OTTAWA -- The Canadian Museum for Human Rights shaved $10 million from its operating budget last year thanks to construction delays that allowed it to put off hiring staff and spending money on marketing and technology.
The 2011-12 annual report for the CMHR tabled in the House of Commons last week lists the museum's latest accomplishments and challenges. It confirms the new opening date of early 2014 and notes the base building will be completed by the end of this year. Exhibits are mostly sketched out and are ready to begin being built. The report also notes the museum spent just $11.7 million of its $21.7-million operating budget. That includes $2.5 million saved by postponing hiring, $4.2 million in savings in exhibitions and new media, $1-million savings in information technology and $2.3 million saved in marketing and communications.
The museum hired 13 people last year instead of 35.
Angela Cassie, director of communications for the CMHR, said the museum sought and received permission to direct the savings into its capital budget. That means the amount owing on a $45-million advance provided by the federal government over the summer is down to $35 million.
"We were able to apply it to capital," Cassie said.
The picture is far rosier than it was a year ago, when the museum was pushing back its 2013 opening date by at least a year due to construction delays, watching the capital budget balloon and watching key staff stream out the door, including the chief operating officer and chairman of the board.
In December 2011, the museum announced at its first annual general meeting that the capital cost to build the structure and fill it with exhibits had risen another 13 per cent to $351 million. That was up from the $310-million estimate in 2009, and 32 per cent more than the original estimate of $265 million in 2007. Private fundraising requirements have gone from $150 million to $200 million.
Amid all this, the museum was reaching out to Ottawa and the provincial government for a bailout. That finally came in the form of the $45-million advance payment from Ottawa and a $35-million loan guarantee by the provincial government for the museum's fundraising arm, Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The latter allows the Friends to borrow money for the museum from banks, giving them more time to raise the cash from the private sector. At the end of March 2012, the Friends had raised $130 million.
The annual report blames the capital-cost overruns on everything from additional structural reinforcement needs and foundation problems when poor soil conditions were discovered, to larger ductwork and higher heating costs.
Cassie said some of the savings in the operating budget were achieved by postponing things, while others came from full cuts, including marketing campaigns, and a reduction in travel and how many conferences staff attended.
Museum CEO Stuart Murray spent $16,840.31 on travel in 2011-12, compared to $25,506.89 the year before. It is a far cry from the $60,635 former chief operation officer Patrick O'Reilly spent on travel in just two quarters of 2009-10. Last year, Murray's travels were most often to Ottawa for meetings with embassies and federal government MPs and officials.
Cassie said the report reflects the museum's greater clarity in its role and its fiscal situation.
"In any startup, there are always items that need to be refined," she said.
Museum offers opportunities to shop with a conscience
SHOPPING for a Christmas gift that's just Rights? How about a pair of sterling silver cufflinks extolling the virtues of human rights or a shiny green water bottle indicating you've taken the pledge not to use disposable plastic water bottles anymore?
They're both part of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights collection available by email or at four Winnipeg retailers.
There are seven different T-shirts and sweatshirts available, including a children's shirt with a chalkboard front on which kids can write their own messages. The shirt comes with chalk and there is even a little pocket sewn into it to carry the chalk at all times.
There are also tote and shoulder bags, jewelry, a coffee mug, a gel pen and a box of fair-trade chocolate truffles from Winnipeg chocolatier Constance Popp.
Angela Cassie, director of communications for the CMHR, said the museum has been trying out merchandise as it prepares to open a boutique when the museum finally opens in 2014.
"It's an opportunity for us to start testing products," she said. "We've seen some interesting uptake."
According to the 2011-12 annual report, the CMHR completed a retail-store business plan last year. Cassie said human rights will be maintained in the production and sale of products for the museum. That means suppliers will have to meet certain standards in areas such as wages and working conditions.
The museum also has committed to using fair trade products and is focusing on handmade and locally produced items.
Some of the items are available at the Artifacts Gallery at The Forks, at Hilary Druxman on McDermot Avenue, at Tourisme Riel on Provencher Boulevard and at McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park Shopping Centre. They can also be purchased by phone or email. There is a catalogue of items available online at www.humanrightsmuseum.ca/shop .