Editorial: On the question of museums, compromise is necessary, but unlikely to happen
Based on this comments page, the vast majority of readers are at the very least opposed and in many cases outraged by the proposed changes to the Royal BC Museum.
The main “change” is to eliminate two of the museum’s most popular exhibits. The Old Town exhibit and Captain George Vancouver’s ship exhibit are to be removed entirely.
What will replace them? No one, much less the board of directors or the minister in charge, can say it, even if there was vaguely talk of “decolonizing” the exhibitions.
How much will the changes cost? No one knows either.
How long will it take? Again the same answer except we can maybe talk up to five years.
Much of the blame for this utterly perverse decision has been blamed on the board of directors, an assembly of 10 people appointed by the provincial government.
And they certainly deserve censorship. The museum, one of Victoria’s top tourist attractions, receives approximately $ 12 million per year in funding from the province.
This makes it a public establishment, and not a private conservatory for the benefit of a select clientele.
However, deaf and blind as the members of the board of directors are, the main responsibility does not lie with them, but with the province, and more particularly with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sports.
For the board just follow the instructions. Here is an excerpt from the mandate letter sent to the council by then Tourism Minister Lisa Beare after the change of government in 2017:
“Two key priorities that will underpin sustainable prosperity are promoting reconciliation with indigenous peoples and the transition to a low carbon economy. “
What does prosperity have to do with running a museum? Its aim is to preserve and make available information about our culture and to shed light on our past.
If this contributes to prosperity, so much the better, but it is by no means the driving motivation behind a museum.
No one could disagree with advancing reconciliation with indigenous peoples. But at the cost of erasing an important part of our history and burying the role the settlers played in the construction of the province?
It doesn’t have to be a proposition either / or. Both aspects of our enduring past can and should be taken into account.
And for the sake of polishing the minister, if the transition to a low carbon economy is really a key priority for the museum, why remove the Captain Vancouver exhibit? It didn’t come on coal or diesel, it came in this clean energy vessel, a wind powered sailboat.
It is clear what happened here. A minister with no previous experience in the arts or culture simply swallowed a whole list of scripted priorities for an election campaign and imposed them willy-nilly on a captive council.
The government valiantly defended these changes, noting that extensive consultations had taken place beforehand. If there were indeed consultations, it is clear that the vast majority of contributors were groups firmly aligned with the thinking of the government.
It wasn’t so much an open consultation as it was a gathering of like-minded supporters.
Nonetheless, if the province is serious about letting the population at large have a say, the opportunity remains. Put the project on ice, hold a referendum and accept whatever emerges.
Make sure by all means that by taking this course, the voices of indigenous peoples, who are necessarily a minority, are not suppressed. There is room here for compromise.
But unfortunately, as it stands, compromise is the last thing the department and the board are concerned with.
For a province with such a rich and varied history to set out to erase huge pieces of the past is the most destructive factionalism.