A Day in the Life of a Curator

By Ryan Lee

(Featured in our July/August 2023 Issue of From the Hangar Newsletter)

John Liddle, Curator Ryan Lee, and a volunteer examining a hatch of an aircraft
Being a curator at an aviation museum is and often exhilarating and demanding role – one that combines my passion or aviation history with the responsibility of preserving and showcasing our story. It involves a unique blend of research, organization, exhibition planning, graphic design, construction, public speaking, and a lot of listening.  

Summarizing my job into a “typical day” is a Sisyphean task. Almost every day is different, which keeps things fresh and always presents new challenges. A lot of my work since joining the staff in 2018 (having previously volunteered part time while working for 418 Squadron Association) has been focused on collections management. Broadly, it is important for a museum to know what it has, where it came from, and where it is now – but the museum has struggled in the past with keeping regular volunteers and staff in the archives that could keep up with this work. We’re not alone in that regard – ask any collections manager, and they’ll confess to being behind.  Thankfully in the last five years, we’ve done a huge amount of catchup. It has been fun re-discovering objects and their stories in the collection. Some have been on display before, and some stories have yet to be shared. 

Sharing our stories is my favourite part of the job. I started volunteering for the museum at the tail end of 2014 as a tour guide, and I always enjoy talking to visitors. Equally important is listening – there are a lot of stories to cover.  Recently, I’ve re-done a lot of our display panels in the museum, which involves a lot of careful research and double-checking of facts, and a lot of design work. I’ve never considered myself artistic (just crafty), but I’ve really enjoyed developing my graphic design skills. A bit focus of my work for the rest of the year and into the next will be on re-doing a lot of displays in the museum, with updated graphics, new artifacts, and expanded stories. We’ve got some big gaps to fill, though it’s always challenging to find a way to tell those stories in a way that best connects with all visitors. I can tend to be a little bit wordy (anyone that has watched all 15 hours of the lectures series might agree) – but almost nobody wants to stand on a hard concrete floor and read a novel. 


A young Ryan Lee at 10 years old in front of an aircraft.
Even at the young age of 10, Ryan has been drawn to aviation. (1992)

Interactive exhibits are another big component of museums, and something I hope to continue expanding. We recently received some touchscreen kiosks as a generous donation. Turning them into interactive exhibits has been simultaneously fun and frustrating. An easy solution is to pay a company to develop content, but it’s expensive, and we strive for frugality here. I’m not a computer programmer, but I taught myself enough VBA to build interactive functionality into various PowerPoints. Several of the kiosks need replacement parts, but I’m hoping to have those fixed (or buy new ones) to bring more interactive displays to the floor. One of the biggest challenges with interactivity is maintenance. The simulators on the floor are extremely popular but require a lot of maintenance to keep in proper order, and two of the kiosks have stopped working in the past few months. 

 One aspect of my job that is difficult for others to see is research requests. I get a lot of emails from other researchers, authors, model builders, film makers, and TV crews for information about our story.  It’s an important part of my job and I’m glad that so many people are interested, but sometimes a distressing amount of research is needed to answer some requests. I’ve very indebted to our librarian John Liddle, who assists or takes on some of these requests through our excellent research and reference library. 

There a lot of other aspects to my job – too many to describe in a reasonable article – but they all contribute to keeping me on my toes, and I’m grateful to be able to work in such a dynamic environment with so many great people. 


Ryan and Ashely Lee on their wedding day at the Alberta Aviation Museum's Hangar 14
Ryan and his wife, Ashley on their wedding day at historic Hangar 14