It took a while to arrange my interview with Jack Lohman, who came to Victoria as the CEO of the Royal British Columbia Museum last March. He is, of course, busy with this job, as well as a number of others. He is professor of museum design and communications at the Bergen National Academy of the Arts in Norway, chairman of the National Museum of Poland in Warsaw and an adviser to the Museum of Slavery in Dubai.
A native of London, Lohman arrived here after a 10-year project to remake the Museum of London in time for the 2012 Olympics. For his work there, the Queen recently named him a Commander of the British Empire. After I admired the periwinkle blue enamel medal that comes with the CBE, I asked how he was going to fit Victoria into his schedule.
"Most people have lives. I have museums," he said with a smile.
Lohman is a high-value international player, and wherever he travels, he's always on the lookout for "what's going to be useful to us here."
Recently he was in Washington, D.C., consulting with the Smithsonian Institution about its Year of Linguistic Diversity and making connections that will come into play with his "recalibration" of our museum.
So how about Victoria? "What an immensely, powerfully beautiful place it is," said Lohman, who raved about the stunning beauty he discovered on his recent trips to Fort Rupert, Friendly Cove and Gold River, and from his James Bay apartment. Other than the scenery, what brought him here?
"I am very interested in history," Lohman said. "One of the things that drew me here was the history of this area." He mentioned the Douglas treaties, the gold rush, the Hudson's Bay Co. and - of course - the indigenous people of Lek-wungen, where the museum stands. Beyond the museum, his mandate also covers directorship of the British Columbia Archives, which he described as "a huge attractor for me."
His major task may be to bring the museum's storyline up to date. Since this interpretive museum's narrative was first laid out in 1971, the context has changed.
"I think it's a little embar-assing," Lohman admitted.
"It's a question of saying it again, and saying it differently. We'll be keeping the same infrastructure and seeing our story through a new lens. The portal I want to use is language."
Lohman is also charged with redeveloping the museum precinct. He said that his first thought was "a very big, ambitious development plan with tall towers." At that point in the conversation, we were looking out the window of his 10th-floor office, considering the government's Finance Ministry to the south and Rattenbury's domes to the west.
"But in a way, I specialize in being realistic. What is achievable? What is the best for Victoria? I certainly don't want to be responsible for wrecking Victoria."
So, realistically, what does he hope to achieve? "I'm unhappy with the whole approach to the entrance. It's completely cluttered. I want to clean it up so it's less like coming into a cinema, more of coming into a museum."
Further down the road? "We've got to do something about the archives," he said. A new building is what he has in mind, located on property south of the current buildings. "And bring back the master carvers' workshop," he continued, adding that the carving program that disappeared when the carving shed was torn down must be re-established. This would lead directly to a wonderful new totem to be carved to mark Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017.
And while he's at it, he wants to exploit some of the commercial potential of the area around Helmcken House - for teas and so on. At the moment, as he noticed, "it's landscaped quite harshly."
One can only imagine the difficulty he faces, learning all about B.C. in a short time. Lohman understands that the knowledge resides within his staff. That said, his passion for history prepares him to discover our past with new eyes, and his broad experience has trained him for it.
A few years ago, he assembled 15 national museums in South Africa for a new museum institution there. He also told me of the difficulties of his work in Poland, where the museum was bankrupt and besieged by demands for restitution on all sides when he took it over. Those problems have been largely overcome.
Here in Victoria, Lohman seems determined to delve into the Douglas treaties and lead us to a new understanding of the relationship between First Nations, the Hudson's Bay Co., the settlers and ourselves. We have much to learn, and Lohman and I had a wide-ranging and candid discussion about the challenges ahead.
Our conversation continues next week.
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