Community Museum Governance: The (Re)Definition of Sectoral Representation and Policy Instruments in Ontario

Title: Community Museum Governance: The (Re)Definition of Sectoral Representation and Policy Instruments in Ontario
Authors: Nelson, Robin
Date: 2021-03-19
Abstract: Research on museum policy often focuses on provincial or national museums, which are typically government agencies. These institutions are directly accountable to government and have an articulated role in an explicit federal or provincial museum policy. However, most Canadian museums are community museums – that is, nonprofit or municipal museums that collect and interpret locally relevant materials and have public programs targeting the community in which they are based. Community museums’ relationships with government(s) differ due to their legal structures (municipal, nonprofit), relatively small budgets, and limited number of staff. Within museum policy, community museums are distinct because they lack a direct relationship with a provincial or national government. Yet, in Canada, all levels of government are involved in their governance through regulatory and supportive activities. In particular, provincial governments have included community museums in museum policies, which tend to focus on professionalization, standards of operation, and simplifying access to resources. In other words, policies targeting community museums often subject them to norms, aiming to establish parameters and best practices for their operations. These actions seek to define and shape community museums, which raises the question: how are these policies (re)created, (re)assembled, and coordinated? Using archival research and interviews, this thesis documents community museum governance in Ontario, where provincial museum advisors and associations emerged as museum professionals embedded in policy development and implementation in the 1950s. Considering the advisors and associations’ service delivery and advocacy activities, actor-network theory (ANT) is used to discuss their work assembling and coordinating policy for Ontario’s community museums. Their work distinguishes community museum governance from the governance of national or provincial institutions because they define and establish norms, contribute to change in governance, and enact ongoing change as they (re)assemble resources for community museums. The advisors and associations have facilitated relationships between museums and actors related to museums’ work as educational institutions, sites of local action, tourism operators, agents of social change, and collecting institutions, resulting in multiple configurations of actors supporting and regulating museum activities. This thesis has found the advisors and associations historically worked for a museum community to address its needs, resulting in written policy and museums’ inclusion in government instruments. These established instruments have, to some extent, reduced the need for ongoing advocacy by targeting museums with a clear objective and normalizing museums’ participation in policy areas outside of culture. However, these instruments also reflect and reinforce historic inequities in community museum governance, privileging municipal museums with historic access to provincial support and, as a result, the capacity to advocate for their own interest through an association. Responding to growing government disinterest, the provincial museum association has refocused its efforts from defining a community in need to defining a sector that contributes to society and the economy through partnerships that can address diverse policy objectives.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -