Not everyone would agree with Royal B.C. Museum CEO Jack Lohman’s assessment of the museum’s lobby as a dysfunctional space that looks like the entrance to a shopping mall, but his energetic vision is on track to making a good thing better.
Lohman is leading the effort to develop a master plan for the museum to make the facility more engaging, less cluttered and easier to navigate. No mere tinkering and touching up here — he has asked the lead architect to “create something that takes your breath away.”
The redevelopment of the museum will not be a facelift, but a transformation, if Lohman has his way. And we hope he does.
The museum makes a dramatic first impression; to enter its lobby is to be struck by the soaring First Nations figures and the open space. But it should be better, says Lohman, who calls the lobby a “visually polluted space.” His opinion is just fine — being satisfied with good enough is not the way of excellence.
The RBCM is an excellent facility, one of the crown jewels of the capital district. The aim of the master plan is to make it world-class.
Lohman’s vision is not just about looks. He wants space used more effectively and access improved to collections and archives.
Plans include a new space for the B.C. Archives, a proposal that doesn’t come a minute too soon. The archives are below sea level, mere metres from the waterfront, scarcely the ideal location for irreplaceable documents and other material from the province’s past.
Ambitious plans for development will require ambitious fundraising — it’s not a matter of spending money on the past, but of investing in the future.
While a museum is of necessity a repository of things historical, it cannot remain embedded in the past. A good museum is a living entity that preserves the continuity from past to present, rather than languishing as a warehouse for dusty artifacts.
“History is not the past, dead and gone for all but a few fact-obsessed zealots,” wrote the University of Victoria’s Eric Sager in the Times Colonist recently. “History is the past that exists in the present: It is the social memory that guides us between past, present and future. Without it, we have amnesia, and we cannot see our way clearly.”
The museum’s first home after it was founded in 1886 was a single room next to the provincial secretary’s office in the old legislative buildings known as “the Bird Cages.” It moved from there to the former Supreme Court building, and then to the east wing of the newly constructed legislative buildings in 1898.
As it grew in function and use by the public, it took up more space, including six nearby vacant lots transformed into Thunderbird Park in 1941 as a home for the museum’s totem-pole collection.
Its move from the legislature basement to its current home, built as a Canadian centennial project and opened in 1968, allowed the museum to expand its scope. It has continued to evolve as the permanent galleries opened through the 1970s and 1980s.
The master plan will take the museum a major and necessary leap ahead in that evolution.
© Copyright 2013