How sourcing an exhibit from kids fits into the ROM’s cultural strategy

The museum wants to be more central to cultural conversations, including a moment in history that is currently unfolding: the pandemic.

Quarantine Mushroom - Jessica

Even museums don’t want to be too stuck in the past.

As part of its efforts to be more relevant and outward facing, the curators of the Royal Ontario Museum’s latest exhibit aren’t anthropologists or historians, but youngsters.

The institution is preparing “#MyPandemicStory,” an exhibit that aims to document what living through the pandemic was like through creative works that could include songs, paintings, videos and 3D sculptures from kids between the ages of 4 and 18.

The call for submissions is being amplified with a campaign developed in collaboration with agency No Fixed Address, beginning with a 15-second video across the ROM’s social media channels and amplified across Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. The campaign is being further bolstered with influencer partnerships and earned media support across Ontario.

Until June 27,  submissions can be made on social media, using the hashtag “#MyPandemicStory” and tagging the ROM, or uploaded to its My Pandemic Story site.

“The audience is primarily kids that we’re trying to reach. We wanted to make sure we’re in places they’re engaging, but also places where creators are engaging in play,” says the ROM’s chief marketing and communications officer, Lori Davison.

Submissions will be reviewed by a panel of museum staff and advisors this summer and selections will be featured in a free-to-the-public exhibition this fall.

Engaging with kids and making the exhibition free are part of the ROM’s longstanding outreach with teachers in Ontario and making sure its content can be integrated into school curriculums.

But it’s also part of a broader effort by the institution to be more central to cultural conversation, with an eye on the present and not just, say, Tang Dynasty ceramics and dinosaurs.

“The pandemic created new obstacles, but it also presented us with an opportunity to evolve the way we engage with our community and capture history as it unfolds in real time,” According to Davison, initiatives like “#MyPandemicStory” are about drawing from the community, reflecting back topics and issues that are top of mind. The ROM wants to hit a moment where the pandemic still feels relevant to families, instead of waiting until it began to feel like a distant memory.Zoo Zoom - Neelu

The ROM is also currently running an exhibition called “Masks,” documenting how PPE grew from being simply a form of protection in the early days of the pandemic to a form of self-expression.

But with “#MyPandemicStory,” the ROM is looking to more directly engage kids, families and teachers, some of its biggest stakeholders and most frequent visitors. Like many other cultural organizations, the Royal Ontario Museum was forced to close its doors because of the pandemic, but despite being shuttered, it’s still able to capture unique experiences of youngsters and how they’re being affected by lockdowns.

“Teachers and students are desperate for activities that are stimulating and off-line to some degree,” Davison says. Remote engagement has allowed the institution to reach out to the community and Davison says the familiarity of the Zoom screen is a game-changer, and not a matter of showing videos, but curator-based interactions to foster more dialogue.

While Broken Heart Love Affair was named AOR for ROM in January to handle masterbrand work and campaigns for individual exhibitions, NFA was engaged on a project basis for PR and influencer-led work like this campaign, based on a brief from the fall.