August 22, 2017


21° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast


Advertise With Us

It’s time to review our cultural policy

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/9/2015 (713 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Conservative party says it will spend up to $15 million a year to support local museums if it is re-elected in the Oct. 19 election.

It sounds positive and progressive, so where are the cheers of relief and joy from the country’s municipal and provincial museums, many of which are struggling financially?

A visitor to the St. Boniface Museum on Louis Riel Day snaps a photo of the Bell of Batoche on display inside the museum. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press files)

A visitor to the St. Boniface Museum on Louis Riel Day snaps a photo of the Bell of Batoche on display inside the museum. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Most organizations are still trying to understand the announcement, which was vague and short on details.

Even the Canadian Museums Association (CMA) was circumspect in its response. It says it’s pleased there’s another potential $15 million going into museums, even though it’s not the program it wanted.

It appears the Tory program is intended to encourage museums to start endowment funds. That means if a small museum raises $1,000, the government will kick in another $1,000. The museum can then spend the interest, or about $40.

The Tories say it will encourage museums to engage the community, but the endowment model is not what museums really need or want.

According to John McAvity, the association’s CEO, museums need a matching-grant program that would help museums run programs and put on exhibits. An endowment fund simply won’t do that.

If given a choice between raising money to put in the bank or launching a fundraiser to stage an exhibit, most local museums will pick the latter.

McAvity said his group asked all four political parties to consider setting up a $50-million matching-grant program when the election was called. So far, only the Tories have responded with their underwhelming pledge.

McAvity says he was also hoping the Tories, and the other political parties, would agree to review the country’s museum policy. It was established in 1972, and reviewed in 1990, but there’s been no update since.

The need is urgent, McCavity says, noting the government’s museum-assistance budget has actually declined over the decades.

The Paul Martin government had agreed to a museum review during the 2006 election, but it was defeated by Stephen Harper’s Tories.

The existing model is outdated and needs to be modernized and properly funded to support a sector that contributes nearly $50 billion to the economy.

Mr. Harper has not been hostile to museums, and he has helped launch two new national museums — one in Winnipeg and one in Halifax — but the struggles of the country’s 2,600 museums and heritage organizations has not been a federal priority and still isn’t.

The Conservative government has certainly been good at promoting military anniversaries and the search for the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition.

Nothing wrong with that, but Canada’s history is more than a collection of world-changing events.

Local history played a decisive role in the way communities and the country developed. And much of this history is showcased by small museums, such as the St. Boniface Museum and the Manitoba Museum.

Most municipal museums are entirely dependent on program funding from the city and province, but their grants have either been stagnant or reduced.

The St. Boniface Museum has established a small fundraising arm to help support programs and exhibitions. An endowment fund is unlikely to be of much help to this institution, which is one of the jewels in the city’s cultural landscape.

Cultural policy is never a priority during national elections, but now the Tories have got the ball rolling, the other parties should show their ideas for bolstering a neglected industry.

In fact, while we are at it, let’s have a full debate on the whole cultural industry, including the CBC, the Canada Council, national and local museums and the arts in general.


Advertise With Us

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press' editorial board.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.

Photo Store

Scroll down to load more