13 February 2018

FINDING NEW OPPORTUNITIES IN CLOSED MUSEUMS

HERITAGE MOMENTS

BY: AMY INTRATOR

This December, Torontonians and CBC-lovers from all over the country received some sad news: the small CBC Museum was closing its doors for good. Many Canadians weren’t even aware of this tiny gem of a museum in the CBC headquarters, but many others loved the small museum dedicated to Canadian broadcasting and radio history. The museum housed everything from historic microphones to puppets from beloved Canadian television shows.

Vintage sign from the now-closed CBC Museum. Source.

Museum closures aren’t frequent news. Lately, it seems like Toronto is full of new museums. Last month alone, we received two exciting announcements: the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) will open its doors in May, and City of Toronto staff recommended that Old City hall be converted into a museum. In a time of museum openings and expansions, the closure of smaller museums sometimes goes unnoticed, but what does it mean to lose institutions dedicated to representing pieces of our national heritage? In this edition of Heritage Moments, I will be exploring a couple of the recent museum closures in Canada, and trying to find hope in the sad fate of these institutions.


The CBC Museum (permanently closed on December 22nd, 2017)


The CBC Museum opened its doors in 1994, but the collection was started decades before, as early as the 1960s. The small museum housed important pieces of broadcasting history, but the space was also home to some beloved Canadian characters. The museum included several iconic props from Canadian children’s television shows such as Mr. Dressup’s Tickle Trunk and The Friendly Giant castle set. You may not be familiar with these shows, but many generations grew up with these Canadian classics.

Exterior shot of the former CBC Museum. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.

The museum's closure was announced rather suddenly, but the collection wasn’t left in limbo. The group Ingenium, which oversees three museums including the Canada Science and Technology Museum, will take over the collection. In many ways, it makes sense to house part of the collection in this museum. Visitors of the Canada Science and Technology museum will have the chance to see pieces from the CBC collection alongside other historic technologies. A new home for part of the collection might allow the collection to remain relevant, but breaking up a collection is always risky. If the technology in the collection is separated from the collection's props, sets, and characters, the objects might lose some of their value as icons of Canadian cultural development.

Image of the microphone collection displayed at the CBC Museum. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.


The Museum of Inuit Art (permanently closed on May 29, 2016)


The Museum of Inuit Art was founded in 2007 and remained a small but active museum in Toronto for nearly ten years. The museum filled a gap in the heritage sector by promoting awareness and support for Inuit art. The museum ran workshops organized by Inuit artists, and maintained a large collection of pieces created by Inuit artists.

Image of the now-closed Museum of Inuit Art. Source.

The museum’s closure in 2016 left a significant void in the heritage sector. While museums are beginning to recognize the importance of including Indigenous voices, the Museum of Inuit Art was unparalleled in its dedication to Inuit culture and heritage. The loss of the museum is enormous, as the museum did not just exhibit Inuit art, it also helped visitors engage with Inuit culture and heritage. There is, however, potential for institutions to help fill the void left by the loss of the institution. The Winnipeg Art Gallery recently unveiled its plans to create an Inuit Art Centre, a “world-class cultural landmark that is home to the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art on earth.” The closure of the Museum of Inuit Art means new organizations, like the Inuit Art Centre, are under increased pressure to represent and preserve Inuit art in Canada.

It is hard to find opportunities in the loss of heritage institutions. When a museum closes, the public doesn’t just lose access to the space, they lose access to history, art, and culture. I never made it to the CBC Museum or the Museum of Inuit Art, and I’ll always be left wondering what I missed because no picture will stand in for the experience of visiting those museums. I am hopeful, however, that museums can work collaboratively to carry on the legacy of closed institutions, whether that means assuming ownership of a museum’s collection or taking on the museum’s mission to support under-represented voices in Canadian arts.

2 comments:

  1. Dolls from the Museum of Inuit Art's dispersed collection ended up at the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives, where they're currently on display: https://www.pama.peelregion.ca/en/exhibitions/artgallery.asp

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    1. Thank you for sharing this info! It is so great to see that the MIA collection continues to live on in other collections.

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