From childhood museum visits to CEO of Western Development Museum, Joan Kanigan has a lifelong passion for heritage

joan-kanigan-editJoan Kanigan, Chief Executive Officer of the Western Development Museum, has always had a passion for museums and heritage. Some of her earliest memories are of visiting museums in Regina with her family, learning about the world around her and what life was like in the past.

“Museums are places of connection and not only was I connecting with my family, I was developing a broader understanding of the world and our place in it,” said Joan.

She grew up to earn a Master of Arts degree at Trent University followed by a graduate certificate in Museum Management and Curatorship at Fleming College.

“What I enjoyed most was that almost all of our classes were held in the Peterborough Museum & Archives,” said Joan about her Fleming College experience.

“Everything we were taught was complemented with actual experience,” she said. “For example, instead of just talking about how to design exhibits, we got to create an exhibit for the museum– right from conception to opening it to the public. The hands-on experience, which is part of the program, was very valuable.”

Joan, who graduated from Fleming College in 1995, said she recommends this program because it is an excellent introduction to all facets of museology.

“What I appreciated most about the program was the practical skills that we learnt in addition to the theoretical background. It’s one thing to talk about how to do something and another to have the opportunity to learn by doing.”

22 years after graduating from Fleming College, Joan is now CEO of the Western Development Museum, which has four museum branches throughout Saskatchewan. Joan is responsible for providing strategic leadership and management in the areas of financial, risk and facilities management; board administration and support; fundraising; program and service delivery; people leadership and community relations.

Recently she amalgamated the collections, conservation, and research departments into a single curatorial department, which is a change Joan is proud to have implemented.  “The excitement the staff involved in this change are bringing to the process is incredibly rewarding,” she said. “It is amazing to see how much creativity and passion has been unleashed by bringing these departments together. Everyone is working more collaboratively and there is a real sense of purpose being shown by everyone in the department.”

Her advice to current students is to never stop learning. “Since graduating, I have continually worked to develop new skills and gain a greater understanding of governance, leadership and management,” said Joan.

“The skills and knowledge you gain through formal education is just the beginning,” she added. “I have been working for non-profits and museums for over 20 years and there is still so much more learning and development I can do to better serve my organization and our communities.”