Behind the Scenes—The Making of Milestones, Sarah McLachlan

June 28, 2017

Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre (NMC), houses many interactive, dialogue-provoking exhibits that make the centre more than just a museum. But what goes on behind the scenes to make these exhibits a truly worthwhile experience?

A current exhibit, featuring Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Sarah McLachlan, was led by Manager of Exhibitions and Interpretation Sam Cronk, and Manager of Collections Claire Neily.

Alongside their teams, the two worked closely to determine the narrative and features of the exhibit, fine-tuning meticulous details, even down to the polishing of an etched fingerprint on McLachlan’s Grammy award from 2000 for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

“There’s a number of things [in the exhibit] that transforms this from a museum into a dynamic music centre,” says Cronk. “You can look through [McLachlan’s] tour books and enjoy the music.”

The Milestones: Sarah McLachlan exhibition midway through setup. Photo credit: Miriam Johnston

Neily says that one of the most interesting artifacts that McLachlan’s team provided to NMC was her itinerary books for various tours, including her tour in support of breakout record, Solace, in 1992.

“It lays out day by day where her team is going and staying and setting up and how much merch they need,” she says. “All those details that you don’t think about so much; they’re kind of the business, not the performance.”

The process of determining which artifacts will be available to display and which artifacts are worth displaying is a collaborative effort between the two teams.

Cronk explains that he wanted to emphasize the humanitarian efforts of McLachlan in the exhibit, such as her work to support free music education to under-served youth in Canada.

Given that McLachlan has won several humanitarian awards for this work, Cronk decided to include some of them in the exhibit, alongside other awards, like her Grammy—the first Grammy to be included in an NMC exhibition!

With Cronk’s input in place, it was Neily’s job to do any cleaning and restoring of each selected item. “I’m cleaning things and documenting what I’m doing so that I can pass that back to [the McLachlan team], so that they know what the object went through,” she says. “She has awards from the U.S and across Canada, so we’re trying to represent how popular she is and the recognition she’s gotten.”

Two of Sarah McLachlan’s Grammy Awards; one in its original condition, and one after it was cleaned by Collections Manager Claire Neily. Photo credit: Miriam Johnston

Cronk has also been designing a playlist of McLachlan’s music to be played in the exhibit room, so that viewers can experience the exhibit from an auditory perspective. Among the tracks that visitors will hear are moving hits, like “Building a Mystery,” “I Will Remember You,” and other songs.

“It’s not just the background music. It’s part of their life, their experience. It’s part of who they are,” says Cronk.

He also explains that not all featured artists are sentimental about their artifacts, and like McLachlan, don’t keep many around.

“Some people respect and value these things and to other people it’s a wonderful surprise, but they don’t hoard their life story in this way,” says Cronk.

The biggest mystery for Cronk is why McLachlan kept a specific poster from Lilith Fair, and not others.

“Why this one poster? Why did it stay?,” he asks.

“I want people to go away with a sense of the familiar but also a sense of the unexpected.”

Milestones: Sarah McLachlan is accessible with paid admission to Studio Bell, and will run until the fall of 2017.

About the Author

Miriam Johnston

Miriam Johnston is a practicum student for the National Music Centre as well as a piano teacher.

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