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Manitoba Museum running out of space to properly store artifacts, seeks more provincial funding

The Manitoba Museum says it’s running out of proper space to store artifacts and needs a boost in funding from the province in order to add more staff and eventually get to its goal of expansion. 

The museum is home to almost three million artifacts — about three per cent of which are displayed at a given time — while the rest are in what’s called “category A collection space,” which allows for environmentally controlled storage. But that space is getting increasingly hard to come by and the museum doesn’t have the staffing capacity to process every item that comes in.

“We have the highest standard of artifact preservation and storage that you can get, but these are at threat,” said Roland Sawatzky, curator of history at the Manitoba Museum.

“We have run out of space, we’ve been around now for over 50 years in this building, people have been very generous in their donations, we’ve been very discerning in what we’ve accepted.” 

“But now we’ve run out of space for collecting a lot of new items, especially bigger items, so we have to be very, very careful.” 

A man stands with a white fin.
Manitoba Museum curator of history Roland Sawatzky poses with a rocket fin. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC )

The museum also has a moratorium on accepting artifacts until the end of March, owing to staffing issues.

While the museum will still take items from donors, CEO Dorota Blumczyńska said it doesn’t have the capacity right now to do the detailed research, processing and legal work to process every single artifact. As a result, collecting has been slowed and paperwork may be slightly delayed. 

The museum must now must consider more closely how it assess and accepts artifacts that could potentially impact storage capacity. 

“An institution of this historical importance should not have one archivist, or one … technician or collections expert that can take in acquisitions,” she said. “We are so lean in our operations that we don’t have redundancy, we don’t have additional people to turn to when there’s retirements, when there’s absences due to illness or other circumstances and that’s really problematic.”

Blumczyńska said the museum needs an expansion and more category A collection space, which is an environmentally controlled space where staff can control things like temperature and humidity so items aren’t exposed to elements that could damage their integrity. 

A collection of wooden chairs and other items currently sits in a hallway on the museum’s sixth floor, right beside the elevator. The pieces are safe there “for the moment,” but will deteriorate faster if not stored properly, she said. 

“A hallway is not a place for an invaluable collection of our history,” said Blumczyńska. 

A man and woman look at a sword
Blumczyńska and Sawatzky examine a sword that’s in storage at the museum. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Opportunities to bring public into museum being cut: MGEU 

Some programs at the museum like birthday parties and summer day camps also aren’t happening right now, Blumczyńska said. 

The loss of programs along with the temporary moratorium has caught the attention of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, which represents 60 workers at the museum. 

Union president Kyle Ross said workers help create and curate displays, and do programming for children. But he said as those programs get cut, it means workers have to do more with less.

“There’s all these opportunities to bring members of the community into the museum that are being cut,” he said. “So now it hurts also the revenue … there’s no return.” 

Ross also said the province could increase its funding to the museum. 

“When funding’s been flat I think for 16 of the last 18 years it makes it very difficult to continue with programming, when our workers want to maintain … their lifestyle and try to work there, but they’re also fighting against themselves because there’s not enough money to add staff.” 

Museum CEO calls on province to increase its funding 

Blumczyńska said the museum relies on its earned revenue and grants from the provincial government. She also said in recent years the pressure on the museum to increase its earned revenue has gone up, while government support has “stayed unchanged.” 

“We’re trying to generate income to sustain the work that we do, but part of the reason it belongs to Manitobans and is accessible to Manitobans is because there’s a contribution from the province of Manitoba and that piece needs to move.” 

The province wouldn’t comment about any potential funding for the museum before its upcoming budget is released. However, it says the NDP did make promises to restore cuts to arts and culture funding during the election campaign.

“Yes we do have vacancies, we do have a difficulties in attracting the necessary talent to do the work that we’re doing, we absolutely have difficulties at times in retaining our talented team and we’re hoping to change that and we want to change that,” said Blumczyńska.

“But again, we can’t change that alone and there’s no amount of earned revenue that is feasible and possible within this landscape, within this city, within this economic environment that can make that happen without increased provincial support.”

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