Vaughn Palmer: Museum ‘modernization’ lacks plans or timeline

Opinion: Words matter, says Minister Melanie Marks in exchange for the word “decolonization”. How about “half-baked?”

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VICTORIA — Tourism Minister Melanie Mark is trying to defuse controversy over the Royal BC Museum’s makeover, describing the work as “upgrading” and downplaying the notion of “decolonization.”

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“The word decolonization has gotten a lot of attention lately,” Mark admitted to the Legislative Assembly this week. “I use the word modernization. … My mandate is to modernize the museum.

“It means the structure, the walls that support it, the exhibits inside, the people who work there. I’m trying to bring it into the 21st century in a healthier way.

Mark was on the defensive during the annual budget debate for her Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sportswhich includes responsibility for the aging and much-loved provincial museum.

Controversy erupted late last fall with the sudden news that the Old Town, Mining, Sawing, Discovery and other exhibits on the museum’s third floor would close permanently at the end of the year. .

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The result has been a backlash in the provincial capital region, where the museum is a favorite destination for many residents and tourists.

People were angry at the short notice. More not to be consulted. And especially furious that some of the museum’s most popular exhibits have been removed – “destroyed”, some have said.

Mark added to the controversy by presenting the change as an exercise in decolonization.

“Our government’s commitment to truth and reconciliation requires that we diversify and decolonize how we share British Columbia’s history,” she said in a news release. “For too long, museums have been colonial institutions that prevent others from telling their own stories.

“We have the opportunity to turn the museum inside out, and it starts here, now, on the third floor of the museum.”

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The very word — decolonization — planted the idea that the first Aboriginal woman to hold a cabinet post in British Columbia was presiding over an exercise in erasing history.

“As a First Nations Indigenous being accused of hiding history, erasing history and damaging history – that’s the farthest from the truth,” Mark said this week. “If anything, I feel like my duty as minister is to show our collective history.”

She was answering questions from BC Liberal MP Ellis Ross, former chief councilor of the Haisla Nation.

“I don’t use the term ‘decolonization’,” Ross told him. I don’t use the word ‘settlers’. I don’t use the term “settlers”. I think it’s a pejorative term.

“I think it’s an insulting term. I think when we talk about that—I hope the minister agrees with me—we’re talking about the story of all the British Columbians who helped build British Columbia.

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Mark: “I would say the one thing he and I have in common is that we’re both aboriginal. »

But she also said she doesn’t use the word “decolonize” or “decolonization” much either.

“I can count less than 10 times in my life that I’ve said those words. If the member is really sincere in asking for my intent to use the word. … Are you trying to modernize it or are you trying to decolonize it? The answer is that we are trying to modernize.

Ross: “Is there a definition that this government uses for the term decolonization? »

Mark: “To my knowledge, the answer is no.”

The mandate of the “d” word is still present in the museum’s three-year service plan: “Decolonizing our exhibitions and practices and ensuring that we include all peoples, nations and cultures in our diverse province are at the heart of modernization of the museum. and re-image of the museum.

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But these days, the modernization campaign is more focused on structural and safety issues, including a seismic upgrade, asbestos removal and better access for all.

“I used the words we’re ‘turning the museum upside down’ and that’s literally what we’re trying to do,” the minister said.

The government has also launched a four-year, $225 million plan to move research and collections storage to a new facility in suburban Colwood.

With some of the most popular exhibits closed, the museum is cutting ticket prices and predicting a 30% drop in revenue.

This will make the place more dependent than ever on the province’s $12 million annual grant.

It’s also unclear when the “reimagined” museum envisioned in the services plan will be ready for a new generation of visitors.

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Right now, says Mark, “we’re trying to get the exhibits out of those four walls across the street.

“We have a pop-up activity and we do awareness. The third floor is being digitized so you can take a virtual tour. It’s not just the Victoria Museum, it’s the Royal BC Museum. Its mandate is to share our history across the province.

The government has yet to release a business plan, budget or timeline for the museum’s renovation.

There is the promise of extensive consultation with First Nations and the public before the plan is finalized.

“Nothing is cooked,” insists Mark.

So, it would seem that despite all the NDP’s ambitions, the museum’s modernization plan still has a long way to go.

“Words matter,” as Mark said at one point in the debate over decolonization versus modernization.

At this point, the words that come to mind are “half-baked”.

[email protected]

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