Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Exhibit A

As a follow-up on a previous post about the precarious state of Canada's museums, one can't blame the museums themselves for failing to try to bring attention to the problem, as the Canadian Museum Association is working to point out the need for additional resources:
The Ottawa-based Canadian Museums Association is spearheading an aggressive lobbying effort across the country this summer to convince the federal government, individual MPs, the news media and the public at large that the country's 2,500 museums need not just more money, but more importantly, stable funding. Otherwise much of Canada's heritage is going to disappear.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser said as much in a report in 2004, but that was a few elections ago, which, in political years, is at least a millennium. Besides, the residents of Parliament Hill were seized at the time only with her comments about another issue the Quebec sponsorship scandal. Consequently, Canada's crumbling heritage remained on the backburner.

The last Liberal government claimed it had a new museums policy ready to go last winter. But then came the election, which produced a Conservative government. The lobbying and policy process had to start all over again, there being little institutional memory on Parliament Hill. Hence the Summer Campaign...

The continuing uncertainty of the levels of operating funds is the biggest problem facing museums, according to the Canadian Museums Association. Under the federal Museum Assistance Program, the government pumps $9 million annually into museums across the country. That figure has remained relatively constant since 1972. Most of those funds are only given for specific projects and exhibitions. Those are not funds that allow museums to pay ordinary operating expenses, including staff salaries, artifact conservation, utilities and maintenance.

The association says that that $9 million should be boosted to $75 million, be used mainly for operational funds and allow museums to have stable funding for three to five years so they can plan ahead.

Heritage Minister Bev Oda, the minister in charge of culture, has been sending mixed signals about what will be done.

"She always told us this is a priority, we're No. 1 kind of thing," says John McAvity, director of the Canadian Museums Association. "And then all of a sudden she said this needs more time. We're starting to become concerned."
Of course, there's no reason to take the Libs' supposed commitment to the cause of museums seriously in light of their failure to do anything over their first decade-plus in power. (Not to mention their previous decade in power since the last time funding was increased.)

But at the same time, Canada's museums can't afford to see the Cons follow in those footsteps again. And hopefully the CMA will be able to convince Oda and Harper that they don't want to be responsible for causing the institutions dedicated to preserving Canada's heritage to be relegated to the dustbins of history.

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