Saturday, February 20, 2010
UBC's Museum of Anthropology, also known as MOA, has been closed to students and punters alike for the past two years. Since 2008, UBC's Museum of Anthropology has been undertaking a $55.5 million expansion and renewal project, which has resulted in limited access to the Museum's collection.
The project has consisted of the construction of a new wing, a replacement of the building envelope, digitization of the entire collection (which can now be viewed online!) and a redesigning of the visible storage area. Now it's like...like...the Museum of Fancyopology.
The one aspect of this expansion project that I am having a difficult time adjusting to is the direction in which Director Anthony Shelton is pushing the museum. For decades, MOA has been directly linked to Northwest Coast Native art. Along with the Burke Museum in Seattle, MOA has been regarded as a bastion for both historical and current British Columbian First Nations art/material culture. However, Shelton - who has a background in Aboriginal art from South America and was a professor of Cultural Anthropology in the UK - would like MOA to now display art and artifacts from around the globe. He has repeated in various interviews that only 16% of MOA's holdings are Northwest Coast in origin and that he wants the museum to broaden its focus. He recently stated in a Vancouver Sun article, "What we’re doing is repositioning ourselves as a museum of world arts and culture, which is something we’ve always been but we’ve not gotten that out there.”
While I do understand this perspective, I think this new direction will hurt the museum's reputation. First, the museum is on Musqueam land, and specializing in First Nations art pays tribute to those who have offered their land for public use. Second, there are many institutions around the world that act as general Anthropology/Ethnographic museums, and many of these institutions have better collections than MOA. The Museum of Anthropology is one of the only places in the world where visitors can see a diverse, massive collection of Northwest Coast First Nations art. Third, this shift is kind of a betrayal to those who have supported and enjoyed the museum for what it was. Heck, Arthur Erickson designed the Great Hall to specifically house totem poles! Locals and regular visitors will likely be put off by the lack of historical and contemporary Northwest Coast exhibitions now offered.
And how generic is that new logo? Everyone is doing the circular pixel thing: