About 23 years after I worked there as a research scholar, and almost 27 years after I visited it for the first time (thanks to engineer Sondhi, who drove me there in 1986!), UBC’s MOA has considerably changed.
Bill McLennan, Curator for Pacific Northwest artefacts and cultures, whom I first met back in 1990, when he already worked there at the time of Dr. Michael M. Ames, gave me a thorough guided tour to the new annex, yesterday.
A lot of space has been created for curators, meeting rooms, new labs, a library, classes (MOA is a teaching institution, as well as a museum), a much larger museum store, and a nice cafe with a terrace. Moreover, the storage system has been changed, reserving much more space to all the different collections.
While the whole storage area was previously freely accessible to the public, the deposits are now in a separate, protected area. The collections’ documentation is available online though, and single artefacts, or a choice of them, may still be directly examined by single scholars or groups in secluded spaces at the museum.
This is particularly appreciated by First Nations communities, since it allows them for instance to have a touch and feel experience of tissues or other artefacts of their own cultural tradition. Cultural communities are also still considered as the main stakeholders in curatorship matters, and extremely valuable ones: particular artefacts (masks, for instance, or other ritual objects to which a great power is attributed by tradition) could thus be withdrawn from public exposure, or be submitted to a limited exposure, following to their input.
A small part of the collections in storage, though, is still stored in the area in front of one of MOA’s focus points - Bill Reid’s Raven and the first Men sculpture - giving the visitors an idea of how the collections where originally kept in the open access storage section.
Generally speaking, a great amount of work has been done, and the improvements have been completed - luckily! as MOA’s Associate Director Moya Waters stressed - just before the world wide 2008 crisis, that might have jeopardized the renovation plan.
Nevertheless, in my opinion the most fascinating view of the museum is still the little pond joining Arthur Erickson’s large post and beam facade of the museum, to the Haida family house and poles on the forest’s limit. Turning around, the harbours, islands and mountains of the rugged cost line of British Columbia form a stunning, never-to-be-forgotten picture.