Museum, theater should be built in different places | Opinion

The provincial government has decided to spend over $800 million to build a new Royal BC Museum. The reaction from much of the voting public is strong opposition, criticizing both the cost and the eight years the institution will be closed. Much of this criticism is justified.

First, the decision to demolish the existing building and build a new facility on this site is not justified by any document made public by the government. It is understandable that there is a desire to locate all major cultural facilities in the central core of the city centre.

Tourists, a major source of income for both the local economy in general and for the museum, would prefer a facility within easy reach. But it’s hard to believe there isn’t a site downtown that would be suitable for a new facility that could be built while the existing museum continues to serve residents and visitors.

The plan adopted by the BC cabinet calling for the destruction of the existing facility and the construction of a replacement facility on its site must be informed by other factors. If this approach is actually cheaper for BC taxpayers, it should be clearly demonstrated.

The plan specifies the closure of the museum for eight years starting in September. Eight years!

The long-term costs—monetary and otherwise—associated with such action are not factored into the published business plan. These costs must be added to the $800 million price tag. First, during the eight years

hiatus, the attraction of the museum would be stripped from city guides so that tourists would never hear of it.

Second, virtually an entire generation of BC students would never experience tours, organized or independent, to learn about the changing culture, whether social, economic, ethnic, artistic or demographics of British Columbia.

Imagine if a business catering to the general public (eg The Bay, or Microsoft or Amazon) had to shut down for eight years. People forget and they find alternatives.

In eight long years (or more, if there are any delays), when a new building and improved and expanded exhibits illustrating the development of the province are once again open to the public, the initial opening will no doubt generate large local crowds.

But, will first-year attendance equal the level of, say, 2019? Tourist traffic in particular is likely to lag behind by at least a year. A total closure to the public for eight years motivated, it seems, above all by the desire to keep a new museum on the same site, does not make sense.

I love the Royal BC Museum and visit it often in Victoria. So I think the government should consider another location, acquire a site, build a nice new structure and move the existing materials there and the newly exhibited artifacts there, and then close and – if no other good use of the existing building has been found in the meantime — demolishing the existing structure. Large cultural centers do not often destroy their cultural facilities, although they repurpose them.

Although the business plan does not mention this as a reason to tear down the existing structure, it would be a graphic and visible negation of a “colonial” institution.

Personally, I think it’s best to forgo the symbolism and focus on making the new facility’s exhibits more inclusive and representative of our past – both the good chapters and the bad.

This kind of myopic strategic thinking is not for the provincial government.

Here in Kelowna, the need for a new performing arts center has some local politicians speculating that the solution may be to tear down the current Kelowna Community Theater, built in 1967, and rebuild it on the same site, now inadequate. It would probably take five years from start to finish.

Meanwhile, where would the two mainstays of the local cultural scene, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Kelowna, present their programming? As Kelowna continues to promote growth, the availability of such cultural amenities will be an essential ingredient in attracting businesses and their workers to the community.

More on this dilemma in a later column.

David Bond is a retired banking economist.

Comments are closed.