Episode 132 – Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum Society

On this episode, our correspondent Scott Lilwall finds out how an endowment fund created by the Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum Society will help support the Royal Alberta Museum far into the future!

Find out more about the Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum Society!
Visit the Royal Alberta Museum.
Find out more about creating an endowment fund at ECF.

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The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation. And is a proud, affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Music included in the story was Dawning Sprite by Lincoln Davis | Song License | Soundstripe.

Image for this episode as supplied by Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum Society and Royal Alberta Museum.


[The Well Endowed Podcast theme music plays] 

Lisa Pruden [00:00:25] Hi everyone. Welcome to The Well Endowed Podcast. I’m Lisa Pruden—

Andrew Paul

style="font-weight: 400;"> [00:00:29] And I’m Andrew Paul. This podcast is brought to you by Edmonton Community Foundation, and we are a proud affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Lisa [00:00:37] Edmonton is full of generous donors who have created endowment funds at ECF. These funds are carefully stewarded to generate money that supports charities in Edmonton and beyond.

Andrew [00:00:46] On this podcast, we share stories about how these funds help strengthen our community… because it’s good to be well endowed.

Lisa [00:00:53] On this episode, we learn about an endowment fund created to support the Royal Alberta Museum.

Andrew [00:00:59] The endowment fund was created by the Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum Society, or FRAMS for short. FRAMS is a nonprofit membership organization. They serve as a link between the museum and the community.

Lisa [00:01:11] And they do that in all sorts of ways, from creating publications, hosting events, creating programming, and even supporting collections and the exhibitions at the museum. All to connect you and I with the history and stories found within the museum’s collection.

[The Well Endowed Podcast jingle plays in background]

Andrew [00:01:25] FRAMS is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Our correspondent, Scott Lilwall, visited the Royal Alberta Museum to find out more about how FRAMS helps make their magic happen.

[clip of busy crowd plays and fades out]

Scott Lilwall [00:01:39] It’s a very busy afternoon at the Royal Alberta Museum. Families come in through the front doors and pass through a large lobby. Up above them, a century old biplane hangs suspended from the ceiling. Once past the admission desk, many strollers are splitting off to the left. There’s a sun-drenched hallway that leads down to the children’s gallery and a packed room full of bugs.

Clip voices [00:02:03] A Mexican red-knee tarantula. 

It’s so big! 

Scott [00:02:07] But if you head straight, you’ll find a wide spiraling staircase that takes you up to the second level. Go through a set of doors there and you’ll step into an ancient Alberta.

Meaghan Patterson [00:02:18] Uh, okay, so we’re— we’ve entered, uh, the Natural History Gallery, um, Royal Alberta Museum. And so this gallery really tells, again, that natural history of our province. Um, going from ancient Alberta, we’ve got rocks and minerals, we’ve got ice age Alberta, and then we’ve got, um, uh, some of the dioramas that I know were fan favourites from the old museum. So some of those dioramas from the old museum have been moved here. And then there’s some new ones that joined them as well so—

My name is Meaghan Patterson. I’m the Executive Director of the Royal Alberta Museum. I’ve been with the museum for just over a year now. A lot to learn. Yes, and I have in no way learned it all yet. 

Scott [00:02:55] [narrating] Towering over most of the displays here is a gigantic mammoth skeleton. The cast is more than a dozen feet tall with a massive set of curved tusks that loom over anyone who gets near. 

[in interview] It’s one of those things. I mean, you know, you— [laughs] you see… you see, like, images of a woolly mammoth. I know what an elephant looks like. This is—

Meaghan [00:03:13] No, these are much larger. [laughs] Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And so, um, we’ve got several mammoths throughout the museum. Obviously that’s our mascot also, uh, uh, at the museum, um, including these sk— cast skeletons, uh, up here. And, um, uh, the bronze casts that are in the… in the lobby as well.

Scott [00:03:33] Just like every other attraction relies on drawing in crowds, it’s been a turbulent couple of years for the RAM. Even though the museum has worked hard to find ways to reach people while their doors have been closed during the pandemic, Meaghan notes there’s nothing quite like seeing the actual artifacts, like this gigantic skeleton, up close and personal.

Meaghan [00:03:50] Yeah, it was an interesting time, for sure. Um, our team really did a-a great job of finding new ways to interact with people, um, that normally would’ve come into our physical spaces. How do we reach people online? How do we engage people in new ways? And so I think we’ve been able to… to build new relationships and reach new audiences. But, um, you know, there is something about being in a… in a museum space and seeing th-the objects and artifacts that kind of, uh, brings new meaning t-t-to the stories that we tell.

Scott [00:04:19] If one looks closely right beside the placard that gives more details about this ancient behemoth, you might notice a smaller square sign. One that says, “Donated by the Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum.” FRAMS, as the group is called, is a charity and nonprofit that helps support the museum in its quest to tell Alberta’s story. And once you notice that one placard, more will quickly follow.

Rav Rupnarain [00:04:40] In the back of my mind— we had a list. We had a small list of key items that we had contributed.

Scott [00:04:45] That’s Rav Rupnarain, the President of FRAMS. This year marks the nonprofit’s 40th anniversary. And over those four decades, FRAMS has acquired and donated many artifacts to the museum. So many, in fact, that FRAMS itself wasn’t sure exactly how many until very recently.

Rav [00:05:03] But when the final count came in and it was, like, ten thousand, it was, like, “Oh, my!” I-I had— I myself had no idea it was that high. You know, in the back of my head, I’m thinking a hundred thirty to hundred forty, maybe, items. Yeah, that was quite surprising. And we actually do have the inventoried list now. Sure. I mean, keep in mind, some of the ten thousand items are, you know, a lot of rocks and minerals. Right? [laughs] But they count, but they count. 

Drew Delbaere [00:05:27] Every single one counts, that’s right.

Scott [00:05:31] And that voice right there is Drew Delbaere, FRAMS Vice President.

Drew [00:05:34] There’s a lot of— you know, it’s… it’s like the… the RAM likes to say one of their— one of the, uh, largest collections they have is the… the person who looks after all the different seeds an-and small things, right? ‘Cause every single one is considered a different item. So they have millions of items they’re looking after. But of course, all ten thousand aren’t on display. Uh, you know, like any museum, uh, they can only display a fraction of the items that they have in their collection. I don’t remember the exact percentage. 

[00:05:59] Uh, that’s a good question for, uh, Meaghan, when you talk to her later today about the exact percentage of items that are… that are shown versus behind-the-scenes. Uh, but I do know that a significant percentage of the items that, uh, FRAMS has gifted to the museum over the years, uh, are out on display. Or if they’re not, they’re often used in school programming or other sort of, uh… you know, educational opportunities, even if they’re not out on display full-time.

Scott [00:06:25] So, it’s fair to say that FRAMS has been very good friends with the museum over the years. It’s primarily a volunteer-run organization, and was started in 1982 to help support the museum’s mission of education and research.

Rav [00:06:37] People got together who had a passion for museums. And, uh, you know, they wrote to the Alberta government at the time to see if they can form a society to help support the museum in terms of running various programs, getting more people into the museum. At the time, back in the ‘80s, um— actually, until they actually moved into this new location, um, the museum never had a membership program. Um, it’s only recently that they now started a mammoth pass, uh, for people who wanna join the RAM. 

[00:07:07] But the Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum Society was always a membership-driven organization. Uh, people who love museums could, you know, buy a membership from the society. You would get certain perks that go along with that. You know, behind-the-scenes tours, um, you know, kind of first to see exhibits that would come in. Uh, and, uh, you know, I think… overall, as the years have gone by, you know, it’s… it’s— the dynamic has changed a bit. The relationship has changed a bit. Um, and I think, you know, we’ve— now, as we, you know, enter [laughs] coming out of the pandemic, it, uh— it looks like, you know, we are more of a— I’d say a funding organization for the… for the Museum.

Drew [00:07:52] Of all— The Museum is a really large organization. We as a FRAMS society, are actually relatively small, which may surprise some people. You know, you think, “Oh, you’re, you know, the largest museum in Western Canada. You must have a huge friends society.” And, you know, uh, we operate with one full-time staff person and a board of up to twelve, uh, volunteers, and then a whole bunch of volunteers on our committees and… and, um, planning our events and some of our programming as well. So we are very volunteer-driven.

[00:08:20] Uh, you know, we wouldn’t survive as a society without th-the dedication of volunteers. Our boards have been very, very active over our 40-year history. They— uh, you know, we— as Rav mentioned, we’re not just a governance board. We are an operations board. We are planning the events. We are sending out the emails. We’re processing memberships, uh, you know, and we do this all in our volunteer time. Uh, we all have day jobs— Uh, most of us do. Some of us are retired, but most of us have day jobs. And, uh, you know, we’re working in the evenings and weekends, and we do it ’cause we love it. We do it ’cause we love the museum. We’re passionate about, uh, this institution, and we want to see it flourish and grow as an organization and, uh, connect with the community.

Scott [00:09:00] FRAMS is supported through memberships and donations, but this year the organization has taken another step, one that will help provide some long-term stability to their funding. They’ve set up a sixty thousand dollar endowment fund with the Edmonton Community Foundation.

Drew [00:09:14] So in the last five or ten years, we’ve had a dream to sort of set up an endowment. Uh, you know, the organization has, uh, approached and reached 40 years now. And so, as— at this age, we figured that it’s time to start thinking about our long-term sustainability and future. And, uh, we are really proud this past year to finally, uh, put some action behind all those plans and to create an endowment with ECF.

Scott [00:09:37] The process works like any other endowment fund. FRAMS raised the initial money and then gave it to the ECF to be invested. Now, once a year, FRAMS will receive the interest that fund has made. It provides a steady source of income for the organization each year. And since it’s just the interest, not that initial investment, that gets touched, Drew says it provides some long-term help to keep FRAMS operations running.

Drew [00:09:59] Uh, we’re really excited about the long-term stability that will help us to provide, right? You know, um, with endowments, they give that, uh, long-term sustained funding, and they can grow over time. And, uh, I think it’s really gonna help us make sure that the organization society’s around for another 40 years. And there’s also the flexibility with those dollars. You know, we do have a very— we have an agreement with ECF about, you know, generally what we can use it for. But the agreement’s very broad in that we can use it to support the operations of our society. 

[00:10:25] Uh, but that agreement’s also written in such a way that if our society were ever to not exist down the road, um, those funds could be used for a similar type of purpose. ‘Cause the principle that’s in there can never be taken out. You can never get that money back. Um, so the agreements are written in such a way that if… if organizations, if boards, if people are no longer around, uh, those money— money can still be given to a specific purpose and goal. So ours would probably be heritage and history of, uh… of Alberta. Um, but, you know, the hope is that with an endowment is that the organization can continue to, uh, exist and… and continue to thrive for many years.

[uplifting music plays] 

[clip of busy crowd plays]

Scott [00:11:11] As we step out of the natural history section and go back down those spiral stairs, we end up in a gallery dedicated to Alberta’s more recent past.

Meaghan [00:11:23] We’re currently standing in the human history hall on the first floor of the Royal Alberta Museum. And in this gallery, really, we are looking at the history of… of people, uh, living in our province. So we begin, you know, tens of thousands of years ago, uh, with some of our archeological collections. And then we move into, um, settlement history, uh, all the way up until modern day history as well. So we… we tell a pretty comprehensive history of Alberta. We’ve got, um, like I mentioned, a lot of archeological objects. Um, some objects from down near, uh, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Um, we’ve got, you know, a-a post from the original Fort Edmonton. Um, we’ve got military government history objects, a lot of objects representing Indigenous cultures in Alberta. Um, and then some modern day objects. A little Oilers history, a little, uh, government protest history. A little bit of everything, really.

[00:12:15] I think it’s important for us as a museum to… to take a-a long look a-a-at the story of Alberta and… and tell the different kinds of stories of the different kinds of people who have always lived here and then who have come to this province an-and made it their home. And I think when you look around this gallery in particular, you see the diversity of those stories and the ways that all of these different peoples and communities and groups have contributed to, uh, where we are today. An-and to illustrate kind of the potential for where we can go, uh, in the future moving forward.

Scott [00:12:45] In this gallery, you’ll find more items acquired by FRAMS. One of the most striking is Blood Tears. The artwork is by Indigenous artist Alex Janvier, and it reflects the years that he spent at a residential school in Northern Alberta.

Drew [00:12:58] One of the other, um, examples I’ll give of something we purchased recently is, uh, a variety of Indigenous, um, art and clothing. Uh, this was a request that came from the RAM, uh, a couple years ago. They were looking to, uh, refresh one of their exhibitions or one of their exhibit cases, uh, and they came to us, uh, asking if we’d help support purchasing some earrings an-and a dress. 

Rav [00:13:23] And a dress, yes, um, from, uh, a well-known… well-known Indigenous designer here in Canada.

Scott [00:13:30] However, acquiring these physical objects are just one of the many ways that FRAMS works closely with the museum. As Rav points out, the RAM is like many other government institutions, it has a budget that is set and allocated each year, and that means it doesn’t always have the ability to move things around for new opportunities that might come up. He points to the recent Breathe exhibit as one such opportunity. It displayed handmade masks craft by Indigenous artists in traditional styles to highlight resiliency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The RAM was offered the chance to display the exhibit for several months in 2021, but it didn’t have the money available in the budget to do so, but FRAMS was able to help.

Rav [00:14:07] So we kind of stepped in and helped with, uh, funding the artistic fees to, uh, bring that here and run it for— correct me if I’m wrong, Drew— uh, three… three months that exhibit ran. Yes. So, um, you know, that’s one… one great example of what we were… were able to do. You know, just because again, like I say, the… the museum has their budget, but it gets allocated. Sometimes there’s things that come up that they go, “Well, that would be great. We need to get that here.” And especially last year coming— well, sort of coming out of a pandemic, you know, that little five-month window that we had that opportunity, it was great to get people back into the museum.

Scott [00:14:47] That part right there, getting people back into the museum, that’s also become a very big part of what FRAMS does. All the artifacts in RAM help tell our story, but a story needs an audience. Drew says that in recent years, much of the work that FRAMS has done has shifted to helping open the museum up to people who might otherwise never get a chance to experience it.

Drew [00:15:06] Yeah. Our organization has really shifted and evolved over our 40 years. As, you know, Rav was talking about earlier, uh, our relationship with the museum looked way different back in the early ‘80s. You know, at one time we used to run the admissions desk in the gift shop, uh, at the old museum. You know, that hasn’t been in place for probably a couple decades now, at least. Uh, but we had a… a very different relationship at the time. You know, we… we were very operational and over the years we’ve shifted to be a bit more focused on fundraising, membership. Uh, and in the most— more recent years, I would say we’ve very much focused on providing, uh, events and access to the museum. 

[00:15:4] Uh, so one of the programs we’re really proud of is something called the Go Program. It’s an access program that allows, uh, uh, Albertans to come and visit the museum if, uh… if the cost of admission is a barrier. So we work with, uh, agencies and social services, organizations to provide free admission, uh, to people, to families, children, adults, newcomers to Ca— Canada, uh, so that they can come and experience this amazing collection of stories and artifacts in… in the museum.

Rav [00:16:09] The Go Program gives access to, um, certain individuals who might not be able to afford to come to the museum. Um, it works through different societies and different agencies where we are able to hand out passes.

Scott [00:16:23] Since the late ‘90s, FRAMS and the museum have also been partners in the Indigenous Student Museum Internship program.

Drew [00:16:29] And this has been going on for over 20 years now. And, uh, it’s an opportunity for Indigenous post-secondary students to come and actually have a 16-week paid work experience here at the museum. Uh, and so for the last number of years, we’ve had two different students that have come and worked in various departments. They can work in marketing, they can work with a curator, they can work with our educational team here at the museum. Uh, it’s really cross-functional and cross-disciplinary, what they can do. Uh, and it’s amazing to see where some of those students have gone on. Many of them have stayed sort of within the history museum curatorial realm. And some of them haven’t. Some of them have gone off to teaching and doing other things. But they’ve— uh, you know, when we’ve chatted with them, they’ve really, uh, appreciated the experience that they’ve had working here at the museum.

Rav [00:17:11] I believe in that time, we’ve had roughly close to 50 interns that have run through the… the program. This year— o-or actually over the last two years, we’ve been lucky enough to have Peace Hills Insurance be one of the major sponsors for the ISMI program. And, um, you know, we— like any charitable organization, we apply for grants and, um, funding through different institutions to, uh, get money to be able to, you know, run those programs. 

[00:17:41] It’s important to provide access, uh, to this museum. Um, and I think in general to any… any museum just because of the history. And especially in Alberta and the Alberta culture that is… is promoted here, especially for, again, people that just wouldn’t have the ability to come here or are newcomers t-to Canada and newcomers to Alberta. It just, I think, provides a sense of… where… where you’re, you know, coming from, where you’re going to. What does this province mean? What does the history of Canada provide? You know, I think it’s… it’s good from an educational standpoint. It’s good from a cultural standpoint. You know, it shows people that, you know, there’s diversity here and they’re… they’re not alone, regardless of what country or area they’re… they’re coming from as… as newcomers. 

Drew [00:18:33] I’ll add that we, uh… we like to say that our programs open doors and open minds. Um, you know, I think, uh, an important value of our programs is about providing lifelong education to people. Um, and that’s what museums and cultural institutions do, right? There’s, of course, formalized learning that happens in a classroom and schools come here, but, uh, this is learning that happens in the evenings and on the weekends, right? That’s what museums are for, is to continue the process of learning and education. 

[00:18:59] Uh, and that’s something we, as a society, really value. Uh, you know, all of our events are focused around that, too. It’s around providing people information and a chance to ask questions and explore history and culture and difficult questions sometimes, too. Uh, but that’s what museums make you do. They make you think, they make you reflect on yourself and your place within this community and this province. And, uh, that should be something that’s available to everybody. And so that’s why these programs are very important to us and why we… we invest a lot of time and resources into them.

[uplifting music plays and fades into background]

Scott [00:19:39] As FRAMS celebrates its 40th anniversary, both Rav and Drew say the endowment fund will help the organization plan for the decades to come. And it also provides another avenue for anyone who wishes to support FRAMS in their mission.

Drew [00:19:53] There is so many different ways you can support FRAMS. I mean, making a donation through our website or through the ECF’s website is just one of them. Uh, but you can also choose to volunteer your time with us. We are always looking for new people to get involved, help us plan events and support some of the programs we offer. Uh, but you can also become a member as well. That’s a great way to support us. Uh, our memberships include access to the museum, and you get to join a community of like-minded, passionate individuals who love history and who love, uh… who love the RAM. Uh, so there’s lots of different ways you can support, whether it’s through your time, through your money, through your passion, you can just come to our events. Uh, you can sign up to our mailing list to hear about, you know, the different lectures and tours and dining with friends that we offer throughout the year. Uh, there’s plenty of ways to support FRAMS.

Rav [00:20:38] You know, becoming a member gives you access to those… those events and to those little private tours and the back of room tours behind the museum that, um, you normally— a normal person just coming to the museum wouldn’t… wouldn’t get. Um, um, the fact that we have such a beautiful institution in our own province, um, that promotes Alberta history and promotes world history, uh, human history, I think, is incredibly important.

Scott [00:21:07] With the help of FRAMS and its dedicated volunteers, Meaghan says the Royal Alberta Museum will continue to evolve and change the way that it tells Alberta’s stories.

Meaghan [00:21:15] You know, I think museums are really important, uh… places for people to come and to ask questions, um, to learn about, like I said, where… where we’ve come from, where we could go, um, and have that place where these conversations can happen. And I think one of the really important pieces to remember is that, you know, while museums hold a lot of collections, and the staff here have a great deal of expertise, it’s a reciprocal kind of learning relationship. We learn as much from our visitors and, uh, the communities we engage with as they, you know, can learn from, uh, the… the exhibitions we have on and… and the collections that we hold here. So, uh, I think we’re all kind of learning from each other, and it’s about, um, how we bring people, uh, together.

[music continues for a few seconds] 

Andrew [00:22:00] A sincere thank you to Scott Lilwall for bringing us this story. And thanks to Meaghan Patterson, the Executive Director at the Royal Alberta Museum, Rav Rupnarain, President of FRAMS, and Drew Delbaere, FRAMS Vice President, for sharing their time with us.

Lisa [00:22:18] You can find out more about what’s on at the Royal Alberta Museum or about the Friends of Royal Alberta Museum Society on their websites, and those are RoyalAlbertaMuseum.ca and frams.ca, that’s F-R-A-M-S [dot] CA. Or you can just head over to our show notes for the links.

Andrew [00:22:36] We’ll also have links to ECF’s Well Endowed Web Show and the latest on our blog. While you’re checking out all our links, don’t forget to take a look at our upcoming granting deadlines and funding opportunities.

Lisa [00:22:47] Oh, and for those, we wanna highlight two granting opportunities that are happening right now. The first is ECF’s Young Edmonton grants. This program funds projects initiated, led, and organized by young Edmonton and area residents between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four. Grant requests can be made for up to three thousand dollars and the deadline to apply is coming up fast on October 15th.

Andrew [00:23:13] And the second opportunity is another youth-focused grant: Youth Voice. Youth Voice grants are available for innovative projects or activities that are initiated, led, and organized by young students currently enrolled in grade seven through twelve in a school within the tri-region area. So that includes Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Parkland County, and surrounding First Nations. These grants are for youth teams of two or more students, and they can apply for up to five thousand dollars for innovative youth-led projects that: raise awareness of a community issue, address a community need, or resolve an identified challenge in their community. Deadline to apply is October 31st.

[The Well Endowed Podcast jingle plays in background]

Lisa [00:23:50] Well, that brings us to the end of the show.

Andrew [00:23:52] Thanks so much for sharing your time with us.

Lisa [00:23:54] We hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please share it with everyone you know. 

Andrew [00:23:58] And please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Those reviews help new listeners find our show.

Lisa [00:24:03] You can also connect with us on Facebook where you can share your thoughts and see some pictures.

Andrew [00:24:07] Thanks again for tuning in. We’ve been your hosts, Andrew Paul—

Lisa [00:24:10] And Lisa Pruden. 

Andrew and Lisa [00:24:12] Until next time!

Andrew [00:24:14] The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation—

Lisa [00:24:19] And is an affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Andrew [00:24:22] This episode was edited by Lisa Pruden.

Lisa [00:24:24] You can visit our website at TheWellEndowedPodcast.com—

Andrew [00:24:27] Subscribe to us on iTunes—

Lisa [00:24:29] And follow us on Twitter at @theECF.

Andrew [00:24:32] Our theme music is by Octavo Productions.

Lisa [00:24:34] And as always, don’t forget to visit Edmonton Community Foundation at ecfoundation.org.

[theme music continues playing for a few seconds after dialogue ends]


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