Fort la Reine Museum Friends and supporters call May 17 meeting

Mickey Dumont

The Portage Citizen —

What has been viewed as sudden changes earlier this month in management and staffing at the Fort la Reine Museum, has sparked the formation of a museum friends and supporter group. The Fort la Reine Museum friends and supporters will meet May 17 to try and understand what has happened and hope to learn what new plans are forming for the museum.

“It’s important to do this. We believe the public needs a chance to express to the board their expectations for a healthy future for the museum,” says Mitchell Omichinski, one of the friends and supporter group organizers.

“As members and supporters of the museum, we are concerned about sudden changes in direction given the past seven years of exceptional development and activity at the museum,” Omichinski, said. “Where is it headed now? We don’t know.”

Fort la Reine Museum’s executive director/curator contract had not been renewed — Tracy Turner’s contract expired April 30 — a new opening day has yet to be scheduled, a group — members and supporters of the museum — is forming to try and learn what direction the museum’s board is going.

The museum board has stated the hiring of a new executive director/curator is part of an overall plan to “move in a new direction.”

The Fort la Reine Museum friends and supporter group is hoping progressive attendance numbers, the improvement in the quality of displays and programming and many successes that have built the Fort la Reine Museum into a Manitoba Star Attraction does not get lost in the board’s new direction.

“The focus I am trying to make is looking to the future of the museum not to the past so much and incriminations,” Omichinski said. “We want to have an outlook for the future and what we would like to suggest to the board and the powers that be what we as supporters and friends of the museum would like to see. That may be looking back a bit, but it could be hopefully looking forward as well,” he said

Omichinski understands there are several pages of recent history that can’t and won’t be turned back, but he would like to see recognition and appreciation given for all of the hard work and successes Turner contributed in her seven years at the museum.

“The focus for the museum supporters is to look to the future and to try to outline what we expect of our museum going forward. The board has indicated they are going in a new direction — they haven’t given us any details. This is an opportunity for the public to imprint their expectations on the board as they struggle with and develop some sort of plan for the museum going forward.”

“For all in the Portage community who have interest in the Fort la Reine Museum, the public meeting is to share concerns and suggestions about the future of the museum,” Omichinski said.

“It’s up to the people showing up and expressing an opinion as to what they would like to do. My focus is on the future of the museum and what sort of path we would like to see it go on.

“The museum has become more than just a collection of relics and artifacts of our community. It has become a centre of relevance, a centre for community events, a centre for touring exhibitions and judging by increasing attendance over the past few years, a centre of interest for the community. As the museum became more of an interesting place, more people attended events and exhibitions,” Omichinski said.

The organizer hopes museum board members and local government officials the group has invited view this meeting as an opportunity to share information on their “new direction” plans for the museum.

“They should look at it in a positive light,” Omichinski said. “They are there to serve the public and the Fort la Reine Museum friends and supporter group is a segment of that public. They are there to serve the interests that we have in keeping a vibrant and growing museum. They should have the best interests of the museum at heart — part of that should be consultation with the public.”

Two camps of thought have clearly drawn lines in the sand: one wholeheartedly throws its support behind the Fort la Reine Museum friends and supporter group and will attend. The other will not believing decisions the Fort la Reine Museum board made are intractable and it is a done deal, there’s no reason to attend the meeting.

“We are expecting to have a press release ready for Wednesday (May 16),” Fort la Reine Museum Chair Dale Wood said.

Wood said the board will be able to start talking about its “new direction” following its release. “It (the press release) will update everybody to where it’s at,” he said. “We have to respect everybody involved in this process.”

The museum is actively recruiting an executive director/curator, but has hired interim staff to fill that position until someone permanent is hired.

“We’re in the process of getting our students lined up and are in the process of interviewing. Clovis — the museum’s first major exhibit —is set up. It’s all coming together and we probably just need this week to finalize details to get things going. We’ll get the doors open pretty soon.

“The new direction will be the new executive director/curator,” Wood said. “The museum will be the same.”

The museum board is meeting May 16 and will decide if any of its members will attend the friends and supporters meeting. “We’ll talk about it, then.”

Omichinski and Josh Wright, a veteran summer student employee at the museum have written Letters to the Editor that are published here in the Opinions forum.

The meeting will take place on May 17 at 7 p.m. in the Crocus Room at Herman Prior Activity Centre.

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