The city may have to get rid of Heritage Toronto if it wants to keep its museums.
On Sept. 27, four city-owned museums were placed on the chopping block at council. According to Ward 25 councillor Jaye Robinson, members were asked to vote on whether or not to close the four museums without knowing which ones were being discussed.
“The city manager, to this date, has never disclosed what four that might be,” Robinson said in late October. “You can’t make an informed decision when you don’t know what museums they are.”
In an attempt to save the museums, Robinson put forth a motion for the city manager to look at whether it would be possible for Heritage Toronto to become a not-for-profit organization and take responsibility of operating Toronto’s 10 city-owned museums. The motion passed by a vote of 40-5.
“We basically bought some time to keep them open because they would have been closed January 1 of 2012,” Robinson said. “We simply can’t turn our back on the city’s history and our heritage is very important to the social and cultural fabric of our city.”
Ward 31 councillor Janet Davis was one of the five who voted against the motion but she said she is not in favour of closing museums.
“I think that the museums are public infrastructure and should remain under the control of the city of Toronto,” she said. “We have many important assets and artefacts that are the property of the City of Toronto and I also think they should remain in the care and control of the city.”
Heritage Toronto is currently an agency of the city and a charitable organization that works to promote and preserve Toronto’s heritage. According to Robinson, by changing to a not-for-profit organization Heritage Toronto would be able to secure more funding.
“It would allow for greater opportunity for the federal and provincial levels of government to assist with the museums,” she said. “By giving this responsibility to Heritage Toronto and making them a not-for-profit organization, what that allows is for us to access capital grants for upkeep and maintenance that we can’t now access as a city.”
Heritage Toronto’s executive director Karen Carter said she thinks museums are essential, but seemed weary of sweeping changes to her organization.
“If we’re not a city agency then how do we remake ourselves?” Carter asked. “Our team doesn’t know enough to say this is a good or a bad idea but we’re open to being a part of the discussion and working with our colleagues in museums to find a solution.”
Robinson seemed confident the proposal is a good idea. She said it reduces the city’s fiscal commitment to museums and would free up taxpayer dollars for other projects.
“We would really be creating a bit of — not a public-private partnership — more of a public-community partnership,” she said. “Our history is a part of who we are and I think that the missing link is making museums more relevant and we need to do that and this could be an outcome of this exciting endeavour.”
About this article: