March 8 is International Women’s Day, and the theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias.
We break the bias every day here at The Exploration Place, and I’m going to spend the coming weeks introducing you to some of the inspiring women we work with.
The museum industry is historically a male-led and male-dominated industry, but we have fallen outside of the mould for decades in all sorts of ways. Our Museum is not only female-led, but women make up an incredible 77 per cent of its staff team and 62 per cent of its board of trustees. Considering that nation-wide, women comprise just less than half of those employed in the museum sector, The Exploration Place is a bit of an (extraordinary) anomaly.
Most of you are probably familiar with Exploration Place CEO Tracy Calogheros, who has a long and distinguished career in museum work. Tracy has been with the Museum since 1994, becoming CEO in 2003. There have been only two people at the helm in the organization’s entire history. Tracy is well-recognized in our community and across the country for her leadership and advocacy work, but you may be less familiar with some of the other powerful women behind The Exploration Place.
When you think of a museum curator, a certain stereotype probably comes to mind. Some may initially be caught off guard when they meet The Exploration Place’s Curator, Alyssa Leier. She is one of very few young female curators in the field (though that number is starting to rise in Canada).
Alyssa has been with The Exploration Place for almost nine years and has been Curator since 2015. Alyssa visited the Museum shortly after moving to Prince George and immediately fell in love with the place.
“I wanted to know more about our local First Nation community, and the exhibit at the time was Cultural Expressions of the Lheidli T’enneh. It was extremely well done, and I was impressed at the relationship The Exploration Place had with the Lheidli T’enneh. I wanted to be a part of an organization that seemed to take reconciliation seriously.”
Originally from Clearwater, Alyssa attended Simon Fraser University in tk’emlups and Vancouver, where she completed her Bachelor of Arts with a major in Archaeology and a minor in First Nation Studies with honours. She also holds a certificate in Cultural Resource Management and has since taken many courses in museology and conservation with several organizations, including the University of Victoria. Before coming to The Exploration Place, Alyssa worked as an archaeologist doing Cultural Resource Management with a local firm. Her education and experience have greatly assisted her with research, conservation, artifact identification, and exhibit creation. Working in the field as an archaeologist allowed her to gain an incredible amount of knowledge that wouldn’t have been possible from school alone.
Alyssa loves that her job at the Museum is different every day.
“I can’t think of another place where you get to crack open fossils and toss pumpkins from a catapult all in the same day,” she laughs.
Alyssa leads the curatorial team through exhibit design, installation, and research. She also deals with artifact conservation, collections care, and community consultation. She spends a lot of time researching and learning about our local history. Part of her job is to share that history with the public and make it accessible through our online public database, exhibit creation, and programming.
“I love the relationships that I am able to create working at The Exploration Place. I meet so many people from our community that share their knowledge and history with me. It is incredible to be able to listen and learn from our Elders and community members.”
Alyssa was surprised by how personal her work at the Museum would become and how deeply it would impact her. “The work we do is truly meaningful, and I believe everyone working here cares and wants to make positive changes and impacts in the community.”
Her favourite memory is the opening of the permanent gallery, Hodul’eh-a: A Place of Learning, in partnership with the Lheidli T’enneh, which was awarded a Governor General’s History Award. “I am so proud of that gallery and all we have accomplished together.”
Why does Alyssa think so many women want to work for us? “The Exploration Place allows for a great work-life balance. Our CEO understands the importance of family and outside commitments and respects that we all have lives outside of work. I feel at home at The Exploration Place and truly appreciate the workplace culture we have built here. The Exploration Place is full of remarkable women that possess an extremely varied and impressive knowledge set. It has truly been an honour to work here. I’ve learned so much from these women and continue to do so on a daily basis.”
Alyssa has also been inspired and motivated by other women in both her personal and career life.
“All the women that came before me. My Grammas, my mom, my mother-in-law. All have faced challenges and overcome them, and without any single one of them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
Professionally, Nadine Gray assisted her throughout her education and when she was looking to get into archaeology. Elissa Gagnon helped her in becoming an actual working Cultural Resource Management professional and pushed her through some real physical challenges. Finally, Exploration Place CEO Tracy Calogheros completely transformed what she thought a museum professional looked like and has assisted her in every aspect of her career.
“I am extremely thankful for all of these impressive women.”
Alyssa attributes her success to being a very organized and motivated person. She has learned that sometimes the most challenging but important thing she can do is say no to projects that she really wants to take part in but simply does not have the time to do. This is how she does the best work she can. Her advice for anyone looking to get into the museum field is “be yourself and be persistent.”
Alyssa has contributed significantly to The Exploration Place’s ongoing success. She is energized and motivated by seeing all the Museum has accomplished and knowing how much more we can do.
“Being the change we want to see.”