Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Donation competition stresses museums

Focus on CMHR causes others to struggle

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The recent announcement of the official opening date for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has brought a spotlight down on museums in this city. It highlights the critical roles all cultural facilities in this city play and the vital need for us as citizens to live up to our civic and social responsibilities in supporting these places, allowing them to enrich our understanding of the past and provide access to the stories that have shaped our current experiences.

We, the City of Winnipeg museums board, fully support the CMHR. Museums enrich our communities and offer benefits beyond simply visiting the past. The forthcoming opening of the CMHR does, however, bring up a very pressing issue for all museums in Winnipeg in that stable funding for these cultural gems is essential.

The millions of dollars going to support this new national museum are wonderful gifts. These gifts, however, have come at the cost of lost or reduced funding to the other museums in the city, creating a competitive rather than collaborative funding environment. The Prairie 360 opening dinner, which is being used to raise funds for the CMHR, is laudable. It is important to understand, though, that such events can have a magnified impact on facilities with far smaller budgets but with equally important stories to share.


For example, the thousands of dollars raised at this dinner, while important to the human rights museum, would mean almost a year of operating funds for a museum such as Dalnavert -- which is currently experiencing financial duress.

Recent articles regarding the temporary closure of Dalnavert have created some confusion regarding the future of this extraordinary place. The museum has an expanded visitor centre that offers rental space for conferences and meetings and plays host to a number of ongoing events such as the needlework partnership sale, as well as a Christmas sale coming at the end of this month. The gift shop is also open.

These ancillary services are an important source of revenue for the museum. The Winnipeg Free Press is inadvertently causing damage to the museum's ability to generate much-needed funds by giving the incorrect impression these facilities are closed.

Rather than further harming museums' ability to self-fund, it would seem to be a more civic-minded thing to support these efforts and publicize what services, events and volunteer opportunities are open to Winnipeggers to enjoy -- at Dalnavert, and indeed at all of the other wonderful museums this city has to offer.

The Winnipeg Free Press ran a poll asking readers whether they thought Dalnavert should remain open. Overwhelmingly, Winnipeggers responded that, yes, they saw value in this facility. We as citizens have a need to come to terms with what this actually means. We are now at a point where, in order to realize the full potential of all of our museums and facilities, it requires champions to come forward and convert this expressed support into actual cultural investment.

The human rights museum is positioning itself as an agent of change -- an institution that, after having visited its galleries, will inspire visitors to commit to learn more about humankind's historical successes and failures, fight for social justice, be more civic-minded, and give of their time and financial resources to worthy causes in their global and local communities.

Now is an excellent time to take advantage of the fact our other precious city museums actually offer the opportunities to fulfil those same exemplary commitments.


Daria Rakowski is a citizen member of the City of Winnipeg museums board, a funding and advocacy body supported by the City of Winnipeg to enable local museums to continue telling Winnipeg stories.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2013 A1

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