Jack Lohman, Royal B.C. Museum | BCBusiness
As the new CEO, Jack Lohman is making it his mission to put a bigger spotlight on the Royal B.C. Musuem's collections and exhibits.
After 10 years as head of England’s famed Museum of London, Jack Lohman has travelled across the pond (and North America) to take on the role of CEO of the Royal B.C. Museum. No stranger to international work – he acts as an adviser to the Museum of Slavery in Qatar as well as the Institute for National Museums in Rwanda – Lohman brings his global perspective and tried-and-tested experience to Victoria.
What made you decide to leave your position as director of the Museum of London for the Royal B.C. Museum?
I had completed my major projects and, in a way, I’d done what I had set out to do, so I was ready for another challenge. And this seemed like a great opportunity. I had visited Canada on several occasions, but I can’t say I knew it. I was taken by the complexity of the institution. Having started life as a simple repository of natural history, it has advanced to embracing lots of different purposes. Now it’s a sort of classic museum. It’s an academic institution, a mass tourism destination and it’s a large public park and public space.
What do you see being the Royal B.C. Museum’s place among museums in B.C. and Western Canada?
Just by sheer number of collections, number of visitors, by mere location and by mere footprint, there’s no museum that really compares. It’s not just a museum; it’s the archives, too. If you took the Royal Ontario Museum and you combined it with the Ontario Archives, you would get an impression of just how big and complex it already is. The thing is, the collections deserve to be better known. And they deserve to be better known not just on Vancouver Island, but right across B.C., right across the whole of Canada, right across the world. The First Nations collections are without parallel.
Would you say that bringing more attention to the existing collections and exhibits is your mandate?
Absolutely. My mandate is very simple: let’s make what we look after well known, and let’s advance the knowledge around British Columbia. I’ll be improving access, I’ll be looking at new collection storage and I’ll be building a new archive, among other things. I’ll look at what is fundable because I’ll have to raise money for whatever I, with my team, decide to do.
How much of your budget depends on grants, and how much comes from revenue-based initiatives, like ticket sales?
About 66 per cent of our funding comes from the Province of British Columbia and 34 per cent we have to earn ourselves. The issue is that we’re not typical, in that we are a museum and archive. All the archives in the whole of Canada are paid for out of the government purse, apart from us. And that’s because we’re a Crown corporation.
How much of that 34 per cent comes from ticket sales?
It’s a fairly big portion, if you think elsewhere in the world museums are free, but here we have to rely on that gate money. But clearly, we’ve got to diversify our funding model. We’ve got to look at other streams and say, “What are the commercial opportunities?”
What might those other revenue streams look like? Do donors play a large role in that?
Well, I’ll put it this way: there is definitely a need to engage with people who want to be engaged with the museum and to build up a level of support amongst philanthropists, in particular – people who take a lot of pride and enthusiasm in supporting learning institutions.
What’s the current situation with government funding?
Obviously we’ve got to show our worth, in terms of value-for-money in what we receive from government. Clearly if we’re going to improve the facilities here, I’m going to need a little bit more support from government. I’m going to need a lot of support from society at large. It’s about whether we feel this is an important priority. We are on a seismic fault, and our archives are held in buildings that are substandard and below sea level. I mean, you’d think only third-world countries would do something like that, and that’s the sort of situation that we’re inheriting here.
How does the satellite museum opening this summer, at Wing Sang in Chinatown, play into the museum’s overall mandate?
It’s part of our mandate of working with the whole of B.C. It’s an experiment, to be perfectly honest. What’s exciting about Wing Sang is that it takes us into the biggest city in British Columbia.
Are your online exhibits following a worldwide trend?
Absolutely. What we’re seeing is, actually, we get more visitors virtually than we will in reality. Our parallel needs to be something like the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. Canberra is probably slightly smaller than Victoria, and yet the museum has a mandate to serve the whole of Australia. How do they fulfill their mandate? They do it using technology.
Was the move from London to Victoria a big personal adjustment?
Well, this is another centre. It’s a centre of the Pacific world, and there is a Pacific culture happening. So, for me it’s a very beautiful change. My friends in London, they were all envious that I was, in a way, spearheading the next movement. We’ve done London, now where is it going to happen next? Well, I think the West Coast of Canada is where it’s happening next.