Museum develops new vision after public input

Local News

After a summer-long tour listening to people in cities and towns across B.C., the Royal B.C. Museum is incorporating citizen input into its master plan for redevelopment.

“The community members told us . . . how important it was to them that the collections be preserved properly, and also be made accessible,” said Angela Williams, the chief operating officer for the Royal B.C. Museum. “The third thing was that people in the communities want to see us more . . . That can be through travelling exhibitions,” says Williams, citing Aliens Among Us, a 2 000–square foot exhibition about invasive species, making its way through Revelstoke and other communities in the interior of B.C.

Plans for redevelopment have been in the works for years, but have been stymied by zoning restrictions. Up until 2011, the City of Victoria classified the museum property as 26 residential lots, not commercial property, which complicated any large-scale construction. After its reclassification as a Comprehensive Development Zone (similar to St. Ann’s Academy and the Selkirk Waterfront), the museum could potentially increase its interior space from 228 000 square feet to up to a million square feet. However, the museum acknowledges that accessibility means more than just improving ease of access to the gallery by increasing floor space.

“There are a whole bunch of things that we want to achieve here that’s not just about redeveloping our site. It’s about sharing the collections that we hold for all British Columbians, to British Columbians, and providing them access to it.”

Williams says since not everyone can visit the museum in person, the museum aims to improve access to its artifacts online. Museum staff are working to make the collections available online by digitizing multimedia items and photographing artifacts, with descriptions to aid both the professional researcher and amateur genealogist. Ninety per cent of exisiting collections cannot be physically displayed due to lack of exhibition space.

While digitizing is underway, the physical presence of the museum is still up for debate. The museum website currently describes the organization’s vision for 2017, but a more concrete master plan will be released by the end of the year. Even with the plan though, funding remains the biggest hurdle to the museum’s development.

Williams cites numerous problems with the aging site, including an archive building vulnerable to flooding, general inaccessibility, and wayfinding issues between the lobby and the exhibition galleries, but stresses that unlike a quick-progressing condo development, the museum will grow in phases over decades. Rather than provide a strict plan for development, the upcoming master plan would provide suggestions to solve ongoing problems like the facility’s diminishing storage space.

Speaking personally, Williams wants to see something that “brings the magic back,” along with the crucial task of safeguarding the museum’s existing collection, but when asked about specific priorities, Williams said the order and pace of construction would depend on funding. As a Crown corporation, the museum cannot borrow to fund its expansion, so it is looking to secure government funding as well as funding from philanthropists.

To complete one major phase of construction in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, Williams says that any government funding will need to be secured by mid-2014.

“We might be hugely lucky and have government say, ‘We’ll fund the whole thing and you guys figure out the phases.’ I mean, wouldn’t that be delightful? I don’t know that it’ll happen that way, but I’d be over the moon if it did.”

The museum is optimistic yet realistic about its situation and is working to secure new business relationships similar to its partnership with IMAX, as well as corporate and private philanthropic interest. Ultimately, though, capturing the public’s interest is the goal, and not just when the weather is poor.

“When we have sunny days, people tend to do all the other beautiful things in Victoria that are outside. When we have rainy days, people come here. I don’t want this to be the rainy destination. I want this to be the destination because it’s a really cool place to be.”