Some former employees of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights may have wanted more death and less cheer, but the museum’s directors have a valid concern that a museum overwhelmingly focused on inhumanity might turn off some visitors, while weakening the overall educational experience.
The story of human rights, moreover, is not an unrelenting tale of murder and genocide.
From ancient times to the modern era, the tale is also one of heroism, inspiration and bravery in pursuit of measures to limit the power of the sovereign and consecrate the rights of individuals, to form a social contract that safeguards the dignity of all.
The point is people can make a difference, which is the very essence of the museum’s mission.
There will be enough horror in the museum without a separate gallery that was supposed to consider some 80 genocides, but there is nothing stopping the curators from staging temporary exhibits or conferences on atrocities that won’t have a permanent home in the museum.
The idea of distributing Canadian stories throughout the museum, instead of placing them all in one gallery at the end of the journey, will work if it is properly done.
The idea of a Canadian ghetto in a Canadian museum was never entirely appealing.
The $351-million museum at The Forks has been a work in progress, both in terms of design and content, since it was first proposed 10 years ago, and it should be no surprise its staff and directors are still searching for the right mix of ideas.
It will undoubtedly continue to evolve and change after it opens in 2014, when it will become clearer what works and what doesn’t.
The museum has always been a controversial concept and that is not expected to change after it opens. Controversy, in fact, is not a bad thing if it generates dialogue, debate and learning.