BCMA Awards

Since 1971, the BC Museums Association (BCMA) has recognized British Columbia’s museums, art galleries, Indigenous cultural centres, historic places and other arts, culture, and heritage organizations for their excellence in special projects, programs, exhibits, initiatives, and innovation. The BCMA also recognizes individuals who have made unique and outstanding contributions to the field. By recognizing these efforts, the Association seeks to inspire others in British Columbia’s museums and cultural heritage community to strive for excellence.

BCMA Pausing Awards Program in 2023 to Explore How Best to Support Our Sector

In the 52 years since the first BCMA Awards, museums, galleries, and heritage sites, as well as the communities they serve, have changed dramatically. While we have made adaptations to our awards program over the years, the program has remained largely unchanged since its launch in 1971. After the massive disruptions, change, and growth over the past several years, the BCMA will conduct a full review of the Awards program to assess how this program aligns with our strategic goals and how it can better recognize the amazing work and impact of our sector.

We will be pausing the awards program in 2023 to undertake this review.

Over the next year, the BCMA will reach out to individuals, organizations, and partners who have been involved in awards previously for their input in this review process. If you have questions, ideas, or feedback regarding the awards program, please contact Leia, our Member & Partnership Coordinator.

BCMA Awards History

In 1969, a survey was launched to assess how members felt about the BCMA’s work and programs. Anthropologist and Museologist Dr. Carl Guthe was hired to conduct the survey and develop a report. His report recommended that the BCMA create “a system of awards… at the AGM along the lines of the American Association for State & Local History.”  The AASLH Awards Program “endeavours to establish and to encourage increasingly higher standards of excellence within the historical agency field in the USA and Canada.”

The first Owl Award presentation took place as a banquet during an annual training seminar in Victoria, in 1971. Devised by Ursula Surtees of the Okanagan Museum & Archives, Kelowna, BC, the categories and winners for 1971 were recorded as follows:

  • Best Entertainment Short Award, Dan Gallacher for “Story Without End”
  • Pollution Award, Mary Balf for “Anything Goes” based on the book, “How Green Was My Valley”
  • Special Mention Award, Len McCann for “Ship Without a Sail” based on “There’s a Girl in My Sloop”
  • Special Award, Gisela Mendel for “Northern Lights” based on “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”
  • Outstanding Achievement Award, Phil Ward for “Haywire and Skyhooks”, latest methods of conservation and restoration, a sequel to his first book, “A Patch of Glue”
  • Best Documentary & Group Study, Shirley Cuthbertson for “Cabin Fever”, something old, some borrowed time, lots of blue days, plus the patter of little feet.
  • Runner-Up Award (Owl with both eyes closed), Willard Ireland for “A Can For All Seasons”

In 1990, the BCMA Council felt that the program should provide more recognition for its recipients and should invest in creating a more iconic physical award. From 1990 to 2014, the BCMA worked with BC artists to produce bronze awards sculptures that weighed as much as 9 lbs. During this period, the awards program was called “Museums in Motion”.

Yet another new direction was decided upon in 2014 when the BCMA Council voted on changing the name to “BCMA Awards for Outstanding Achievement” and awards were presented during a gala event at the BCMA Annual Conference. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BCMA shifted its in-person awards program to an online presentation from 2020 to 2022. The most recent change of the awards program was the new, shorter name “BCMA Awards.”

2022 Awards Categories

Distinguished Service Award

The Distinguished Service Award recognizes an individual (or individuals) who has made a unique and outstanding contribution to the museum, gallery, archive, or heritage community on a regional, provincial, or national basis. The Distinguished Service Award recognizes a  contribution made over an extended period, and not for a short-term or single project. An individual may receive the award posthumously.

Changemaker Award

Previously called the Museum Stewardship Award, the Changemaker Award recognizes an outstanding effort and contribution with a lasting impact to the future of museums, galleries, archives and/or heritage resources fields. This award would encompass individuals, partners/organizations/associations, and in-kind community partners.

Awards of Merit

The Awards of Merit recognize an individual, institution, project, or initiative for an outstanding recent innovation or creative achievement in any area of the museum, gallery, archive or heritage field in British Columbia. Award of Merit categories are determined by the Association on an annual basis in order to best recognize the sector’s recent achievements.


Award of Merit – Excellence in Community Engagement

This Award of Merit recognizes a recent outstanding success in community engagement, as demonstrated by ongoing participation of new audiences, new partnerships with community organizations, supporting needs of the community, etc. New audiences and community partners will be measured in respect to the nominated organization’s own capacity, community, and audience history.

Award of Merit – Social Impact

This Award of Merit recognizes the significant contribution of an organization advocating for the advancement of an important social cause such as reconciliation, social justice, inclusiveness, accessibility, sustainable development, climate action, wellness, etc. Initiatives will be measured in respect to the nominated organization’s own capacity and history.

Award of Merit – Innovative Practice

This Award of Merit recognizes a recent outstanding innovative and/or creative achievement in any and all aspects of an organization’s practice. At the heart of our communities are people who actively push boundaries, challenge conventions, and exemplify innovative ways of thinking, seeing, and doing. Creativity and innovation will be measured in respect to the nominated museum’s own capacity and history; it may reflect an all-new approach to museology in general, or it may reflect an individual museum doing something it has never done before.

Honourable Mentions

Honourable Mentions recognize nominees in the Awards of Merit categories where an award was not bestowed, but the adjudication panel feels recognition is due for excellence.

Honourable mentions are not available for nomination but may be awarded at the adjudicators’ discretion.