Olivia Chow tours THEMUSEUM in Kitchener. (Photo by Nick Lachance).

Curating Culture


Olivia Chow visits THEMUSEUM to discuss art’s vital role in society

Katelyn Cullum

For Toronto MP Olivia Chow, art and culture is an essential part of building a vibrant and healthy city.
The New Democrat was in Kitchener March 3 at THEMUSEUM to address the importance that museums have in a community.

“Art creates a new sense of identity, you can learn about the history and the cul- ture of a people through its art,” she said.

“Cultural institutions are important to the economic life and, of course, to the civic life of our cities. To the quality of life, and a vibrant economy in a vibrant city,”

Chow was born in Hong Kong and came to Toronto to study philosophy and art prior to her introduction to politics. She emphasized the significance that muse- ums and art galleries played in her under- standing of Canada as a new immigrant.

“I didn’t know a whole lot of people,” Chow explained. “I had this wonderful opportunity to be able to walk to the Royal Ontario Museum, to the Art Gallery, where I was able to learn and enjoy so much about art and history and culture.

“These museums became my life long friends, and I was very privileged to be able to represent them.”
Chow stressed that the financial needs for museums are growing. “At the end of this month [in the upcoming budget] we want to make sure that we have all the funding in place,” she said.

“We recognize the important role of museums in the cultural light of Canada, of Canadians, and we believe that they should receive stable, long-term funding from the federal government and of course from the provincial and city government too.”

Chow was given a guided tour of “The Treasures of China” exhibit, which houses a collection of ancient Chinese Sculp- tures, as well as a collection of contempo- rary paintings. She also visited THEMU- SEUM’s Bob Marley exhibition and the Justin Bieber display. Chow was accompanied by David Mar- skell, the CEO of THEMUSEUM, along with Carl Zehr, Mayor of Kitchener and Kitchener city councillor Berry Vrbanovic.

“I just wanted people here to under- stand that other people say we’re doing a good job around culture,” said Marskell. “There’s no better person than her.” THE- MUSEUM CEO pointed out that Chow’s riding is home to some of the biggest arts and cultural institutions in Canada, including the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, giving her special insight into how the arts sector benefits cities.

“The message that the economy and the creative knowledge economy are con- nected needs to be a part of our strategy in moving forward,” Chow said.

Catherine Fife, in the MPP for Kitchener- Waterloo expressed her satisfaction at Chow’s discussion.
In response to Chow’s request of audience members to generate ideas for how to represent art and culture through exhibits and museums, Fife explained that she would “love to see a history of our industrial past and see a connection to the modern conversation.”

Chow also expressed her admiration for THEMUSEUM and its ability to think in a creative way. “The fact that you can have these kinds of high quality, international exhibits right here tells me that you are thinking outside the box.”

The MP discussed the opportunity Cana- dian museums have to learn from the cultural initiatives that European countries have taken to ensure the support of the arts. Many European countries combine cultural and museum passes with transit passes, making the arts more accessible to the community.

“We are a country with a lot of diversity,” Chow said. “We are able, therefore, to have people from different parts of the world all becoming Canadian citizens. That makes our culture that much more unique and that much more rich and that much more Canadian.”

With files from H.G. Watson.