Discover four micro-museums that respond to the environmental concerns of Montréal communities.
In the wake of Nature near you, the open-air museum initiated in 2020 that’s been making its way through Greater Montréal parks ever since, Espace pour la vie is now introducing micro-museums. What’s special about them? They’ve been created by citizens from different boroughs.
This initiative received a financial contribution from the Secrétariat à la région métropolitaine du ministère des Affaires municipales de l’Habitation as part of the Fonds d’initiative et de rayonnement de la métropole (FIRM) and its call for projects on the theme Pour une communauté connectée. This initiative is made possible in part by the support of the Foundation of Greater Montreal.
The idea behind this project is to strengthen the connection between humans and nature, using themes that reach out to people. “Everything’s come from people in the neighborhoods,” states Josiane Fontaine-Zuchowski, cultural officer for micro-museums at Space for Life. “The subjects, the approach, the micro-museum format, and so on.” Four community organizations located in disadvantaged Montréal neighborhoods (Hoodstock, Concertation Anjou, Concertation Saint-Léonard and Centre communautaire Bon Courage in Place Benoît) have collaborated closely to bring people taking part in the co-creation workshops together. That approach has turned out to be hugely successful.
“I wouldn’t have wanted micro-museums to be done any differently,” Ms. Fontaine-Zuchowski adds. “These people may not be specialists in environmental manners, or in art or in science, but they’re familiar with the issues and challenges in their neighborhoods.” In the beginning, she remembers, citizens’ groups had a lot of questions and doubts concerning the project. “But starting with the second workshop they attended, they understood that our ears were wide open and that our approach was serious. After that,” she exclaims, “we could see the sparkle in their eyes!” In all, more than 50 people participated in the co-creation project, each of them devoting a dozen or so hours to it.
These artistic, scientific and experiential installations will go on display in a public place – park, library, Maison de la culture or community center – and then be put away at the end of the day. Someone leads the workshop and answers the public’s questions. “They’re little portable museums,” is how Josiane Fontaine-Zuchowski describes them.
Micro-museums imagined by the community
The pilot project was initially designed last summer, and the prototypes are being rolled out this fall in four boroughs. Citizens of Saint-Laurent, for example, will be made aware of the importance of composting: through a game inspired by basketball, people learn to sort trash according to whether it’s compostable or not. In the co-creation process, the idea of integrating basketball in the micro-museum came from the group, which consisted for the most part of youngsters under the age of 18. “It’s far and away their favorite sport, and they want to involve it in the experience,” explains Ms. Fontaine-Zuchowski.
Up in Montréal North, the museum installation allows viewers to learn more about heat islands. “The concept of this micro-museum is to transform an ‘urban heat’ island into a ‘human warmth’ island. We wanted to create a shady area to cool off in during the summer and arrange a meeting place where people can chat and enjoy themselves,” she explains.” Members of the community are invited to answer questions by hanging colored ribbons that will progressively turn into a work. When that work is completed, it will offer shade to people passing by.
In Saint-Léonard, mental health and nature are at the heart of neighborhood residents’ concerns. “We wanted to build a dome that stimulates the five senses and that shows the extent to which nature contributes to mental health,” the cultural officer explains. Inside the dome you hear birds singing or the sound of the wind, you get to touch different natural elements (bits of wood, fir cones, plants), you smell flower fragrances and you discover nature prescriptions on the walls. The cultural officer ticks them off: “They’re invitations to go to a park in the area, to observe ducks, to explore the Caverne de Saint-Léonard.”
And finally, citizens of Anjou have created a micro-museum where you sense a pronounced interest in streams, which have unfortunately been buried by urbanization. They’ve developed a game where blocks reveal what the neighborhood could look like with green corridors, green roofs and urban beehives. A utopian Anjou presented by its citizens here: something to dream about!
When museums turn up in Montréal neighborhoods
Espace pour la vie wants to reach a different clientele from the one that normally visits its museums. “We want to offer services to all communities, not just to the ones that come to our museums,” Josiane Fontaine-Zuchowski emphasizes. The micro-museums will particularly target neighborhoods where the population is more vulnerable or at risk of exclusion.
“These micro-museums,” the cultural officer concludes, “aren’t Espace pour la vie museums: they’re citizens’ museums.”