. However, the DCM has maintained their archive despite advice to focus on the artifact collection in favor of one provincial archive located in Whitehorse and more focused professionalized museum management (e.g., Berk 1984). The DCM’s archive is important to the local community, which uses the historic photographs to research architectural detail to apply for funding as part of capital projects (Interview 6). There is also the broader community of people with a connection to the Klondike who use the archival records as part of genealogical and other research (Interviews). Notably, the archive has importance to people with a longstanding and ongoing relationship with the Museum as they continue to donate and access the materials.   

Contemporary staff interviewed would like the Museum to become more of a community resource rather than focus on one specific role (e.g., education or tourism). To that end, they are:

Trying to be responsive to [the community’s] requests, and their interests, and also trying to be part of new stories developing, whether it’s in the work on Truth and Reconciliation we did or helping certain projects out around town… we want to work in the community.

Interview 6

The Director and curator at the time of the interviews were working to increase their physical presence at existing community events and fostering positive relationships with other groups, which directed staff time to building and maintaining relationships rather than planning events and programming. The Director explained:

But as an example of a shift in priorities? There we go. Fewer comedy festivals, more engaging with important stakeholders.

Interview 1

Fostering these relationships involves supporting organizations in their activities and inviting participation in the Museum’s planning work.  For example, the Museum actively engaged with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in conversations about their exhibition development and makes a concerted effort to attend events held by their cultural center. 

In short, the Museum’s role as a community resource intersects with the roles articulated above. However, it is also broader and multifaceted. It encompasses roles related to whatever the Museum has to offer of relevance to its communities, including things like space, audience, and staff expertise. In order to expand their role as a community resource, staff are focused on relationship building. Further, within their new exhibitions, they have worked to tell stories beyond the Gold Rush as part of an effort to better represent people and be “a community museum rather than just a tourist attraction” (Interview 6). 

Notably, working toward community relationships that enable the Museum to function broadly as a community resource is an ongoing process. To some extent, the relationships that exist are between individuals in the Museum and individuals in the community. An ongoing challenge for the Museum as a community resource has been creating relationships that can persist beyond the employment of specific staff members. 

Upcoming Posts

Friday’s post will introduce the four topics that I will consider in more detail to analyze the significance of the Museum’s role in relation to government policy and community action. I am hoping to also include the first section of the discussion, which compares policy examined in for this working paper to my past research in other jurisdictions.


Berk, Brenda. 1984, November. Dawson City Museum Management Plan.

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