Docent Educator Logo

Teenagers “Living” at the Museum…Almost

The Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City is a young, education-oriented institution constructed around a social science theme. It has welcomed 700,000 visitors every year since 1988. According to visitor surveys, what younger people enjoy most about the Musée is its warm welcome, the range of exhibitions, and the quality of the animation. In return, the Musée derives great satisfaction from hearing young people talk about the institution as “their museum,” a place where they feel at home.

What interests teens so much that they practically live at the Allow me to summarize a few encounters that helped to create a bond between the Musée and its young visitors. Every year, some 122,000 young people take part in the Musée’s educational activities. Many of them come on class visits. Guide-animators show them through the exhibitions, discovery spaces, and workshops while on special tours adapted to their interests and curriculum. Young visitors also take part in theatrical animation capsules or rallies that the Musée designs especially for them. As part of the exhibition. Of Puppets and Theatre, students from two high schools made more than one hundred puppets that were used in educational workshops. Several were displayed in the exhibition hall and in the entrance hall. This joint venture was an unforgettable experience, we were told, because young people often lack confidence in their potential and suffer from society’s skepticism toward them and their age group.

Young people also visit the Musée alone or in small groups. On the interactive guided tour entitled Quebec Women, a Great Legacy, the 13 to 24 age group is most interested in seeing and handling a collection of bizarre objects used in the lives and work of women. This tour is part of the permanent exhibition Memories. Many of these young people are astonished, to say the least, when they learn that, just sixty years ago, women in the province of Quebec did not have the right to vote. Some find it hard to believe, because, like most young people, they cannot tolerate injustice.

Boys and girls alike were united around the theme of peace when they visited the 1993 exhibition Children at War: 1914 – 1993. This exhibition, prepared jointly with the Musée de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant Rouge, in Geneva, was particularly popular with younger visitors. In a setting of barbed wire, smoke, and cello music, the Musée presented nearly one hundred remarkable war photographs taken by reporters, together with drawings by thirty young people who had experienced the ravages of war. We were able to watch the youngsters when they visited the exhibition freely, in small groups. They chatted to one another, and left texts and drawings on the subject in the book of comments provided. The book is a thought-provoking testimony, calling for immediate collective action. As might have been expected, the thoughts expressed by these visitors converge toward themes of injustice, responsibility, and the future.

Some 200 students invaded the Musée one October weekend in 1993 to discuss values and the future. They came to sing, dance, pray, and express their own ideas through sketches. They even organized a “values race” through the exhibitions, copied from the car rally format! Small teams were formed. Each, in turn, proceeded into three exhibitions, chasing, searching, and identifying values, such as the “courage” of pioneers, or the “openness” toward immigrants, or the conscious “preservation of resources.” The results of their quest were forwarded in a plenary . . . Almost by Marie-Jose des Rivieres session, where their findings were shown boldly on flashcards.

They appreciated their discussions with receptive animators, other young people and adults from the pastoral service and the Education Department, who were willing to listen and provide advice if necessary. For this group, the Musée was a true “life experience.” The highlight of the weekend was the sleep over, and the chance to go behind the scenes and visit the storerooms and all the other mysterious places usually kept out of the general view.

Coup de théâtre at the Musée

Night, the subject of an exhibition, served as the general theme for an event involving 200 high school students who, in 1994-1995, came to present their theatrical sketches during the Coup de theatre weekend (an all-nighter at the Musée). The students arrived dressed as characters of their choice from the exhibitions Nightshades and Goldilocks and the Three Bears; we had the joy of seeing these young people bring the characters to life. In the company of theatre professionals, the students were given the opportunity to improvise, or take part in stage and show design, dance or puppet workshops, before spending the rest of the night in the disco or at the night owl theatre, with its special program of horror movies!


Development programs should not be reserved exclusively for regular schoolgoers, and should try to reach out to children from the street, runaways, and victims of all types . . . often the victims of social prejudice. One March night in 1995, at a happening entitled “The Night Belongs to Me,” the Musée opened its doors to young homeless people, street dwellers, those for whom life has not been easy. We believe that museums can go beyond appearances and discover the creativity and treasures lying hidden behind the darkest hours of the night.

Throughout the Musée, more than 35 young people performed live for a public of 800 people, mainly youngsters with brightly colored hair and studded clothes. Many different forms of artistic expression were represented: theatre, rock music, live painting and sculpture, body painting, graffiti art, fashion design, comic strips, makeup, and a poetry workshop. The happening was organized jointly with a Quebec City shelter, the Maison Dauphine, whose mission is to provide young people in the throes of family, psycho-emotional or socioeconomic problems with protection and advice, or even help—in the form of detoxification, for example.

The event led to dialogue between people who would otherwise never have come into contact with each other. It also brought about a longer term relationship with the shelter. However, perhaps its greatest achievement was that it enabled two youngsters to find employment with people who witnessed their achievements in fashion design and picture hanging at the happening.

Concrete Action at the Musée

As we have seen, high school and college students enjoy the Musée’ s educational activities. The Musée has also developed a series of events designed for specific pastoral, theatre, and scientific groups. It has even tried to reach the people that society has excluded. We are now at the point of wondering what other activities we could offer. What paths should we take in the future? How can we encourage young people to express themselves through the Musée? Despite society’s all-too-frequent criticism of the lack of individual and collective commitment by young people, it is clear to us that when they have a place to talk and act,are being consulted about a forthcoming exhibition on drugs. Their contribution to the preparation and content of the discovery spaces and workshops on themes of interest to them is stimulating for both parties.

Concluding Remarks

Allow us to conclude this reflection with some extract from the book of comments, symbols of commitment and solidarity witnessed by the Musée:

  • “I want to go and help children of war.” [written by a 15 year old]
  • “That makes two of us.” [wrote another]
  • “Maybe three …” [Catherine, 20 years old]
  • Four for sure.” [concluded Vera]
  • “Five if you count me.” [signed Marie-Josee, 14 years old]
  • “I’m old and sick, but you youngsters go for it!” [a seventh person added]

Marie-Jose des Rivières is the Education Project Manager for the Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City, Canada. In 1995, she received the Prix d’excellence en interpretation du patrimoine with the Quebec Association for Heritage Interpretation, for the interactive guided tour entitled Quebec Women, a Great Legacy. She is also adjunct professor at the Research Center for Quebec Literature at Laval University.

des Rivières, Marie-Jose. “Teenagers ‘Living’ at the Museum…Almost,” The Docent Educator 5.4 (Summer 1996): 8-9+.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *