By ANN ROSENBERG
MOA is moving with the times without losing its WOW!
The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is one of Canada's foremost museums, its reputation based, in part, on its Northwest Coast collections and decades-long collaborative approach in working with First Nations and other cultural communities.
According to Jennifer Webb, Communications Manager of the Museum of Anthropology, $55.5 million worth of improvements will have renewed and expanded the institution's capacities for research, teaching, community outreach and public enjoyment by 2010. A new research wing has already doubled the institution's physical space and a unique digital network that links many diverse communities is in development.
What changes in Vancouver Architect Arthur C. Erickson's renowned 1976 edifice were revealed to the public when MOA opened its doors on March 8 after being closed for six months?
MOA's Communications Manager Webb took me on a walkabout. She showed me the unfinished stairway down to the museum's main entrance from the road and the new Welcome Plaza, future locations of two First Nations artworks commissioned for this part of the grounds. She described one object wrapped in a protective covering as an unfinished water feature by the Direction 7 collective, a group comprised principally of members of the Becker family who live nearby at Musqueam. She also indicated where a mosaic-style artwork by Musqueam artist Susan Point will be embedded in the concrete just outside the museum's entrance.
First Nations protocol requires that special honour be given to the First Nation upon whose lands the University of British Columbia and the Museum of Anthropology are built. Thus it is appropriate that works by Musqueam artists are the first to greet visitors when they arrive at MOA. This fact might also explain why the cedar doors carved in 1976 by four master Gitxsan artists from Hazelton (which were present in Erickson's original exterior) have been brought inside where they now flank the entrance to the greatly expanded shop in the west side of the foyer.
Even before crossing the threshold, the view through the thick glass doors of the main entrance entices one down the carpeted slope to The Great Hall, where the huge frontals and totems of the original collection are ensconced. Finally, the eye yearns for release in the panorama of the sea and distant mountains. My body always follows the space's powerful directives and there are always new acquisitions to discover.
On exhibition at the moment, is a two-sided carved sculpture (which is accompanied by an instructive DVD) by Coast Salish artist John Marston which features a B.C. orca on one side and a Papua New Guinea crocodile on the other. TATAU: Samoan Tattooing and Global Culture an exhibit of 40 photos by New Zealand artist Mark Adams, is installed in Gallery 3 adjacent to the Great Hall. This show (like the Marston piece) is an example of the museum's commitment to furthering understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity.
I look forward to the moment in 2010 when the specially designed visible storage cases are filled, the new exhibition rooms are in use, indeed, to the time when all aspects of the Partnership of the Peoples Renewal Project are complete, to write a final short article on the evolution of a progressive institution.
Correction: In the Gallery Views column in the Feb/Mar 2009 issue, the Communications Manager for the Museum of Anthroplogy was misquoted. The MOA will have increased its size by almost 50% by March 2009, not 2010.
Ann Rosenberg is a freelance curator, critic and author.