West Van Museum rebrand leaves history buffs in a huff

This article has been amended.

The addition of three letters sparked a major debate over the future of history in West Vancouver Monday night.

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On July 26, the West Vancouver Museum was rebranded the West Vancouver Art Museum – a change that essentially puts history in the back seat, according to Coun. Bill Soprovich.

“Why was council not informed?” he asked during Monday’s night council meeting.

The name change followed more than a decade of programming with a large focus on the arts, according to Anne Mooi, West Vancouver’s director of parks and community services.

Despite Mayor Michael Smith’s assurance that: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Soprovich remained concerned about the lack of consultation.

“If nothing’s going to change, why are you calling it an art museum?” he asked.

Programming over the last 12 years has included West Coast modernist architecture and the work of West Vancouver artists, noted senior manager of cultural services Doti Niedermayer.

“If you’re talking about . . . historical artifacts, the museum doesn’t really have any of those and hasn’t had them for a number of years,” Niedermayer said. However, the museum does exhibit historical artifacts, she added.

While acknowledging that her terminology might not be entirely accurate, Coun. Christine Cassidy suggested: “in essence what has happened is a creeping takeover of the building by the arts.”

While making it clear she didn’t suspect Machiavellian machinations were at work, Cassidy noted West Vancouver’s heritage society had no representation on the Museum Advisory Committee and was essentially relegated to a single upstairs office.

Speaking on behalf of herself and fellow West Vancouver Historical Society president Rod Day, Laura Anderson expressed concern over a lack of transparency and public involvement.

“Above all we are concerned West Vancouver will no longer have a museum,” she said.

Anderson’s call for transparency was echoed by former historical society director Carolanne Reynolds.

“They just ignored all the guidelines of advisory committees,” she said of the Museum Advisory Committee. “If it looks like a duck and it talks like a duck . . . why doesn’t it quack?”

Council voted 6-1 to establish an Art Museum Advisory Committee which would advise the museum on policy and planning and raise money.

The committee can have up to 10 members appointed for two-year terms. Committee members could serve up to three terms, “except as otherwise determined by council.”

While supporting the establishment of the committee, Coun. Craig Cameron suggested more specific terms of reference would ensure representation from different artistic fields.

Cameron also questioned the suitability of the Lawson House on 17th Street.

“The irony of all this is that Gertrude Lawson remains an inadequate home for any of these activities,” he said. “It’s not really much of a place to showcase art and . . . it’s not really designed to have historical artifacts.” Cameron suggested Klee Wyck or the Navvy Jack House might be better suited as repositories of community history.

The dispute may provide an opportunity for West Vancouver to finalize a plan on housing their history, Coun. Mary-Ann Booth said.

“What are our plans for our heritage and our artifacts?” she asked. “We haven’t answered that question.”

A call for volunteers to serve in 2019 is slated to be issued in November.

Volunteers who serve must sign a confidentiality agreement, refrain from speaking to media as committee representatives unless authorized, and be consistent with West Vancouver’s position on specific issues.

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