Origins and History of "Connecting"
- 1982 - 2000
Connecting took its place among adult programs at the ROM in 1989. It was an instant success. One Wednesday every month Connecting took over the Members’ Lounge on the 4th floor overlooking Bloor Street in the recently reopened museum. Billed as the ideal way for “enthusiastic singles” to keep in touch with trends and issues on the cultural scene, Connecting events regularly attracted close to 100 participants, mainly in their 40s and 50s, with a few still vibrant 60 year olds sprinkled among them.
In the late 1980s, an ambitious and wide ranging slate of adult programs, and Connecting events in particular, was created to attract visitors back to the museum which had been closed for over two years, giving them a reason to affiliate as members and supporters with one of Toronto’s cultural hubs. Re-building attendance and membership was a critically important goal which the talented and creative programming staff took on with verve.
The idea for Connecting was actually borrowed from the Smithsonian Associates program as a way to feature the ROM collections and curatorial research but also to address current issues and cultural affairs well beyond the walls of the museum. “Only connect” was the watchword.
Connecting topics were unbelievably varied. An IT professor talked about Heaven or Hell? Computers and Society; Elizabeth McLuhan addressed the Canadian refugee experience; a professor of architecture speculated on the future of architecture as the ROM physically morphed from the 19th to the 21st century; ethnology curator Trudy Nicks explored Indian stereotypes; a linguistics professor explained why men and women cannot talk to each other; Peter Newman spoke about his history series, Empire of the Bay; an art expert from Sotheby’s explained how art auctions work; Piers Handling of TIFF explored Canadian cinema; a vertebrate paleontologist probed our fascination with dinosaurs.
In the midst of all this heady stuff, there was much mingling of the sexes, both gay and straight, both during and after each event. At least three marriages resulted, including that of one of the Connecting staffers, despite the ‘family hold back’ rule. People dressed up and strutted their best social skills. Although women always outnumbered men, that was considered a good thing by both sides. As Jack Vecchio, the head of security, put it “It was like shooting fish in a barrel”.
A few participants did become members if not donors on some level. Certainly there were many regulars. I loved the spats that used to break out in the ticket line when we started to run out of space. So as an audience development tactic, it worked pretty well.
But the program staff were never cynical about Connecting because for us it was an opening, a breach more like it, a chance to introduce the real world into the museum, letting the past and the present meet and even confront each other if possible, situating the ROM in its contemporary Canadian context.
When I left the ROM in 1994, I missed Connecting the most.