Arts & Life
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This article was published 20/9/2014 (2121 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If there's one early indication of the impact of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, it may be that Winnipeg has one of the world's most expensive conversation pieces sitting smack dab in the city's living room.
After all, it's not hard to find visitors to sing its architectural praises.
"It's a beautiful building," marvelled Reen Pacholik, who along with husband, Joe, was visiting from Ottawa on Saturday. "It's like the Canadian Museum of History (in the nation's capital). It has those incredible lines."
"It looks pretty awesome from the outside, for sure," added Lindsay Gerhart, who was making a pit stop in Winnipeg while in the process of hitchhiking across Canada. "I'm going to have to come back and see it sometime."
Yet even during the first day of RightsFest — a weekend of free concerts (some cancelled by rain Saturday) and stage performances — the shadow cast by the CMHR was palpable. One Portage la Prairie woman, after taking a preview tour along with her husband, was asked about her first impressions of the $351-million structure.
"My first thought," she replied, "was we could have fed a lot of homeless people with the money for this building. It didn't impress me."
The woman didn't want to give her name, only underscoring the baggage associated with the museum, which won't be officially open to the public until next week. Another woman approached for a comment on the CMHR replied, "I'd rather not say anything. It's so controversial. I'm just here for the concert."
Right, the concert. Just then onstage, the lead singer of Juno-nominated Winnipeg band Royal Canoe, Matt Peters, was pointing out to the crowd the weight of the museum's location, so close to the Red River, where police found yet another unidentified female body that morning.
"It (the museum) is right by the river, it's right by the downtown," Peters said, offstage. "It heightens the conversation. They're dragging the Red River as we speak."
Peters acknowledged members of Royal Canoe had concerns about playing RightsFest. They had considered withdrawing but wanted to take a wait-and-see approach, noting, "We thought it was more important to come and play. We haven't even seen what's inside yet."
A Tribe Called Red cancelled its Saturday-night performance earlier in the week, citing what they described as the museum's "downplay of the genocide that was experienced by indigenous people in Canada by refusing to name it genocide. Until this is rectified, we'll support the museum from a distance."
Meanwhile, Peters said the freedom of speech the museum aspires to foster will not be a one-way street.
"They (museum officials) say they want this to start a conversation," he said. "And the conversation is not always going to be nice."
Indeed, leading up to the initial limited tours this weekend, museum CEO Stuart Murray was welcoming protesters. Anti-abortion protesters lined the street leading to the CMHR on Saturday. Palestinian groups have criticized the lack of recognition of their struggle. Ukrainian organizations have long been lobbying the museum to increase content of the Holodomor.
Even some who attended RightsFest -- and admittedly plan to tour the museum at the first opportunity -- expressed concerns.
For example, Jonathan Northam, a political science student at the University of Winnipeg, questioned the decision not to classify the historical treatment of aboriginals in Canada as "genocide" as opposed to "mass atrocity."
"Yet we're willing to open a museum to classify genocides in other countries," Northam said. "Because that's easier than recognizing our own history. It's patronizing. By making a museum, they get to dictate what genocide is."
"It's powerful, too," added Amanda Lievana, a social worker at the University of Manitoba. "(But) it's good it creates a dialogue, too. It may be a platform for change."
Dialogue. Disagreements. Protests. Education. A platform for grievances. These are already pillars of the museum, said Winnipegger Rollin Penner, who attended Saturday's festival.
"From what I've seen, the purpose of the museum is to get people talking," said Penner, who confessed his wife is a longtime member of Friends of the CMHR. "It's not to tell people how to think. It's to give people an opportunity to hear the stories. It's already given people a platform to get their stories out and it's not even open yet.
"If it turns out that one of these conversations leads to actual change -- such as the issue of murdered and missing women, for example -- that's what they (the museum) want. They want to make a difference."
Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.
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