Just sent the following to my MP:
Greetings Ms Joly;
I am writing you today with the hope that we might change our
policy with respect to charging entrance fees to national museums
in Canada, and make them free as they once were and as they are in
many other countries. Are they not a form of open data? Could this
not be an open government strategy? They are material data, but
data they are.
Yesterday I went to the Museum of Civilization (History) in Gatineau with my partner. We were surprised at the cost of entry and for parking.
We are at a time in our lives where we can afford this, however,
there was a time when I was a single parent with 2 boys, who when
they were young, were voracious readers and history buffs. I
could not take them to museums as I was a student, living on
student loans. I also did not have a car, and there was no way
that I could get a bus from work, then do the daycare pickup at 2
daycares, then get back on the bus to downtown, to then get the
bus to Hull to get to the museum for the free Thursday evenings.
That would also have meant missing dinner, and certainly no funds
to purchase poor quality museum food at inflated museum prices.
Access to 'our' collections and our 'historical' artifacts should
not be exclusive, and should be available to all the public. How
else are we to ensure access to 'our' collective national
knowledge? Benedict Anderson, in his book Imagined Communities,
has a fantastic chapter entitled Census, Map and Museum. He
considered these as purveyors of a curated form of knowledge that
provide the people with a shared set of information and symbols.
At the moment, our museums only propagate messages to a few, and
miss an entire class of our society.
Some months ago, a colleague and I went to the Science and
Technology museum. A location I might add that is poorly
accessible with public transport on the best of days. A journey I
have made with my boys when they were young. On those occasions I
brought us lunch, and it took us 1.45 hours each way from downtown
Ottawa by bus. On the day my colleague and I attended, there was
but one parking meter outside in the rain that did not work. Many
of the exhibits were not functioning, and many objects were
difficult to see due to poor lighting. The cost was as follows:
We were hoping to bring our students to the museum and to
incorporate the tour as part of curriculum, but alas the cost made
it prohibitive and the logistics of getting people there on
I hope this can change, I find these fees overwhelmingly
expensive and they preclude access by low income families, people
on fixed incomes, seniors and refugees. Museums are places of
learning and should be available to all. They are places the
public can spend the day, especially in the winter or on rainy
Food, healthy, affordable and Canadian sourced:
Museums and other Canadian public institutions should also be places with delicious, Canadian sourced and affordable food (not overpriced frozen fries and....from Aramark or other US multinationals!). I have had the best meals in museums in Sweden, England, Japan and Ireland. I am always embarrassed bringing European friends to our museums, as we cannot even get a good cup of coffee. We offer them cheap cafeteria fare when it really should be a show case.
Gift Store & Canadian made products:
During our visit at the Museum gift store yesterday, we were also very surprised to find in the gift store, products with Canadian iconic imagery on them but made in China. Should we not have Canadian made products in our Canadian Museums?
I often compare us to Sweden, a country with a little over 10
million people (A little less than Ontario and a little more than
Quebec), that has an excellent buy Sweden campaign, that offer
affordable and delicious locally produced food in their national
institutions, have excellent transit, and a great social welfare
system. It is also a nation that values education and knowledge,
especially science, history and technology. We can could do that
here, if only we valued egalitarianism and knowledge in the same
Alternatively, could we not argue that free access to museums
should be part of open government strategies and open data? They
just happen to be material forms of data and are they not part of
our collective knowledge assets?
Tracey P. Lauriault
Assistant Professor Critical Media Studies and Big Data Communication Studies School of Journalism and Communication Suite 4110, River Building Carleton University 1125 Colonel By Drive Ottawa (ON) K1S 5B61-613-520-2600 x7443
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Excellent points made, and excellent letter, Tracey. It’s remarkable how much open museums (of ‘our’ own cultural heritage, no less!) increase visits. I’m fortunate to travel a fair bit in Europe, and often find I only have 30 minutes or so after meetings when I can visit a gallery or museum - when they are free, it makes sense to pop in for a short time, and pop in often.
The same argument can be made, of course, for putting digitized items from museum collections online. There is often an unfounded fear that seeing something online makes an in-person visit redundant, but this has proven over and over to not be the case (cf. the Rijksmuseum as a pioneer here). Open = people can find it = people want to access it = that’s the point, eh?
Maybe a coordinated strategy is needed on this one?
All the best from cloudy Dublin,
Dr. Natalie Harrower
Director, Digital Repository of Ireland
Royal Irish Academy
[hidden email] | @natalieharrower
www.dri.ie | @dri_ireland
The Academy is subject to the FOI Act 2014, the Data Protection Acts 1988-2003 and 2018, GDPR (EU 2016/679) and S.I. No. 336/2011, EC Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations. For further information see our website www.ria.ie/privacy-and-data-protection
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