Kingston’s museums could receive boost

Canadian Museums Day aims to get the federal government to committ $25 million to the funding of museums

Janet Brooke, Director of Queen’s Agnes Etherington Art Centre wants to see an increase in federal and individual funding of Canadian museums.
Janet Brooke, Director of Queen’s Agnes Etherington Art Centre wants to see an increase in federal and individual funding of Canadian museums.

Kingston’s 19 museums could receive a portion of a $25 million funding boost over the next five years after a group of roughly 100 museum professionals met with MPs and Senators at Parliament.

This year’s Canadian Museums Day, dubbed ‘Hill Day’ by its supporters took place on Nov. 23. The annual event began last year through collaboration between museum advocacy groups including the Canadian Museum Association, the Canadian Art Museums Directors’ Organization and the Canadian Federation of Friends of Museums.

Janet Brooke, Director of Queen’s Agnes Etherington Art Centre, attended Hill Day this year. She said its focus was to get the federal government to commit to the Canadians Supporting Their Museums Fund, which would provide for the federal government to match private sector donations to museums, dollar for dollar.

“Kingston has an unusually high number of museums [for a city of this size],” Brooke said, adding that in this context museums also refer to art museums, known to most as art galleries. In Kingston, the Penitentiary Museum and the Pump House Steam Museum are some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Nationally, Canada has around 2,000 museums.

Brooke said that funding for museums from both private and governmental sources is much lower than funding for other arts institutions, namely the performing arts.

Just as with other arts institutions, operating costs have gone up exponentially in recent years, which is why federal support is so vital, Brooke said. Most museum workers earn very low salaries when compared to the overall marketplace, Brooke said, and most museums rely heavily on volunteers to balance out operating costs. The Agnes Etherington Art Centre employs nine people full time, and has an extensive base of volunteers, Brooke said.

Many students aren’t aware of the extent of services that Canada’s premiere university gallery offers, Brooke said.

“While many students would associate us exclusively with the department of art, the kind of offerings we do appeal to a wide variety of students … students should have every reason to want to see a healthy well-funded art gallery that continues to offer the fullest spectrum of art programming,” Brooke said, adding that Queen’s students have a wealth of information available to them for free at the gallery.

Hill Day aimed to increase federal budgeting for museums but also promoted an increase in private sector donations, both individually and corporately.

“One of the reasons we’re supporting this is that currently private philanthropy and donations account nationally for nine per cent of Canadian museum’s operating budgets,” Brooke said, adding that the hope is that Canadians will donate more towards museums when they see that the government will be matching their funds.

“The endowment program we’re looking to is a program that already exists for other sectors, the results have shown very clearly that it’s an effective form of support,” she said.

According to Brooke, although the government has generally been unsympathetic to the needs and aspirations of museums, Brooke said, after the individual meetings with MPs and Senators took place, most politicians appeared to be very warm and receptive to the agenda.

“Most recommended that I move forward with it,” Brooke said.

Although Brooke said she doesn’t yet know whether the federal government will commit to the fund advocated at Hill Day, she said she’s ensuring that the advocacy continues in the future.

This will be done largely through a letter writing campaign from community members to MPs.

“We want to make sure that the project we’re seeking support for doesn’t fade away on a table somewhere,” she said. “We want to make sure that it goes through the full [governmental] process.”

Brooke said she feels Hill Day was successful this year, especially in terms of raising awareness among federal agents.

“Museums are increasingly a voice that deserves to be heard,” Brooke said. “We already do survive without this program, but [it] would go very far to help create the sustainable funding base that is the cornerstone of institutional health.”

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