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Museums have social and cultural value


  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 18, 2013 06:00 am

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Context. In politics, context is like a banana peel – politicians have to be very careful not to let it trip them up.

City Coun. Sheena Hughes slipped on the proverbial banana peel when she commented on the proposed museum expansion. “The people in St. Albert are looking for value for their dollars and the museum does not interest them,” she told the Gazette last week.

Of course, that prompted a quick and visceral response. A reader reacted on the Gazette’s website not long after the story was published Saturday.

“Well, Councillor Hughes, you don't speak for all St Albertans so please don't act like you do. Some people ... actually appreciate all of the programs the Museum puts on. We should ask them how many elementary students come through the facility each year perhaps .... ,” posted Chris Cooke.

Many St. Albertans share Cooke’s sentiments. St. Albert is steeped in history, and the folks at the Arts and Heritage Foundation have done an admirable job of preserving, promoting and interpreting the city’s past.

Hughes may have slipped on the banana peel, but she didn’t fall to the ground. She regained her footing when she clarified her comments in today’s Gazette. “It’s (museum) providing good services and I appreciate it in its current form. And to expand it for $3 million does not seem like a high priority right now when we have other services that seem to me like a higher priority.”

There are throngs of people, not only in St. Albert, but also from far-flung places who are “interested” in the Musée Héritage. It is a St. Albert gem that provides education to everyone from our community’s school children to tourists who want to know more about Alberta’s oldest non-fortified community.

Museums aren’t built to turn huge profits. When Hughes commented on the expansion, she made it sound like the museum itself is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and is therefore of no interest to the people in St. Albert. She did clarify that she was talking about the expansion, but her initial comment certainly leaves people with the impression that she’d put a deadbolt on the museum’s door if she had her druthers.

Context – it’s all about what a person says, when they say it and how they say it. For a politician, context is deadly when the voters (a.k.a. ratepayers) are left to interpret a politician’s statement. One can hardly blame Cooke for posting his response on the Gazette’s website. If Hughes doesn’t want to leave people with the wrong impression, she will have to put her words into her intended context.


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