TXTilecity: Museums, Imagined Geographies and Real-World Relevance

Shauna McCabe, Canada , Shawn McCarty, Canada

In June 2012, the Textile Museum of Canada (TMC) completed and launched TXTilecity (www.txtilecity.ca), a unique mobile platform that highlights the key role textiles have played in shaping the surrounding urban landscape of Toronto. Founded in 1975, the Textile Museum of Canada has an international collection of 13000 artifacts representing over 2000 years and 200 countries, a key resource for the museum’s dynamic exhibition program. While well-positioned to speak to identities and experiences in a global historical context through this rich archive of the materials of everyday lives, the role and relationship of the museum to its own urban context and to the significant role textiles have played in shaping Toronto as a global city had not been established or developed to any degree.

This demonstration will highlight how this mobile initiative, TXTilecity, positions the Textile Museum of Canada to build relevance and capacity to address its real world setting. Connecting the Museum and its collection to its lived social context, the project extends strategic vision beyond the museum's walls, taking advantage of the unique insight into the city’s "urban fabric" offered by the Textile Museum by activating intangible cultural assets in the form of layered stories of labour, immigration, and culture embedded within the city's geography associated with the historic garment district and the evolution of the textile sector. 

TXTilecity harnesses abilities to combine interactive technologies with location-based dimensions to build real world impact, enabling inhabitants and visitors of the city to access and experience – in participatory, adaptive, personalised ways – connections to layered geographies and histories that inform today’s urban landscape.

The demonstration also situates the initiative as a template for the wider museum community and heritage and cultural sectors. As an experiential and interactive platform that connects the museum to its local setting and surroundings through narrative "street views," TXTilecity represents a tool that provides access to under-recognized stories associated with the Textile Museum of Canada – those associated with textiles in Toronto’s early garment manufacturing and the performing arts, to the rise of the fashion industry and contemporary design that have defined Toronto as a diverse urban setting and creative city. Extending institutional capacity, TXTilecity “augments reality” through digital storytelling and location-based tools to enable users to interpret cultural heritage and share knowledge, and appreciate how geographical issues play out in the real world.

Produced by the Textile Museum of Canada in collaboration with creative partners Year Zero One and [murmur], TXTilecity offers a valuable case to examine the capacity-building potential of mobile technology to extend the museum experience and impact in tangible ways, and to stimulate a public sense of inquiry, curiosity and creativity in the lived environment. Taking advantage of the unique insight into communities offered by every cultural and heritage institution, such initiatives offer unique and powerful educational opportunities through encounters with historical moments and collective memories that are essential to a community’s past, and definitive to its future.