Entrance to the Royal BC Museum. Image obtained from Wikipedia.

For this week’s discussion, I’ve chosen to dive into the Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM) in Victoria, B.C. which was established in 1886. Its collections are largely divided into two major types: natural history and human history. Both collection types are rather extensive, the human history collection containing both Indigenous collections (containing more than 14,000 objects some of which are audiovisual in nature) and modern history collections. While the museum itself is designated a “Crown” corporation, it is supported by The Royal BC Museum Foundation which is a nonprofit organization established in 1970 whose sole purpose is to support the museum and operate the gift shop within the museum.

 

The Royal BC Museum website has a great deal of information about its organization and governance.

Mission: “We are a museum that is accessible to every British Columbian regardless of age, ethnicity or geography.” This mission statement seems somewhat vague to me, but they define their purposes in the Museum Act (2003) which I’ll discuss later.

Vision: “We envision a province in which all people respect each other and the environment in which they live.”

Values: “The Royal BC Museum is committed to the following values: accountability, community, creativity, diversity, partnership, and service.” Under each of these values, they expand on the value and provide detailed information about how they intend to uphold them.

 

As previously mentioned, the museum was established as a Crown corporation under the Museum Act of 2003. In this act, specifically section 4, the purposes are listed and described the greatest hits including: “secure, receive, and preserve” objects in collections; educate the public; develop exhibits; and “manage, conserve, and provide access to the collections”.

 

The museum itself is governed by a board of directors that are appointed by the province. A few of the board members are leaders of the Indigenous Advisory and Advocacy Committee (IACC) whose purpose is to “draw on the issues, experiences, expertise, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples to advise the Museum on effective and respectful engagement with First Nations in BC and matters relating to the Museum’s governance, corporate planning, operations, and repatriation with regard to the Indigenous peoples of BC.”

 

That being said, the Royal BC Museum Foundation, the nonprofit which supports the RBCM, is governed by a group of elected volunteers that serve on their Board of Directors.

 

The RBCM website also contains a wealth of information regarding their reports and policies. They make publicly available their annual financial reports, service plans, general reports, as well as museum policies regarding diversity, truth and reconciliation (with respect to First Nations communities), collections, Indigenous collections and repatriation, conservation, and photography. Also on this page is the Board bylaws, as well as finance and audit information. I appreciate the transparency of the museum providing this information to the public.

 

Q: In the introduction to “A Legal Primer on Managing Museums” written by Malaro and DeAngelis (2012) provided in the reading section, they say that “a museum that strives only to satisfy the law aims low” and that their text does not delve into ethical considerations. So my question is, what could be some exercises that museums could (or do) use to constantly touch base and check-in with their practices to ensure that they are ethically sound?

3 Thoughts to “Royal BC Museum Governance”

  1. Angela Linn

    Wow, Tony, great question and timely selection of a museum to look at. In case you hadn’t seen the recent news, the Director of the Royal BC Museum just resigned a week ago! Check out the CBC article about the fallout: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/rbcm-internal-issues-1.5907890
    This situation seems to stem from your exact questions: it’s one thing to have a policy and value statement, but what are museums doing internally to measure our actions against those plans? Former staff members have left the Royal BC Museum, citing examples of “discrimination, bullying, and white privilege,” while others called it a “wicked place” and a “bastion of white supremacy.” Does that sound like a museum where all people are respected? Clearly we have a long way to go in walking-the-walk of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion.

    1. Tony Thompson

      Wow. I had not seen this article yet! It was so disheartening to see, but I hope they use this restructuring as an opportunity to reorganize and reassess in an effort to work towards more inclusive and respectful behavior.

  2. Barbara Long

    Good Evening,

    GREAT QUESTION! It’s a question that makes you think. Cultural conferences, feedback, surveys, research venues with other museums. legal and ethical forums to discuss pros and cons (issues), workshops, as well as community involvement. Each adds to the whole question and may provide an avenue in which to gage a museum’s sound ethical practices. Thanks for sharing.
    Respectfully,
    Barbara

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