Manitoba rural museum curator frustrated at continued shuttering

·3 min read

The curator of a rural Manitoba museum says she is frustrated, and she can’t understand why businesses like restaurants, gyms, and even escape rooms are now up and running, while museums in the province continue to be shuttered due to COVID-19 health restrictions.

“From my perspective, we have 40 acres of indoor and outdoor space here, and if people can run on a treadmill, or sit across from each other in a restaurant, or even be shut in an escape room for two hours and we can’t be open, well that just makes no sense,” Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) senior curator Andrea Klassen said on Tuesday, as the doors to the Steinbach-based museum remain closed to the public.

On Sunday, Klassen penned an open letter to the province expressing the museum’s frustration at their continued closure, and pleading with the province to allow MHV and all Manitoba museums to open.

“With the recent health orders in Manitoba similar industries like retail businesses, restaurants and bars, sports and recreation facilities, and community, cultural, and religious gatherings, and even higher-risk indoor venues like gyms and fitness centres have been permitted to open at 25% capacities, while museums continue to be closed,” Klassen states in the letter.

“The Mennonite Heritage Village calls upon our government to reconsider its decision to close museums.”

Klassen said she understands that the province is trying to open back up slowly, but says she sees no science that would support museums like MHV being closed, especially in the summer when most of the activity takes place outside around the museum’s outdoors exhibits.

“When I saw the last health order changes and I found out that things like escape rooms, laser tag and even axe throwing were allowed to open and we weren’t, well then I thought ‘ok now I’m really upset,’” she said.

And with MHV featuring a large number of outdoor exhibits, Klassen said their busy season is always in the spring and summer, and they are taking a big financial hit by remaining closed.

“It’s just a massive hit,” she said. “These are our three biggest months, so this hurts a lot. Imagine if they shut down all retail before Christmas, that would be retail closed at their peak season, well that’s what this is like for us.

“Museums like ours live for summer.”

And as Klassen looked out over an empty museum on Tuesday morning she said she was “sad” to see another day with no visitors.

“As a curator, I live for when people come to the museum,” Klassen said. “It’s just really sad.”

She is now asking in her letter for Manitobans to contact their local MLA and ask for museums to be opened up across the province.

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to the province for a response to the letter, and the province referred the Sun to Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin’s comments from a June 28 press conference, in which he said the province has to open in phases in order to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve been at this for some time, and we see that with each iteration of the orders there are questions that arise about certain restrictions and areas that have not yet been able to open or open to the capacity people had hoped,” Roussin said during the June 28 press conference.

“We are still in the early stages of this reopening plan. We are just days into our reopening plan, so we are not in a position to open everything at once.”

The Mennonite Heritage Village and other museums across the province may be one step closer to opening up, as the province announced on Wednesday that new public heath orders would be announced next week, as vaccination rates go up in the province, and COVID-19 infection rates are on the decline.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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