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Comment: Museums matter, visit one now before it’s too late

These closures make our communities and province less vibrant in the following ways.
Point Ellice House Museum and Gardens in Victoria, in August 2022. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by the executive director of the B.C. Museums Association.

The announced closure of Point Ellice House Museum and Gardens in Victoria marks the second shuttering of a cultural institution in British Columbia this year.

On behalf of the B.C. Museums Association, our hearts go out to the staff who are being laid off and to the volunteers who are losing their connection to a place where they have invested so much time, meaning, and joy.

Arts, culture and heritage organizations matter, and the closure of just one will have social, educational and economic impacts on the broader community.

Our sector is still remarkably precarious coming out of the pandemic, and without sustained support, we will continue to see more closures like the Bateman Gallery and Point Ellice House.

These closures make our communities and province less vibrant in the following ways:

1. We are losing places to better understand our histories. According to a 2022 national study, 96 per cent of Canadians view museums as essential spaces for community education.

In 2016 the provincial government began to update the provincial curriculum to include more First Nations knowledge and learning. This means that the average British Columbian over the age of 20 has received almost no formal education that truthfully engaged with Indigenous cultures and the continued impacts of colonization.

Staff at Point Ellice House have won awards for their work to reassess and reimagine how the site told the history of the colonization of Canada and the O’Reilly family’s complicity in genocidal colonial policies.

Each time an organization like Point Ellice House closes, we lose places that help us to better understand how we got here and where we must go.

2. We are losing places that support their communities. Museums have impacts on their communities beyond historical education.

Point Ellice House created an organic food program that last year grew more than 600 pounds of fresh produce for community fridges, shelters and organizations that provide free food to those most in need. This program was only in its second year and their dedicated garden team was just beginning to realize the true potential of the site, so we will not know the true number of lives this program would have touched.

3. We are losing places of economic revitalization. Point Ellice House is the last green space in a heavily industrialized neighbourhood. Few people would choose to visit the ironically named “Pleasant Street” on the weekend unless they are visiting Point Ellice House.

This small museum worked extensively with local businesses, helped to grow flowers for a local florist, worked with a local brewery to host community gatherings, invited local food trucks to events, and promoted the many hidden gems within walking distance of the site.

Small museums and cultural organizations are essential to the overall health of B.C.’s tourism ecosystem. Tourists enjoy having diverse and varied experiences. Discovering a hidden gem makes a visit memorable.

With the loss of Point Ellice House, the Rock Bay community is losing a hub for community connection and celebration. The economic impact of this will resonate beyond the walls of the heritage house.

The conclusion: Museums matter.

It matters when museums, galleries, and cultural institutions close.

While two organizations have closed this year, this is not a Victoria-specific problem; organizations across the province are at risk.

The Penticton Art Gallery recently had its budget cut in half and the Vernon Public Art Gallery had municipal support suddenly pulled from a project.

Post-COVID visitation rates are still sagging, government funding is stagnant, and while our sector has found ways to survive and adapt over the past three years, beloved organizations that touch the lives of tens of millions are standing on the brink.

If you believe in the positive potential of this amazing sector, take action now, before it is too late. Visit your favourite museum, explore a new art gallery, make a donation, buy something from a gift shop, contact your local, provincial and federal representatives — do something to show that you believe museums matter.

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