Comment: With the heritage sector at a crossroads, choose innovation

Most museums are held back to reach their full potential due to physical limitations. A digital approach helps couples change that.

A comment by an anthropologist and entrepreneur who works extensively in the heritage sector and lives in Gibsons.

The heritage sector is at a crossroads. But it offers an opportunity to learn from the pandemic and choose an innovative future that sees an expansion of online engagement and digital expertise.

I believe the future of the heritage sector is digital engagement. Prime Minister John Horgan even shared how “decentralization” or “digitization” of the Royal BC Museum could be an integral part of the museum’s uncertain future.

Most museums are held back to reach their full potential due to physical limitations. For example, only about one percent of collections from an organization such as the Royal BC Museum are accessible to the public at any given time.

And it’s not just collections that are constrained by a lack of digital innovation. In 2017, years before the heritage sector’s digital growth during COVID, Canadian museums welcomed 75.3 million personal visitors and 203 million online visitors.

This means that museums have involved almost three people online for each personal visitor. An innovative digital strategy means that the heritage sector can reach far more visitors than would previously have been possible.

The 2021 Canadian History Report Card from Historica Canada placed BC’s history curriculum fourth in the country. His main recommendation was to create direct connections between BC’s heritage institutions and classrooms.

COVID closures of the past two years have highlighted how impactful distance and online education can be. Instead of relying on classes coming to museums, heritage institutions can now develop programs that interact directly with students from communities across the province, Canada and the world.

Whether you value museums as much as I do, as an anthropologist and self-confessed lover of all things heritage, or have not visited a museum since a school trip, there is no denying that they play an important role in our communities, especially when it comes to education.

Here, too, an innovative digital strategy would have a transformational impact on the heritage sector.

To improve BC’s position in the national history curriculum, the province needs to invest in the heritage sector. According to a recent study, every $ 1 invested in museums creates $ 4 in community benefits. That kind of return on investment is something that even the most conservative economist can notice.

In 2017, the heritage sector employed 98,000 people and accounted for 2.7 percent of provincial GDP. With more impact than fisheries or forestry, provincial-wide support for heritage funding and digital innovation has long been time consuming.

An investment in online educational programs will create resilient and self-sustaining institutions that will pay dividends that are far beyond initial expenses.

Choosing the path of digital innovation is not something that can happen overnight. It requires help from the government to reach its full potential.

Digital platforms, such as the VR Voyage Classroom, are working to strengthen the sector after the pandemic brought the heritage sector to a standstill.

Public funding is needed to develop programs that will get these institutions online. Investing even a fraction of the $ 789 million of the proposed Royal BC Museum redevelopment will go a long way to creating jobs across the province, providing a stronger modern education system and improving opportunities for tourists to explore the province.

The Royal BC Museum plans to use its closed time for the public to expand and take its collections online and to communities across the province. This should not be something that is set aside with plans to rebuild.

Digitizing, taking collections online, building the museum’s strengths, and helping other institutions grow and adapt to create a network of heritage institutions that share BC’s diverse story can be a silver lining that’s out. ‘ a story comes that is captured by negative attention.

Instead of investing nearly $ 800 million in a single museum, it’s time for the government to recognize the educational, economic, cultural and tourism value of BC’s heritage institutions and invest in the heritage sector in a meaningful community – driven way.

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