Thursday, November 27, 2014

Problems at the ROM

Janet Carding, CEO of Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, is leaving her post to return to Australia near the end of her first five year term here, amid growing concern about falling attendance and a perpetual cost squeeze, and fresh angst about the museum's mission.
“Isn’t it wonderful that we’re the only museum in North America that has both dinosaurs and a stunning Chinese collection?” Carding mused during a ROM celebration earlier this year.
Well, it is. My family has had a membership as long as we have lived in Toronto, and we attend. I've seen mindblowing things just browsing the galleries, and some of its special exhibitions I'll never forget. And, yes, funding is a problem. I have written elsewhere comparing the Canadian policy of charging big entry fees to all our museums and historic sites, whereas other counties are proud to make them free to all.

But I can't help thinking that if the ROM needs to find a mission, it might discover Canada, or just Toronto, even. Apart from a pretty tired Ontario prehistory gallery and a furniture/decorative arts display, the ROM has never tried to be an Ontario museum, never an institution in and of this city and this country. Some terrific scholars of Canadian subjects work or have worked at the ROM, for sure, but visitors would hardly notice. The ROM offers visitors to Canada and Toronto little about the country they (and it) are in. Our citizens of Greek and Egyptian and Chinese origins can visit superb ROM displays about their homelands if they wish, but not much about the place they have come to.

Just saying. Not that the next CEO (no one says "director" or "curator" anymore, I guess) has to be Canadian. But someone who saw Canada as an opportunity for the museum, that would be nice.

Image: Toronto Star
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