Royal B.C. Museum’s First Nations language exhibit wins award

A groundbreaking exhibit at the Royal B.C. Museum has won a prestigious award from the largest museum association and advocacy group in the U.S.

The American Alliance of Museums, based in Washington, D.C., honoured the Victoria museum Monday at the 27th annual Excellence in Exhibition Awards. The Belleville Street museum won for Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in British Columbia, which explores through audio recordings 34 of B.C.’s First Nations languages from the perspective of First Nations people.

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“We’ve been told it won for the innovation, in that it was a sound installation,” said Royal B.C. Museum CEO Jack Lohman. “It was a novel way of dealing with language.”

The award was presented at the organization’s annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. Victoria’s natural and human history museum was honoured at the gala alongside Arizona’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Pennsylvania’s the Franklin Institute and New Jersey’s National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

The Royal B.C. Museum exhibit, created in partnership with the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, was selected from a record 37 submissions this year, organizers said. The Excellence in Exhibition award was open to non-commercial institutions such as museums, zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens that offered exhibitions to the public between Nov. 30, 2012, and Nov. 30, 2014.

Mark Dickson, head of exhibitions for the B.C. museum, was on hand to accept the award and explain the exhibit, which includes interactive stations, First Nations artwork, video and audio, and provides visitors an opportunity to hear a greeting in one of the 34 First Nations languages while walking through a “language forest.”

Lohman said the win “heralds other changes” at the museum, and will likely change how First Nations collections and exhibits are presented. “It opens up new ways of working for us.”

Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in British Columbia is one of the few exhibitions in the world to deal specifically with language, Lohman said. Other institutions are looking to add something similar to their collections in the future, he added. “This is a very good model to follow.”

The exhibit will conclude its three-year-run at the Royal B.C. Museum in June 2017.

For more information, go to royalbcmuseum.bc.ca.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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