BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Museum rhetoric

Instead of progressive action and looking to the future, all that comes from elected officials are band-aids

There was a lot of talk about the importance of heritage and museums last week.

It all began with MP Colin Mayes announcing $100,000 in funding for the Greater Vernon Museum as part of the Canada 150 initiative.

“By telling the community’s story, we make our community stronger,” said Mayes of the museum.

An additional $100,000 will come from the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee to replace the museum roof, and chairperson Juliette Cunningham also sang the praises of the agency.

“The museum plays a vital role in our community.  I am so grateful that we are able to help safeguard our history due to the contribution from the Canada 150 program,” she said.

But while there is nothing wrong with any of those comments, when was the last time Cunningham and Mayes actually toured inside the museum?

If they have, they would realize that $200,000 is just peanuts and a leaky roof is just the start of the problems for the museum, which is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the community’s heritage.

Exhibits are shoe-horned into what little room there is and visitors can easily feel crowded and claustrophobic. This is particularly noticeable when special events are held, such as the Bug Guys show, which draw about 70 children.

“They barely fit into the back room,” said Ron Candy, the museum’s long time curator.

Opportunities to bring touring exhibits to Vernon are lost because there isn’t an extra inch of additional space (the building is 12,000-square-feet in size, with 6,500 for exhibits).

Candy admits that snug quarters are making it difficult for the museum to perform a primary mandate, which is public education and awareness.

“The community is getting larger and demand is growing. If we had more space, we could get more people.”

But the real challenge is behind closed doors where the public never goes.

Wandering up to the second floor, the staircase becomes a virtual goat path as stacks of boxes line the route. They are being saved for the next book sale, which is critical to prop up limited operational funds.

Once at the top, the amount of clutter is overwhelming. Mannequins are stacked up like cord wood, while boxes form skyscrapers. One false move, and they could tumble over, and while that may not seem important, keep in mind that they contain one-of-a-kind artifacts and treasure from the region’s past. Once something from Cornelius O’Keefe or Sveva Caetani is gone, it’s gone. They aren’t making any more.

Items are being stored in a less than ideal setting and the lack of controlled atmospheric conditions also doesn’t help. Many of them never see the light of day because there isn’t proper space on the ground floor to exhibit them.

When asked about the current state of affairs, Candy was cautious and didn’t want to take away from the celebrations surrounding the $200,000 for the roof.

“A new facility would be ideal but in the meantime, we deal with what we have,” he said.

And Candy could be dealing with what he has for awhile as politicians don’t consider the museum a priority. There was some talk of expanding the facility, but that process stalled while GVAC developed a cultural plan.

Instead of progressive action and looking to the future, all that comes from elected officials are band-aids.