When Jason Clarke, our Content Strategist, approached me with the question ‘what inspires you?’, I think he was expecting something suitably nerdy and nature-loving, given my hard-to-hide geekiness about all things ‘Sciencey’. After all, my first job back in the 90s was to develop a website for my paleontology professor – and at NGX, our Science Centre projects have been some of my favourites. But as compelling as rocks are, when asked to reflect on inspiration, I kept coming back to stories. I love all stories – and I love what stories do to challenge perspectives, open minds, and connect people.
A recent article in the NY Times caught my attention with its photo series on forgiveness and reconciliation. The photos featured the victim and the perpetrator of violent crimes from the Rwanda genocide 20 years ago. The photos themselves were stunning – but the stories that accompanied the photos stopped me in my tracks. They were heartbreaking – and yet they were also stories of hope, compassion, and forgiveness. It was this hope that kept me glued to the page.
This isn’t the first time that a story of hope amidst tragedy has grabbed my heart. The Tutu Project is a photo series that features portraits of a man wearing a pink tutu (and nothing else). The series started as a personal tribute to the man’s wife during her battle with cancer but grew to become a larger statement for cancer awareness. The photos bring levity to a serious situation – and gloriously celebrate life in a way that tells such an amazing story of love. Bob Carey’s mission of awareness for breast cancer is more than just that – it is also a powerful reminder to cherish our loved ones while we can.
A similar reminder also came from an unexpected source: live tweeting. Scott Simon, an NPR journalist, grasped the attention of a nation by sharing his very personal experience of his mother’s death through Twitter. His succinct tweets belied the notion that compelling stories need to be lengthy to be meaningful. He also showed how technology is simply a medium – the message is what draws people in. His personal story transcended social media to connect with people in a memorable way.
Stories do not need to be sad to resonate. I found inspiration from the photo series by UK photographer Andrew Whyte that features photos from the perspective of a tiny traveling Lego man. The photos are whimsical, clever, and fun. When I saw the world from the Lego man’s perspective, I learned once again not to take life too seriously. I gravitated to the Lego man’s curiosity and wonder at the world around him.
Storytelling is what compels me in the work that I do at NGX. Sometimes the stories focus on tragedy, sometimes on a new perspective, but always the story takes centre stage. This year, we created an interactive touch table experience of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster for the Frank Slide Interpretive Center in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. 189 men lost their lives in the disaster 100 years ago – and the exhibit tells the story of the disaster, the men who died, and the lead investigator on the case.
Sometimes the stories we tell at NGX harken back to my scientific roots. For the Kluane National Park and Reserve Visitor Centre we worked with Parks Canada and local First Nation communities in the Yukon to tell the story of the park. The digital media exhibits convey the varying perspectives on park ecology, human history, and First Nations reconciliation with the park land.
A personal favourite is an exhibit we created for the Burnaby Village Museum to tell the story of their vintage 1912 carousel. Visitors explore a virtual carousel to learn about the restoration of each of the 39 horses – each of them an artistic and cultural treasure. There are bells and whistles for their interactive exploration, but the story is the heart of the experience.
Whether focused on tragedy, new perspectives, or finding meaning in art, our work is driven by stories. Stories connect us, remind us what is important, and help us understand our world. I feel privileged to be able to tell stories in the work that I do every day.
– Jessica Doig, Vice President