Advocacy Update: Federal Pre-Budget Consultation
The BCMA and Yukon Historical and Museums Association have submitted a letter for the Government of Canada’s 2021 pre-budget consultations. Our joint letter outlines the critical need for ongoing COVID-19 relief for the museum and heritage sectors and looks towards how museums can help build a brighter future for all Canadians.
You can read an excerpt from our joint 2021 letter below, or download the full version. As the letter notes, Canada’s museum and heritage sector stands at a critical crossroads and the BCMA is proud to work with our Provincial and Territorial Museum Association partners across the country to ensure that our sector’s voice is heard at a national level.
The British Columbia Museums Association (BCMA) and the Yukon Historical and Museums Association (YHMA) are pleased to submit this letter to the Government of Canada to be considered during its 2021 pre-budget consultations. The BCMA and the YHMA support museums, galleries, and cultural institutions across British Columbia and Yukon, respectively, through networking, advocacy, and professional development.
Introduction: A critical crossroads for Canada’s heritage sector
Canada’s heritage sector stands at a critical crossroads, one that may determine its very future and forever alter our country’s cultural landscape. On one hand, calls for equity and social justice from Canadian Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour (IBPOC) have confronted the heritage sector with its legacy of colonialism and oppression, demanding that museums, galleries, and cultural institutions create real, meaningful, and lasting change. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched Canada’s heritage sector to the point of breaking, decimating budgets, cutting institutions off from their communities, and causing every single cultural organization in the country to quickly pivot and innovate or risk disappearing.
But with these crossroads comes the opportunity for a reinvention of Canada’s cultural sector: becoming stronger, more diverse, and an essential contributor to building a brighter future for all Canadians.
Through this letter, we hope to show the potential that our nation’s museums, galleries, and cultural organizations can play in creating this brighter future and we respectfully ask that funding for the heritage sector is prioritized in the upcoming 2021 Federal Budget.
COVID-19’s Impact on the Heritage Sector: An existential threat
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immeasurable damage to Canada’s heritage sector, the long-term effects of which may be catastrophic. Canada’s heritage institutions hold items, artefacts, records, and specimens in the public trust, housing more than 70 million objects, 113 million photographs, 41 million scientific specimens, and 7.7 million linear meters of textual records. In addition to these moveable objects, Canada’s heritage sector cares for and preserves thousands of unique heritage buildings and spaces across the country. A recent survey of cultural and heritage institutions in British Columbia conducted by Heritage BC and the BCMA found that nearly one in three (32.5%) organizations “may never fully recover” from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This result is similar to surveys conducted in other provinces and in the United States. While the United Nations found that COVID-19 may result in one in eight museums closing worldwide, in North America the damage could be much greater.
Because cultural and heritage organizations hold collections in the public trust, the risk of wide-spread closures goes beyond the economic and social impact of jobs lost, it is a threat to the very fabric of Canada’s heritage. If one in three museums were forced to close, 21 million objects would be at risk. With limited collections storage space across the country, the heritage sector has little to no ability to safely re-house even a fraction of these tens of millions of objects. This will undoubtedly lead to irreplaceable pieces of Canada’s heritage being destroyed, lost, or moved into private collections.
While this would be a tremendous loss for Canadians as a whole, the impact would be truly devastating for Indigenous communities. Since before the founding of Canada, Indigenous communities have had their culture, heritage, and even the bodies of their ancestors stolen and moved into museum, gallery, and university collections across the country. Many Indigenous communities have spent decades researching and locating their cultural patrimony and working to repatriate it back home. If tens of millions of heritage objects are moved, let alone lost, due to the widespread closure of museums, this would set back the repatriation work of Indigenous communities by decades.
It is critical not only to ensure that these collections remain in the public trust, but also that they are accessible to the public, in accordance with best practices and protocols, through interpretation, community engagement, research, and other activities. A continued reduction in staffing in cultural and heritage institutions represents a significant threat to accessibility, in addition to loss of livelihoods.
To avert these potential cultural disasters and to help save thousands of jobs in heritage organizations across the country, we recommend that the 2021 Federal Budget includes sufficient funding to:
• Provide additional pandemic relief funding for the heritage sector until more significant recovery has been achieved in Canada’s economy.
• Increase federal funding for the Museums Assistance Program (MAP) to at least $60 million annually.
• Increase federal funding for repatriation of Indigenous cultural objects and remains.
Supporting a More Inclusive Heritage Sector: Policies to promote Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
In the past year, there have been calls from traditionally marginalized groups that Canada’s heritage sector must become more diverse and inclusive. By supporting the creation of a new national museum policy, the Federal Government can directly contribute to supporting justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the heritage sector. Canada’s national museum policy was last updated in the early 1990s. The renewal of this policy was included in the 2019 mandate letter of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and this work remains an essential part of strengthening Canada’s heritage sector.
Canada needs a new national museum policy for two critical reasons. First, the world has undeniably changed since the early 1990s. Second, a new museum policy that establishes clear guidelines and expectations for the repatriation of Indigenous cultural patrimony would be a significant step forward in supporting reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The last iteration of the national museum policy is more than 30 years old and neither reflects the innovative and transformative progress made by heritage and cultural organizations in that time nor does it reflect the diversity of Canada in the 21st Century. At the time the current policy was drafted, only 0.4% of Canadians had internet access in their homes, same-sex marriages were not legal in any province, and residential schools were still open in Canada. Our nation has changed, and it is time that its national museum policy reflects the changes made and supports the changes that still need to come. A new federal policy is critical to informing a long-term strategic vision for Canada’s heritage sector and this cannot be accomplished with a 30-year-old policy….