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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Museum of Vancouver's engagement turn : an ethnographic study of institutional transformation Roy, Rachel Samantha


Since the 1970s, many museums have focused their work on a post-museum approach (Hooper-Greenhill 2006) which places central importance on creating civic spaces for public participation, dialogue and social service. This thesis examines the Museum of Vancouver’s (MOV) adoption of a post-museum approach, shifting from a collections-based to an engagement-based model over a decade (2006-2016), to develop more participatory and collaborative relationships with diverse local communities, creative class audiences, and new immigrant groups. In this thesis, I examine MOV’s “engagement turn”, which involved an institutional reorientation, rebranding and organizational restructuring process with the aim of creating a healthy internal museum environment. Contributing to a growing body of ethnographic work on museums, I reveal important findings underlying the institutional transformations that occurred at MOV. I consider that despite MOV’s notable improvements in rebranding its identity, and higher visitor and membership numbers, the museum still faced ongoing operational, funding and resource challenges that were decades old. Although organizational restructuring somewhat improved staff relations, museum management had to work towards creating a more participatory and team-oriented approach which made staff members feel better supported and included in discussions surrounding new engagement-based projects. As MOV moved away from a collections-based model, conservation work on world collections was deprioritized, and more collection staff attention was focused on localized collecting practices with responsibilities of preparing, accessioning and digitizing Vancouver-based collections. Within MOV’s engagement-based model, an emphasis was placed on building relationships with local communities and bringing in local objects when they could accentuate the Vancouver stories being told. In this ethnographic study, participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and archival research document the museum’s internal transformations as well as the achievements and challenges working with Vancouver-based communities and audiences. I state that a large aspect of MOV’s institutional redirection prioritized design-centered projects which primarily catered to creative class professionals working in Vancouver’s post-industrial soft economy. Overall, I argue that the museum did succeed in beginning new relationships with several communities including members of Vancouver’s South Asian community, local contemporary collectors, and the Musqueam First Nation; although, limited staffing and resources make it challenging to continue these relationships long-term.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International