Catching Up: The “Know Your Winspear” Project

In 2015, the Francis Winspear Centre for Music embarked on a project to create a digital archive of key moments in Edmonton’s musical history. With Know Your Winspear, what began as an online collection photographs, ads, pamphlets and other ephemera,has become a physical museum of sorts, sharing this history with guests on the Winspear’s lobby and backstage walls. We caught up with the Winspear’s Julia Dolman and Jodi Learn about how the project evolved over the last two years.

Describe your project in five words.

Snapshots of Edmonton’s Musical History

What gave you the idea for the project?

The idea to create a photo gallery backstage had been on our minds for some time. We had seen similar galleries at Carnegie Hall in New York and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and we knew that a photo display would be a great addition to our backstage area. The photos would facilitate the sharing of stories on our backstage tours, as well as amongst musicians, staff, and patrons of the Winspear Centre, and would be a powerful medium through which to honour the musicians who have made a significant impact on our community. All we needed was the time and the resources to make it happen. 

What challenges did you face—and what did you learn—throughout the project?

One of the first challenges we faced was finding accurate information about all of our photographs. When we started the project, we were still in the process of solidifying our new archival procedures, so many of our photos were out of order and lacked identifying information. Fortunately, we were able to request help from several long-time ESO musicians to identify the key people and performances featured in some of the photographs.

While we were making decisions about which photographs to include in our collection, we learned the importance of having input from a variety of sources. We were fortunate to have help from Marianne Scott, former owner of Edmonton’s Scott Gallery, who guided us through the process of curating this exhibit. Everyone that we spoke to about the project had different experiences with the ESO & Winspear Centre and our goal was to represent as many of distinct memories as possible.

In our search for the perfect photos to represent our organization’s history, we discovered that we have some significant gaps in our photographic collection. This process has reminded us to capture even the smallest moments on camera because you never know what will be of value in the future.

In your opinion, what is/are the greatest successes and impacts from the project in the community?

The history of the ESO & Francis Winspear Centre for Music is now being shared with every musician, artist, staff member, volunteer, patron and guest that comes through our backstage hallway. Almost every person who has lived in Edmonton will find some way of connecting with the gallery – whether they attended an education concert with their school, have a relative in the orchestra, or have been a season subscriber for over 30 years. We welcome members of the community to visit the gallery during one of our free Overture tours. For upcoming tour dates, visit our Event Calendar at

Do you have any future plans to continue the work of the project? How can people become involved?

This initial gallery is only Phase One of the project. We will continue to add photos to the gallery and would love to hear from anyone who has a photo or a memory to share. Enquiries can be directed to

What advice do you have for individuals or organizations in Edmonton looking to undertake projects that share Edmonton’s story?

Visit to the City of Edmonton Archives or Provincial Archives of Alberta. They are phenomenal resources and you’ll be amazed by what you can uncover.

Keep the lines of communication open and push yourself to open new ones. Talk to people inside and outside of your organization. Even try to reach out to people who don’t appear to have a direct relationship with your work – they might surprise you!