The opening sentence of an article in last Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press says, “Quietly and without notice, Dalnavert Museum was closed over the Labour Day weekend.” This is a sad story which will likely generate some thought and discussion in various circles.

The Dalnavert Museum, a National Historic Site of Canada, is located at 61 Carlton Street in Winnipeg. This building was constructed in 1895 as the home of Sir Hugh John Macdonald, son of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. The younger Macdonald was the Premier of Manitoba in 1900 and also served as Police Magistrate for Winnipeg at one time.

Our own experiences in the recent past would suggest that some levels of government are reducing the amount of money they allocate for the operation of museums. In fact, neither the Province of Manitoba nor the Federal Government have funds available for museum operations, other than those facilities that are owned and operated by the government. Grants are typically designed to cover only special projects and programs.

At the end of the day, museums always have significant expenses which do not fall into project categories. Utilities, wages, taxes, insurance, repairs and other similar costs exist apart from projects and programs. It is therefore imperative that a museum have a strong support base in addition to the government grants available to them.

How will Dalnavert recover from their current crisis? Or will they recover? This will likely depend on their ability to attract major sponsors or philanthropists, or to develop a new business model that generates more internal income, or both.

It causes us to wonder about the future of museums in general. What level of interest will governments have in funding heritage museums 10 years from now? Not to focus this question only on governments, we also need to think about the level of support from the public at large. Museums don’t feed the hungry, heal the sick, or save lost souls. How compelling will museums be to the general public and to private funders as lifestyle choices and significant social needs in the global community clamor for more and more of one’s discretionary income? Future success will in part depend on the creativity of individual museums to market vital products and services to the public. Thought and conversation around this issue are appropriate and valuable.

About the Author

Gary is responsible for the overall management of MHV. Guiding the staff, informing the board, and networking with officials, volunteers, corporate sponsors, individual donors and other guests. He has a business diploma and a MA in Global Studies from Providence Theological Seminary. With his family he did humanitarian work for 18 years in Asia, including being a CEO of a Compost Enterprise in China. He loves to discuss the Mennonite story and how it is relevant in our world. Learn more about the MHV.

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