Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.PM.13.1.2 | PDF

Oil-Spon­sored Exhi­bi­tions Camille-Mary Sharp

Oil-Sponsored Exhibitions and Canada’s Extractive Politics of Cultural Production

Camille-Mary Sharp
Focus­ing on the Cana­di­an Muse­um of History’s newest per­ma­nent exhi­bi­tion, The Cana­di­an His­to­ry Hall (2017), and its spon­sor­ship by the Cana­di­an Asso­ci­a­tion of Petro­le­um Pro­duc­ers (CAPP), this arti­cle dis­cuss­es oil-spon­sored muse­um exhi­bi­tions and the extrac­tive pol­i­tics with­in which Cana­di­an cul­ture is pro­duced. This arti­cle begins with an overview of The Cana­di­an His­to­ry Hall and the activist response to its spon­sor­ship by Big Oil. It then sit­u­ates the exhi­bi­tion with­in a larg­er his­to­ry of oil and muse­ums in Cana­da, reflect­ing on the con­tro­ver­sial, Shell-spon­sored The Spir­it Sings (1988) exhi­bi­tion at the Glen­bow Muse­um. The arti­cle argues that, as it repro­duces the long­stand­ing rela­tion­ship between Cana­di­an muse­ums and the oil indus­try, the Cana­di­an Muse­um of History’s recent part­ner­ship exem­pli­fies the ongo­ing role of extrac­tive pol­i­tics in cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion. While Euro­pean muse­ums increas­ing­ly face pres­sures to divest from fos­sil fuels, the entan­gle­ment of cul­ture and extrac­tive inter­ests in Cana­da sug­gests the need for a unique and crit­i­cal approach to spon­sor­ship in Cana­di­an cul­tur­al institutions.
Exam­i­nant l’exposition per­ma­nente la plus récente du Musée cana­di­en de l’histoire, la Salle de l’histoire cana­di­enne (2017), spon­sorisée par CAPP, le plus grand lob­by pétroli­er du Cana­da, cet arti­cle traite des expo­si­tions muséales par­rainées par les com­pag­nies pétrolières et des poli­tiques extrac­tives au sein de la cul­ture pro­duite au Cana­da. L’article com­mence par un aperçu de la Salle cana­di­enne de l’histoire et de la réponse activiste à son par­rainage par les grandes sociétés pétrolières. L’article situe égale­ment l’exposition dans un cadre his­torique plus large des musées et du pét­role au Cana­da, soulig­nant la con­ti­nu­ité de l’exposition con­tro­ver­sée The Spir­it Sings (1988) par­rainée par Shell au Musée Glen­bow. L’article démon­tre ensuite com­ment le Musée cana­di­en de l’histoire ain­si que les liens de longue date entre les musées cana­di­ens et le pét­role illus­trent le rôle con­tinu des poli­tiques extrac­tives au sein de la pro­duc­tion cul­turelle, et se ter­mine par une réflex­ion sur les lim­ites des mod­èles actuels de dés­in­vestisse­ment des musées canadiens.


In April of 2017, over a dozen activists stood in the entry hall of the Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry (CMH) in Gatineau, Que­bec, form­ing an unau­tho­rized pop-up exhi­bi­tion. In line as human easels, each held up a depic­tion of a cli­mate dis­as­ter in a gold-plat­ed frame. From pho­tos of oil spills to for­est fires, some frames read: “CAPP blocks action on cli­mate and lob­bies for tar sands expan­sion.” Out­side, oth­er par­tic­i­pants extend­ed a ban­ner with the phrase “Big oil has no place in our trust­ed muse­um” and the hash­tag #Cut­CAPP. Indeed, CAPP—the Cana­di­an Asso­ci­a­tion of Petro­le­um Producers—had donat­ed $1 mil­lion to the nation­al muse­um for its cel­e­bra­tion of Cana­da 150, which includ­ed a new, 40,000 square-foot exhi­bi­tion on Cana­di­an his­to­ry titled The Cana­di­an His­to­ry Hall. This part­ner­ship between the CMH and Canada’s largest oil lob­by rep­re­sent­ed the lat­est pub­lic con­tro­ver­sy to accom­pa­ny the Hall since its plan­ning began in 2012. As the flag­ship project for the museum’s mul­ti-year trans­for­ma­tion, which also includ­ed a name and man­date change led by the then-Con­ser­v­a­tive fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, the Hall had raised anx­i­eties among ear­ly crit­ics who feared it might become an ahis­tor­i­cal cel­e­bra­tion of Cana­di­an mil­i­tarism and set­tler-colo­nial­ism (Aron­czyk and Brady). At the time of the April protest, how­ev­er, the Hall had not yet opened, and this group of activists—organized by the envi­ron­men­tal col­lec­tive—mainly sought to make vis­i­ble the finan­cial con­nec­tion between Big Oil and Canada’s cher­ished muse­um and to demand an end to the partnership.

This action at the muse­um, part of’s “Right Side of His­to­ry” cam­paign, reflect­ed a crit­i­cal moment for muse­ums both in Cana­da and abroad. First, while per­haps unex­pect­ed for a Cana­di­an muse­um, the protest fol­lowed a surge in anti-oil actions in Euro­pean insti­tu­tions since the ear­ly 2000s, most notably at the Tate and the British Muse­um by activist groups like Lib­er­ate Tate and BP or Not BP. Sec­ond, pro­tes­tors at the CMH high­light­ed the pow­er­ful role CAPP played in Harp­er-led assaults on envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and the ongo­ing dis­place­ment and dis­en­fran­chise­ment of Indige­nous peo­ples (Per­fitt), which echoed sim­i­lar con­ver­sa­tions around Indige­nous sov­er­eign­ty and decol­o­niza­tion that had been brew­ing in muse­ums and the field of muse­um stud­ies for years.1 Last­ly, such a protest may have been unusu­al for a Cana­di­an muse­um, but it was cer­tain­ly not new, as Kirsty Robert­son demon­strates in Tear Gas Epipha­nies: Protest, Cul­ture, Muse­ums. In fact, the action by 350​.org was rem­i­nis­cent of the first anti-oil protest to occur at a Cana­di­an muse­um, sev­er­al decades pri­or: the Lubi­con Cree’s boy­cott of the Shell-spon­sored exhi­bi­tion The Spir­it Sings (1988) at the Glen­bow Museum—a con­tro­ver­sy which spot­light­ed the colo­nial prac­tices of muse­ums across the coun­try and led to the 1992 Task Force on Muse­ums and First Peo­ples. Near­ly thir­ty years lat­er, this moment of resis­tance to the CMH’s part­ner­ship with Canada’s nation­al oil lob­by rais­es the ques­tion: have Cana­di­an muse­ums changed at all?

Using as an entry point The Cana­di­an His­to­ry Hall (hence­forth the Hall) and its spon­sor­ship by CAPP, this arti­cle seeks to open a dis­cus­sion about oil-spon­sored muse­um exhi­bi­tions and the extrac­tive pol­i­tics with­in which cul­ture is pro­duced in Cana­da. The­o­riz­ing culture’s extrac­tive pol­i­tics points to ways that cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion is com­plic­it in the repro­duc­tion of resource extrac­tion as a dom­i­nant eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal mod­el. My under­stand­ing of extrac­tive pol­i­tics is informed by Hen­ri­et­ta Lidchi’s “pol­i­tics of exhibit­ing,” refer­ring to the ways that insti­tu­tion­al pow­er in muse­ums pro­motes the repro­duc­tion of spe­cif­ic forms of social knowl­edge (185). Lid­chi notes that such pol­i­tics are in con­stant nego­ti­a­tion with the “poet­ics of exhibit­ing,” or the muse­o­log­i­cal prac­tice of pro­duc­ing mean­ing (168). I also employ the con­cept of extrac­tive pol­i­tics syn­ony­mous­ly with the “pol­i­tics of extrac­tion” explored by Imre Sze­man (443), where politics—a set of rep­re­sen­ta­tions and practices—promote and sus­tain resource extrac­tion as a pri­ma­ry eco­nom­ic mod­el. Togeth­er, both notions can be used to inter­ro­gate the ways that oil-spon­sored muse­ums and exhi­bi­tions uphold the repro­duc­tion of extrac­tivism, or the par­a­dig­mat­ic eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, and social mod­el in which raw mate­ri­als, land, data, and labour are con­tin­u­ous­ly extract­ed for prof­it (Sze­man 443-5).

This arti­cle explores sev­er­al dis­tinct research ques­tions. Giv­en increased calls for divest­ment and cli­mate jus­tice in the muse­um field, how might we under­stand the ongo­ing spon­sor­ship of Cana­di­an muse­ums by oil com­pa­nies? Why have issues of fund­ing and gov­er­nance been most­ly ignored in crit­i­cal muse­ol­o­gy and siloed from decolo­nial muse­um frame­works? And what is the sig­nif­i­cance of divest­ment from oil for Cana­di­an muse­ums, par­tic­u­lar­ly if fund­ing and gov­er­nance struc­tures remain unchanged? To address these ques­tions, the arti­cle begins with an overview of the Hall, high­light­ing its impor­tance for the explo­ration of extrac­tive pol­i­tics in muse­ums. Next, I sit­u­ate the exhi­bi­tion and its con­test­ed spon­sor­ship with­in a larg­er his­to­ry of oil and muse­ums in Cana­da and reflect on the Spir­it Sings con­tro­ver­sy to show the con­ti­nu­ity of the Cana­di­an muse­o­log­i­cal land­scape between 1988 and 2017. The arti­cle then sug­gests that both the Hall and Cana­di­an muse­ums’ long-stand­ing rela­tion­ship with oil exem­pli­fy the ongo­ing role of extrac­tive pol­i­tics in cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion. Final­ly, I con­sid­er recent splits in cor­po­rate-muse­um part­ner­ships beyond Cana­da and ques­tion the effi­ca­cy of muse­um divest­ment in the absence of rad­i­cal struc­tur­al change.

Welcome to your history”: The Canadian History Hall

Locat­ed on the top two floors of the CMH, the Hall occu­pies a space of over 40,000 square feet, divid­ed into a main Hub and three chrono­log­i­cal­ly curat­ed gal­leries. To access the Hall, vis­i­tors move through a bright, wind­ing hall­way in which var­i­ous Cana­di­an land­marks, peo­ple, and sym­bols are lit and dis­played on the walls. Upon exit­ing the hall­way into the exhibition’s main Hub, vis­i­tors can advance onto a floor map of Cana­da. Look­ing up and around the Hub, the design of CMH archi­tect Dou­glas Car­di­nal is instant­ly notice­able, the inner curves of the Hall mir­ror­ing the curvi­lin­ear struc­ture of the muse­um. From this cen­tral start­ing point, vis­i­tors can access the exhibition’s three gal­leries: Gallery 1, which cov­ers ear­li­est times until 1763; Gallery 2, cov­er­ing colo­nial Cana­da from 1763 to 1914; and final­ly, Gallery 3, which looks at mod­ern Cana­da from 1914 to the present day. Much of Gallery 3, acces­si­ble from a cir­cu­lar ramp, is vis­i­ble from the Hub, across the curved mez­za­nine that Car­di­nal designed to sym­bol­ize the Ottawa riv­er (Amy­ot, Leblanc, and Mor­ris­son). Despite activist and media atten­tion to the Hall’s spon­sor­ship by CAPP, the part­ner­ship is de-empha­sized in the Hall itself, los­ing the spot­light to the three Cana­di­an fam­i­lies who also donat­ed to the muse­um: the Eatons, the Rossys, and the West­ons. Like in many muse­ums, these donors lend their names to par­tic­u­lar gal­leries; how­ev­er, the affil­i­a­tion of each fam­i­ly with a par­tic­u­lar time peri­od in the Hall (Rossy: Ear­ly Cana­da; Eaton: Colo­nial Cana­da; and West­on: Mod­ern Cana­da) is unique and rais­es ques­tions that extend beyond the scope of this arti­cle.2

Figure 1: Entry corridor to the Canadian History Hall. (Photo by the author, 2019).

A close exam­i­na­tion of the exhibition’s devel­op­ment was nec­es­sary to under­stand the dynam­ics of CAPP’s spon­sor­ship. Foun­da­tion­al muse­um schol­ar­ship has pre­vi­ous­ly described muse­ums as cul­tur­al instru­ments of the state (Ben­nett), serv­ing a hege­mon­ic func­tion and uphold­ing colo­nial sys­tems of knowl­edge. But how exact­ly did the museum’s part­ner­ship with this spon­sor reflect such asym­met­ri­cal rela­tions? A deep dive into the muse­um was there­fore need­ed, and I began to under­take archival research and inter­views in Gatineau and exam­ine inter­nal doc­u­ments about the Hall released through the Access to Infor­ma­tion and Pri­va­cy Act. What emerged from my research was a com­plex sto­ry of a momen­tous cul­tur­al prod­uct with nation­al, cor­po­rate, muse­o­log­i­cal, and per­son­al impli­ca­tions, one that brought togeth­er hun­dreds of pro­fes­sion­als, mul­ti­ple teams, and var­i­ous domains of exper­tise into a mul­ti-year, mul­ti-mil­lion-dol­lar project.

The devel­op­ment of the Hall was indeed a sig­nif­i­cant under­tak­ing. Devel­oped inter­nal­ly by the Cana­di­an His­to­ry Hall Work­ing Group, it was led by a Project Direc­tor, a Direc­tor of Research, and a Direc­tor of Cre­ative Devel­op­ment and Learn­ing (Amy­ot, Leblanc, and Mor­ri­son), and was even­tu­al­ly sup­port­ed by the con­tract­ed work of Mon­tre­al-based design firm GSM Project. The devel­op­ment of the Hall also reflect­ed the muse­o­log­i­cal stan­dards of its time. For exam­ple, in 2013 the Hall Work­ing Group began form­ing Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tees to con­sult on three main ele­ments: Indige­nous con­tent, women’s con­tent, and the three his­tor­i­cal peri­ods of each gallery. The Com­mit­tees’ main tasks were to advise on con­tent drafts already pro­duced by the main exhi­bi­tion team (Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry, Access to Infor­ma­tion Act request # A-2017-01). Addi­tion­al­ly, the Work­ing Group sought to con­sult the Cana­di­an pub­lic around what top­ics should be includ­ed in the Hall through an exten­sive online cam­paign. Even after the first few days of research, it became clear that the Work­ing Group had embarked on an impos­si­ble task: to pro­duce a com­pre­hen­sive, muse­o­log­i­cal­ly-informed his­to­ry of Cana­da, span­ning from ear­li­est times to the present day, and which would sat­is­fy muse­um vis­i­tors, staff, donors, aca­d­e­mics, rep­re­sent­ed com­mu­ni­ties, gov­ern­ment offi­cials, and the media.

When vis­it­ing the Hall for the first time, activists and jour­nal­ists alike may have been pleas­ant­ly sur­prised. In the first gallery, vis­i­tors are imme­di­ate­ly immersed in a visu­al and audio telling of the Anishi­naabe Cre­ation sto­ry pro­ject­ed onto a curved wall, allud­ing to the museum’s pres­ence on unced­ed Algo­nquin ter­ri­to­ry. There is also a sec­tion in the third gallery which dis­plays key social move­ments in Cana­di­an his­to­ry, from Idle No More and the LGBTQ rights move­ment to envi­ron­men­tal activism. While I found no evi­dence of direct influ­ence from donors on the exhi­bi­tion in my research, a close read­ing of its con­tents reveals a few inter­est­ing omis­sions. For exam­ple, in the third gallery’s sec­tion on “envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns,” the fol­low­ing envi­ron­men­tal threats are list­ed: “acid rain, ozone deple­tion, clear-cut log­ging, nuclear ener­gy safe­ty con­cerns and cli­mate change,” with a notable absence of oil or pipeline spills (Amy­ot, Leblanc, and Mor­ri­son 176). Sim­i­lar­ly, in the exhibition’s cat­a­log, a sec­tion on “First Peo­ples: 1876 to the Present Day” describes Arc­tic colo­nial­ism with­out includ­ing the sto­ry of forced relo­ca­tions of Inu­it com­mu­ni­ties and the extrac­tive moti­va­tions of Cana­di­an expan­sion in the region (Amy­ot, Leblanc, and Mor­ri­son 182). Beyond such absences, the Hall itself min­i­mal­ly engages with the his­to­ry of resource extrac­tion or any con­tent the oil indus­try might have had a stake in. Fur­ther, my inter­views with CMH and design pro­fes­sion­als who worked on the Hall revealed lit­tle over­lap between their work and the exhibition’s fun­ders: while the exhi­bi­tion cer­tain­ly was moti­vat­ed and informed by var­i­ous insti­tu­tion­al, polit­i­cal, and muse­o­log­i­cal inter­ests, the CAPP con­tro­ver­sy seemed to remain an after­thought through­out the project. Where, then, would the extrac­tive moment in which this impor­tant exhi­bi­tion emerged man­i­fest? The ques­tion required turn­ing back the clock to explore the long­stand­ing rela­tion­ship between Cana­di­an muse­ums and the oil industry.

Situating Oil-Sponsored Exhibitions Within Canadian Museology

While anti-spon­sor actions in Cana­di­an insti­tu­tions are few­er than in Europe or the U.S.,’s protest against CAPP was not the first moment of resis­tance to oil at the doorsteps of a muse­um in Cana­da. The trou­bling con­tra­dic­tion of Cana­di­an muse­ums’ reck­on­ing with their colo­nial infra­struc­tures and their intrin­sic ties to oil wealth were first made vis­i­ble in 1988, when Calgary’s Glen­bow Muse­um part­nered with the oil com­pa­ny Shell to devel­op an exhi­bi­tion on Indige­nous mate­r­i­al cul­ture. The Spir­it Sings: Artis­tic Tra­di­tions of Canada’s First Peo­ples was an ambi­tious dis­play of cul­tur­al arti­facts from Indige­nous peo­ples (pri­mar­i­ly First Nations and Inu­it) across Cana­da, most of which had been col­lect­ed by set­tlers at the time of first con­tact and had remained housed in var­i­ous Cana­di­an, Amer­i­can, and Euro­pean insti­tu­tions. A part of the 1988 Cal­gary Olympics, the show was hailed as the first time many of the arti­facts would be dis­played togeth­er in a Cana­di­an muse­um, and its (pri­mar­i­ly non-Indige­nous) cura­to­r­i­al com­mit­tee was like­ly well-mean­ing; indeed, the exhi­bi­tion sought to blur anthro­po­log­i­cal lines between art and arti­fact, and efforts were made to depict Indige­nous peo­ples as resilient and diverse. The exhi­bi­tion also received the largest cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship for a Cana­di­an art exhi­bi­tion at the time, a $1.1 mil­lion dona­tion from Shell. But the record-break­ing part­ner­ship would not be cel­e­brat­ed for long. When the spon­sor­ship was announced, Shell had been drilling in the unced­ed ter­ri­to­ry of the Lubi­con Cree in north­ern Alber­ta, deeply affect­ing the econ­o­my, health, and envi­ron­ment of the com­mu­ni­ty. Need­ing to draw wide­spread atten­tion to their griev­ances and ongo­ing land claim with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, the Lubi­con orga­nized an inter­na­tion­al boy­cott of both the Olympic Games and The Spir­it Sings. On the exhibition’s open­ing day in sum­mer 1988, hun­dreds of Indige­nous pro­tes­tors and allies stood out­side the Glen­bow Muse­um, with one sign read­ing, “In whose inter­est does the Spir­it Sing?” (Bick­nell in Robertson).

The Spir­it Sings con­tro­ver­sy has been deemed a water­shed moment in Cana­di­an muse­ol­o­gy, pri­mar­i­ly because the anti-Shell protest high­light­ed many oth­er issues plagu­ing the exhibition—and indeed oth­er Cana­di­an museums—such as the lack of Indige­nous con­sul­ta­tion and the dis­play of sacred arti­facts. While many of these issues had been flagged and resist­ed by Indige­nous peo­ples for decades,3 this con­tentious moment became a cat­a­lyst for the Task Force on Muse­ums and First Peo­ples (ini­ti­at­ed in 1989 and pub­lished in 1992), which prompt­ed numer­ous reforms in how Cana­di­an muse­ums engage with Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties and Indige­nous mate­r­i­al cul­ture. How­ev­er, while the Lubicon’s land claim and resis­tance to Shell was the main dri­ver of the exhibition’s boy­cott, con­cerns over nei­ther the Shell spon­sor­ship nor Indige­nous land rights made it into the Task Force Report. Ref­er­enc­ing Glen Coulthard’s Red Skin, White Masks: Reject­ing the Colo­nial Pol­i­tics of Recog­ni­tion, Kelsey Wright­son notes that much like Canada’s offi­cial recog­ni­tion of Indige­nous peo­ples in fed­er­al pol­i­cy, the Report ignored the polit­i­cal aims of com­mu­ni­ties like the Lubi­con, thus decou­pling its reformed frame­work of muse­um prac­tice from the land-based aspi­ra­tions of Indige­nous communities.

The muse­o­log­i­cal frame­work from which The Cana­di­an His­to­ry Hall emerged reflects a sim­i­lar dis­con­nect. Fol­low­ing a series of slow reforms prompt­ed by a long his­to­ry of Indige­nous resis­tance and crit­i­cal schol­ar­ship around muse­ums, Cana­di­an muse­ums have recent­ly been tasked with respond­ing to anoth­er report, the Truth and Reconciliation’s (TRC) Calls to Action, in which they, along with libraries and archives, are called upon to imple­ment poli­cies that meet the Unit­ed Nations Dec­la­ra­tion on the Rights of Indige­nous Peo­ples (UNDRIP) in an effort to pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. How­ev­er, some schol­ars have since cri­tiqued the state-sanc­tioned Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion nar­ra­tive of the TRC and its adop­tion by arts insti­tu­tions. David Gar­neau, for exam­ple, notes that the report is con­strained by West­ern ide­ol­o­gy and calls for artis­tic and cura­to­r­i­al prac­tices to be artic­u­lat­ed out­side of its assim­i­la­tion­ist frame­work (24), while Lind­say Nixon’s A Cul­ture of Exploita­tion: “Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” and the Insti­tu­tions of Cana­di­an Art, pub­lished by Yel­low­head Insti­tute, high­lights the ways that insti­tu­tion­al com­mit­ments to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion have only led to more tokenism, inequal­i­ty, and exploita­tion of Indige­nous cul­tur­al work­ers. Fol­low­ing the muse­o­log­i­cal stan­dards set by the 1994 Task Force report, cur­rent muse­um respons­es to “decolo­nial” muse­ol­o­gy and the TRC remain pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned with object-based prac­tices like col­lec­tions care, inter­pre­ta­tion, and exhi­bi­tions, leav­ing unchanged the fund­ing and gov­er­nance struc­tures of muse­ums, them­selves dom­i­nat­ed by cor­po­ra­tions and cor­po­rate elites. As such, the com­plex­i­ty and con­tra­dic­tions inher­ent in muse­um work and crit­i­cal muse­ol­o­gy become vis­i­ble in cul­tur­al spaces like the Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry: while its newest per­ma­nent exhi­bi­tion is fund­ed by a pow­er­ful lob­by that active­ly resists Indige­nous rights in legal courts, the Hall also incor­po­rates Indige­nous knowl­edge and his­to­ries and dis­plays moments of anti-colo­nial resis­tance such as the Idle No More movement.

Ulti­mate­ly, many of the con­tra­dic­tions affect­ing muse­um work can be traced back to the struc­tur­al foun­da­tions of cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions. Despite the pow­er­ful cur­rents of “decol­o­niza­tion” and, indeed, cli­mate-ori­ent­ed frame­works (see Cameron and Neil­son; Janes) in muse­ol­o­gy, muse­ums remain lim­it­ed by their his­tor­i­cal, polit­i­cal, and eco­nom­ic con­texts. Sumaya Kas­sim, for exam­ple, has made the poignant argu­ment that muse­ums can nev­er tru­ly be decol­o­nized due to the per­sis­tence of their colo­nial epis­te­molo­gies. Schol­ars like Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang have also cri­tiqued the insti­tu­tion­al appro­pri­a­tion of decolo­nial ped­a­gogy and the sub­se­quent de-empha­sis of its pri­ma­ry motive, the repa­tri­a­tion of land (Tuck and Yang 7). Sim­i­lar­ly, the entan­gle­ment of large muse­ums and the glob­al art mar­ket in per­son­al and cor­po­rate for­tunes makes them unlike­ly cham­pi­ons of eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able fund­ing. As such, while cor­po­rate spon­sored muse­ums like the Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry or the Glen­bow already nav­i­gate a wide-range of inter­ests and often con­tra­dic­to­ry dynam­ics, their promi­nent part­ner­ships with the oil indus­try sig­nal the lim­it­ed role they might play in advo­cat­ing for land-based decol­o­niza­tion or envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty. It is no sur­prise, then, that in research­ing both muse­ums, I found no poli­cies or guide­lines relat­ed to fund­ing ethics. While reflec­tive of the struc­tur­al lim­i­ta­tions men­tioned above, such an absence also speaks to the larg­er extrac­tive pol­i­tics with­in which cul­ture is pro­duced in Cana­da. Hav­ing fueled west­ern expan­sion and the devel­op­ment of the set­tler state, oil was his­tor­i­cal­ly foun­da­tion­al to the devel­op­ment of both the CMH and the Glen­bow and remains embed­ded in their cur­rent struc­tur­al fabric.

Oil, Museums, and the Extractive Politics of Culture

Today, oil com­pa­nies (and extrac­tive indus­tries more broad­ly) are com­mon sup­port­ers of muse­ums across Cana­da, even beyond tar-sand adja­cent muse­ums in Alber­ta which fre­quent­ly part­ner with the likes of Impe­r­i­al Oil, Chevron, and Shell. In 2011, for exam­ple, the Cana­di­an Muse­um of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy in Ottawa came under scruti­ny as leaked emails revealed that Impe­r­i­al Oil, its spon­sor for an exhi­bi­tion titled Ener­gy: Pow­er to Choose, exert­ed influ­ence over some of the exhibition’s con­tent. In Toron­to, the Roy­al Ontario Muse­um con­tin­ues its peren­ni­al rela­tion­ship with the min­ing indus­try with part­ners like Bar­rick Gold, Teck, and the Prospec­tors and Devel­op­ers Asso­ci­a­tion of Cana­da (PDAC), a lead­ing min­ing lob­by. While such rela­tion­ships between resource extrac­tion and Canada’s cul­tur­al sec­tor may become increas­ing­ly con­tro­ver­sial, they also rep­re­sent ‘busi­ness as usu­al.’ Since the begin­ning of cor­po­rate involve­ment in arts and cul­ture in North Amer­i­ca, oil wealth has had a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence, as nine­teenth- and twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry mil­lion­aires and oil stake­hold­ers like John D. Rock­e­feller and Andrew Carnegie found­ed numer­ous libraries, muse­ums, and uni­ver­si­ties. In Cana­da specif­i­cal­ly, Amer­i­can foun­da­tions like Rockefeller’s and Carnegie’s began pro­vid­ing sub­stan­tial grants to artists, schol­ars, and cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions in the ear­ly 1920s and shap­ing Cana­di­an cul­tur­al pol­i­cy (Bri­son).

The CMH and the Glen­bow Muse­um them­selves can also be said to be found­ed on oil. In the mid-1800s, as oil became increas­ing­ly depend­ed upon by Euro­pean and North Amer­i­can set­tler soci­eties, gov­ern­ments sought new sources of ener­gy, includ­ing oil, and encour­aged and fund­ed explo­ration through­out pre-Fed­er­a­tion Cana­da and the U.S. In Cana­da, such a task was hand­ed to the Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey of Cana­da (GSC), found­ed in 1842 to map British North America’s geo­log­i­cal resources. William Logan, direc­tor of the GSC in 1852, pro­posed that the Province of Cana­da cre­ate its own muse­um, with the main pur­pose to dis­play rocks, min­er­als, and anthro­po­log­i­cal col­lec­tions amassed by the GSC dur­ing its explo­rations (Pilon et al.). Thus, the provin­cial muse­um was cre­at­ed in Mon­tre­al, before mov­ing to Ottawa and final­ly to Gatineau where it became the Cana­di­an Muse­um of Civ­i­liza­tion and even­tu­al­ly the Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry. In Alber­ta, the Glen­bow Muse­um was found­ed by lawyer-turned-oil mil­lion­aire Eric L. Harvie, who had great­ly prof­it­ed from his leas­es in the Leduc oil field, oper­at­ed at the time by Impe­r­i­al Oil (Diehl). Harvie spent some of his for­tune amass­ing a large col­lec­tion of Indige­nous and Cana­di­an art­works, even­tu­al­ly donat­ing it to the province of Alber­ta to form the Glen­bow Muse­um (Cot­ton).

It is in these oil foun­da­tions of Cana­di­an muse­ums that a pri­ma­ry aspect of extrac­tive pol­i­tics can be found. How­ev­er, as the foun­da­tion­al his­to­ries of the Glen­bow and the Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry sug­gest, extrac­tive pol­i­tics pre­cede con­tem­po­rary and con­tro­ver­sial forms of ‘oil spon­sor­ship,’ with both insti­tu­tions hav­ing been devel­oped through extract­ed wealth and col­lec­tions. Ever-grow­ing cri­tiques of oil fund­ing in muse­ums there­fore lead me to ask, can such muse­ums ever tru­ly divest from their extrac­tive foun­da­tions? Much like Kassim’s con­clu­sion that muse­ums can nev­er be decol­o­nized due to the resilience of their colo­nial struc­tures, the idea that muse­ums in Cana­da may divest from oil in the near future is dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile with the deeply root­ed pres­ence of resource extrac­tion in their his­to­ries. Fur­ther, as Kirsty Robert­son notes, there has been min­i­mal resis­tance to oil spon­sor­ship in Cana­di­an muse­ums, in con­trast to the activism of groups like Lib­er­ate Tate and BP or Not BP in the UK, or Libérons le Lou­vre in France. Robert­son pro­pos­es sev­er­al the­o­ries for this absence, includ­ing the “unbreak­able con­nec­tion between extrac­tion and econ­o­my in Cana­da” (184), as well as the dif­fer­ing sites of envi­ron­men­tal and Indige­nous strug­gle, which in Cana­da are pri­mar­i­ly found at block­ades or in court pro­ceed­ings and edu­ca­tion. But these dif­fer­ences absolve nei­ther the Cana­di­an pub­lic nor muse­um schol­ars and pro­fes­sion­als from scru­ti­niz­ing oil spon­sor­ship, and, as both 350​.org and Lubi­con protests have shown, Cana­di­an muse­ums are far from immune to such resistance.

Guid­ed by increased efforts to dis­man­tle the colo­nial and oppres­sive struc­tures of muse­ums and inspired by calls to study muse­ums beyond the tra­di­tion­al foci of cura­tion and exhi­bi­tions (Morse et al.), my research into oil and muse­ums led me to inter­ro­gate the fund­ing work that moti­vat­ed and sup­port­ed the Cana­di­an Muse­um of History’s part­ner­ship with CAPP. As I focused on email cor­re­spon­dence released by an Access to Infor­ma­tion and Pri­va­cy (ATIP) request, addi­tion­al aspects of extrac­tive pol­i­tics at the muse­um emerged.

First, rather than exert influ­ence on the con­tent of The Cana­di­an His­to­ry Hall (or engage in a “cor­po­rate takeover of pub­lic expres­sion,” as Her­bert Schiller had pre­dict­ed about spon­sor­ship in the 1980s), emails between the muse­um and CAPP rep­re­sen­ta­tives reveal that the pri­ma­ry moti­va­tion for this part­ner­ship was behind-the-scenes polit­i­cal lob­by­ing. Indeed, locat­ed across the Ottawa Riv­er from the fed­er­al capital’s Par­lia­ment Hill, the muse­um is not only an impor­tant cul­tur­al, edu­ca­tion­al, and tourist des­ti­na­tion, it is also a hub for polit­i­cal elites. As the pri­ma­ry fun­der of the museum’s cel­e­bra­tion of Cana­da 150 and the Hall, CAPP strate­gi­cal­ly gained access to muse­um-host­ed events and gath­er­ings where gov­ern­ment offi­cials often inter­act. ATIP doc­u­ments show that CAPP sought spe­cif­ic infor­ma­tion around the museum’s polit­i­cal rela­tion­ships before com­mit­ting to the part­ner­ship. For exam­ple, in emails from 2013, CAPP’s muse­um liai­son asks devel­op­ment staff “how many events with gov­ern­ment-relat­ed atten­dees are host­ed each year” (Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry Access to Infor­ma­tion Act Request # A-2016-2017/03 59). Lat­er that year, when the spon­sor­ship agree­ment was con­firmed, CAPP also request­ed that the announce­ment of their part­ner­ship be sched­uled when the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment would not be in ses­sion, there­by favour­ing a time when offi­cials could receive the news (Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry Access to Infor­ma­tion Act Request # A-2016-2017/03 373).

The muse­um was of course well aware of its valu­able polit­i­cal and geo­graph­ic posi­tion­ing, not­ing in its spon­sor­ship pro­pos­al to CAPP that their part­ner­ship would pro­vide the lob­by with “access to influ­en­tial audi­ences and key deci­sion mak­ers in the Nation­al Cap­i­tal […]” (Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry Access to Infor­ma­tion Act request # A-2016-2017/03 17). Thus, despite an absence of inter­fer­ence in the actu­al con­tents of the muse­um and its exhi­bi­tions, the CMH’s part­ner­ship with CAPP nev­er­the­less worked to pro­mote the inter­ests of the Cana­di­an oil indus­try by con­scious­ly pro­vid­ing a space for indus­try to lob­by gov­ern­ment officials.

Last­ly, it is impor­tant not to over­look the active role the muse­um under­took to secure its part­ner­ship with the lob­by. The inter­pre­ta­tion of the spon­sor­ship by some news media has tend­ed to obscure the reversed flow of extrac­tive pol­i­tics between both par­ties. While CAPP showed ini­tial inter­est in the muse­um in the ear­ly 2010s, it did not nec­es­sar­i­ly “invite itself to the muse­um,” as one head­line not­ed (Orfali). The CMH’s devel­op­ment team spent sig­nif­i­cant resources, includ­ing at least one trip to the lob­by group’s head­quar­ters in Cal­gary, to cul­ti­vate the rela­tion­ship. The flow of extrac­tive inter­ests from the muse­um to CAPP, rather than from CAPP to the muse­um, is fur­ther reflect­ed in the lan­guage of the spon­sor­ship agree­ment. As the muse­um-authored con­tract states, CMH offered CAPP “a key acti­va­tion oppor­tu­ni­ty […] to draw essen­tial links between our progress as a coun­try and the his­to­ry of nat­ur­al resource devel­op­ment” and assert­ed that “the qual­i­ty of our life and the devel­op­ment of our coun­try is inex­tri­ca­bly linked to the devel­op­ment of our nat­ur­al resources” (Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry Access to Infor­ma­tion Act request # A-2016-2017/03 17).

As this his­to­ry of oil in Cana­di­an muse­ums and the com­mu­ni­ca­tions between CAPP and Canada’s nation­al his­to­ry muse­um have shown, the extrac­tive pol­i­tics with­in which cul­ture is pro­duced in Cana­da extend beyond com­mon assump­tions of cen­sor­ship and inter­fer­ence. From the foun­da­tion­al links between Cana­di­an cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions and resource extrac­tion to the con­tem­po­rary part­ner­ships forged between oil and muse­ums, Canada’s extrac­tive pol­i­tics of cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion have become dif­fi­cult to ignore. Indeed, while it is impor­tant to remem­ber that the CMH-CAPP part­ner­ship occurred due to a need for fund­ing in the cul­tur­al sec­tor, the spe­cif­ic ways in which both the muse­um and the lob­by con­ceived of their spon­sor­ship agree­ment reflect the pow­er­ful pres­ence of oil in Canada’s muse­um land­scape. The polit­i­cal lob­by­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties empha­sized by both par­ties also give rea­son to the con­cerns of the 350​.org activists who had staged their pop-up exhi­bi­tion in the museum’s entry hall in April 2017. As this arti­cle demon­strates, the activists’ claim that CAPP spon­sored the CMH to “receive exclu­sive access to events with our polit­i­cal lead­ers” and active­ly meet “with gov­ern­ment to push for tar sands expan­sion” stands strong (350​.org). Nev­er­the­less, I ques­tion the effi­ca­cy of such pres­sures in a coun­try so deeply embed­ded in oil. In the absence of rad­i­cal struc­tur­al change around muse­ums’ fund­ing and gov­er­nance, what impact would divest­ment from oil spon­sors have on Cana­di­an cul­ture? Fur­ther­more, as the fund­ing prac­tices of muse­ums con­tin­ue to be over­looked in muse­um stud­ies and siloed from object-based reforms in the muse­um field, what oppor­tu­ni­ties exist for such struc­tur­al change? Last­ly, not­ing increased con­cerns around the human and envi­ron­men­tal impacts of the ris­ing ‘green ener­gy’ indus­try, what stan­dards and poli­cies might muse­ums put in place to avoid being under­writ­ten by oth­er extrac­tive indus­tries, such as mining?

Conclusion: Thinking Beyond Divestment

As I write this arti­cle, con­tro­ver­sies over oil spon­sor­ship in muse­ums have not slowed. The Sci­ence Muse­um in Lon­don, U.K. was recent­ly occu­pied by activists from var­i­ous groups in protest of Shell’s spon­sor­ship of the cli­mate change-relat­ed exhi­bi­tion Our Future Plan­et. In an open let­ter signed by over 50,000 peo­ple, the U.K. Stu­dent Cli­mate Net­work (UKSCN) accused the muse­um of pro­vid­ing Shell with an oppor­tu­ni­ty for “green-wash­ing” and called for an end to the part­ner­ship (Polon­sky). While the Sci­ence Muse­um has yet to meet this demand, oth­er insti­tu­tions have sev­ered some of their con­tentious rela­tion­ships with cor­po­ra­tions in the last few years. In 2016, the Tate announced the end of its part­ner­ship with BP, and in 2018 the Van Gogh Muse­um and the Mau­rit­shuis in the Nether­lands end­ed their rela­tion­ships with Shell. And in 2019, War­ren Kan­ders, whose com­pa­ny Safar­i­land was linked to tear gas use in Gaza and Puer­to Rico, resigned as Vice-Chair of the Whit­ney Muse­um fol­low­ing sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure from artists and activists. In Cana­da, how­ev­er, while uni­ver­si­ties are increas­ing­ly com­mit­ting to divest­ing from fos­sil fuels, there have been min­i­mal pres­sures on muse­ums to sev­er their ties with oil. Such pres­sures might be less like­ly to res­onate with Cana­di­an muse­um pro­fes­sion­als, who are acute­ly aware of the country’s need for fund­ing of arts and cul­ture. While Canada’s cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions rely on pri­vate fund­ing to a less­er extent than their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, the sec­tor reflects a com­bi­na­tion of Amer­i­can and Euro­pean mod­els (Chong and Bog­dan), and Cana­di­an gov­ern­ments have been steadi­ly encour­ag­ing muse­ums to seek out more cor­po­rate sup­port since the 1970s. Thus, while CAPP’s spon­sor­ship of the Cana­di­an His­to­ry Hall rep­re­sent­ed just over 3% of the exhibition’s total bud­get, the stakes are dif­fer­ent for muse­ums locat­ed in extrac­tive cities. For exam­ple, giv­en the make­up of cor­po­ra­tions and elites in Cal­gary, the Glen­bow reg­u­lar­ly receives fund­ing from more than one oil spon­sor and oper­ates with sev­er­al indus­try mag­nates on its board. In this cur­rent mod­el, the Glen­bow would like­ly have to close its doors if it sud­den­ly divest­ed from fos­sil fuels.

It is per­haps the feel­ing of helplessness—with many muse­ums strug­gling to keep their doors open and retain staff in the midst of a pandemic—that has side­lined nuanced inves­ti­ga­tions of trou­bling muse­um-cor­po­rate incom­pat­i­bil­i­ties. After all, this past year many muse­ums have been reflect­ing on their embed­ded­ness in colo­nial­ism, anti-Black racism, and the cli­mate cri­sis, and have found inno­v­a­tive ways to increase their social rel­e­vance.4 Nev­er­the­less, the near impos­si­bil­i­ty of trans­form­ing entire insti­tu­tion­al and eco­nom­ic struc­tures is no rea­son to ignore the spe­cif­ic ways that cap­i­tal­ism and pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions uti­lize cul­tur­al spaces to legit­imize their destruc­tive oper­a­tions and their ongo­ing accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal. The absence of the ques­tion of fund­ing from crit­i­cal dis­cus­sions of muse­um prac­tice has only rein­forced the instru­men­tal­iza­tion of cul­tur­al projects like exhi­bi­tions to uphold Canada’s polit­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and eco­nom­ic sys­tem of resource extraction.

But activists, schol­ars, and cul­tur­al pro­fes­sion­als alike ought to be wary of con­sid­er­ing divest­ment from oil as a com­pre­hen­sive solu­tion to the ongo­ing issue of con­tro­ver­sial muse­um-cor­po­rate part­ner­ships. While the oil indus­try is expect­ed to con­tin­ue extract­ing its black gold until it is no longer prof­itable, a shift in glob­al con­scious­ness around the envi­ron­ment and ‘green’ prac­tices and con­sump­tion has emerged and has made its way into muse­ums: as entire activist orga­ni­za­tions are strate­giz­ing against the fos­sil fuel industry’s per­sis­tent spon­sor­ship of cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions in Europe, sev­er­al spe­cial jour­nal issues and reports around art, muse­ums, and cli­mate change have also been released, and muse­um con­fer­ences world­wide have tak­en up the theme of envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty.5 In social, polit­i­cal, and eco­nom­ic land­scapes, the shift has been pri­mar­i­ly char­ac­ter­ized by the emer­gence of a ‘green ener­gy’ industry—one that depends on min­ing and which is equal­ly entan­gled with extrac­tive cap­i­tal­ism as a mod­el of relat­ing to and valu­ing the world. The focus on a sin­gle issue, or a nar­row set of issues, has often been char­ac­ter­is­tic of move­ments tar­get­ing urgent envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems. Orga­ni­za­tions, com­mu­ni­ties, and politi­cians seek­ing to solve the prob­lem of CO2 emis­sions and the affec­tive images of destruc­tion caused by oil spills have often demo­nized oil extrac­tion, at the expense of inter­sec­tion­al class analy­sis. While I rec­og­nize that focused efforts are required to achieve change, it is impor­tant to note that much of the activism and bur­geon­ing lit­er­a­ture around muse­ums and the cli­mate cri­sis has been framed around a dis­tinct imag­in­ing of oil as the pri­ma­ry cul­prit for cli­mate change, sep­a­rate from the larg­er struc­tur­al vio­lence of cap­i­tal­ism, and solv­able through divest­ment. How­ev­er, divest­ment leaves unchanged the cur­rent sys­tem of pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ships in muse­ums, there­by doing lit­tle to chal­lenge the ways that extrac­tive cap­i­tal­ism informs and enables cul­tur­al institutions.

I pro­pose that fos­sil fuel divest­ment is not a com­pre­hen­sive solu­tion to the issue of cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship in muse­ums. Instead, more robust frame­works of cri­tique and rad­i­cal­ly imag­ined futures are required to address the inevitable surge of cor­po­rate-cul­tur­al part­ner­ships in years to come. Indeed, the rela­tion­ships between muse­ums and extrac­tive cor­po­ra­tions will soon become hard­er to ignore. First, increased envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness and com­mit­ments to fos­sil fuel divest­ment sug­gest that the oil indus­try may dou­ble down on its strate­gies of cul­tur­al and ide­o­log­i­cal legit­i­ma­tion, with­in which muse­ums are embed­ded. Sec­ond, polit­i­cal sci­en­tists like Thea Riofran­cos have recent­ly point­ed to the ways that the glob­al tran­si­tion to renew­able ener­gy, cul­tur­al­ly sup­port­ed by cli­mate change and divest­ment dis­cours­es, remains root­ed in extrac­tive cap­i­tal­ism. With the sig­nif­i­cant glob­al shift toward elec­tric, solar, and wind ener­gy, which has led to inten­sive oper­a­tions such as lithi­um min­ing in Latin Amer­i­ca, ‘green’ extrac­tivism has been shown to repeat the exten­sive exploita­tion of nat­ur­al resources and pro­mote social and envi­ron­men­tal inequity, of which Indige­nous Peo­ples con­tin­ue to bear the brunt. With this in mind, it is fair to assume that pro­po­nents of such mod­els of resource extrac­tion will extend their efforts of cul­tur­al and ide­o­log­i­cal legit­i­ma­tion long after insti­tu­tion­al divest­ment from fos­sil fuels. With­out struc­tur­al changes to muse­ums’ cur­rent mod­els of fund­ing and gov­er­nance, dis­as­so­ci­at­ing with a sin­gle spon­sor or donor sim­ply ben­e­fits a museum’s pub­lic image, appeas­ing the demands of a par­tic­u­lar moment. While the nar­ra­tives that posit fos­sil fuel as a sin­gu­lar cul­prit to be defeat­ed through divest­ment may advance cur­rent cli­mate goals, they leave us lit­tle to work with as we imag­ine muse­ums beyond divestment.

As Cana­da con­tin­ues to assert its sov­er­eign­ty over nat­ur­al resources through the pro­mo­tion of a nation­al oil cul­ture, recent con­flicts such as con­fronta­tions over the devel­op­ment of pipeline infra­struc­ture are a stark reminder that extrac­tivism fuels the con­tem­po­rary con­flict between the Cana­di­an state and Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. This real­i­ty trou­bles the over­lap between muse­ums’ ongo­ing part­ner­ships with extrac­tive indus­tries and the sig­nif­i­cant progress made around muse­um decol­o­niza­tion in the last sev­er­al decades. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, divest­ment from fos­sil fuels is nei­ther an easy nor per­ma­nent solu­tion for muse­ums, with ris­ing ‘green’ extrac­tive indus­tries prov­ing to be just as dis­crim­i­nat­ing and destruc­tive as fos­sil fuel pro­duc­tion. As this explo­ration of The Cana­di­an His­to­ry Hall and the intrin­sic ties between muse­ums and oil has shown, the extrac­tive pol­i­tics of cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion in muse­um spaces man­i­fest in more com­plex ways than con­tent inter­fer­ence. As such, there is an urgent need for muse­um communities—scholars, pro­fes­sion­als, artists, and publics alike—to imag­ine alter­na­tive struc­tures and futures for our insti­tu­tions. It is high time for change, as much in muse­um schol­ar­ship as with­in muse­ums themselves.

Works Cited

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Image Notes

Fig­ure 1: Entry cor­ri­dor to the Cana­di­an His­to­ry Hall. (Pho­to by the author, 2019).


  1. See, for exam­ple, Col­li­son et al. (2018), Iglo­liorte (2017), and Lone­tree (2012).

  2. As my research focused on oil spon­sor­ship, I did not inves­ti­gate the three donor fam­i­lies’ con­tri­bu­tions to the Hall. How­ev­er, I learned from one inter­vie­wee that the Eatons had a par­tic­u­lar inter­est in lend­ing their name to the Colo­nial Cana­da gallery since it includes a dis­play about the Eaton store. Still, ques­tions about the dynam­ics of fund­ing from fam­i­lies and foun­da­tions remain. For exam­ple, how did the rela­tion­ship between the Cana­di­an Muse­um of His­to­ry and these fam­i­lies man­i­fest? In what ways do these con­tri­bu­tions dif­fer from cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship?

  3. Cit­ing his­to­ri­an Michelle Hamil­ton, Kirsty Robert­son (2019) notes that resis­tance to the col­lect­ing prac­tices of Cana­di­an muse­ums began as ear­ly as 1797, when Indige­nous peo­ple object­ed to the des­e­cra­tion of graves (a per­va­sive prac­tice often under­tak­en by muse­um-employed anthro­pol­o­gists to expand col­lec­tions). Robert­son also high­lights a sit-in at the Roy­al Ontario Muse­um in 1976, twelve years before The Spir­it Sings, dur­ing which mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Indi­an Move­ment demand­ed the return and rebur­ial of bones that had been removed from a bur­ial site for the Neu­tral Nation (53).

  4. For exam­ple, in late 2020, Toron­to His­to­ry Muse­ums launched its Awak­en­ings pro­gram, a series of vir­tu­al art projects by BIPOC artists which oper­ates “under the prin­ci­ples of anti-oppres­sion, anti-colo­nial­ism, sus­tain­abil­i­ty, advo­ca­cy, and sto­ry-telling” (Toron­to).

  5. See, for exam­ple, the “Muse­ums and Cli­mate Action” spe­cial issue of Muse­um Man­age­ment and Cura­tor­ship (Davis) or the cli­mate cri­sis cam­paigns of the UK’s Muse­ums Asso­ci­a­tion (Muse­ums Asso­ci­a­tion).