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Gail Asper's Incredibly Shrinking Museum for Human Rights

The latest twist in museum boondogology arrived in Ottawa the last day of March, but only hit the newspapers this week.

A report (the Winnipeg Free Press says 77 pages, our copy has 126 pages) from the Advisory Committee on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was delivered to Josee Verner, Canada's Heritage Minister.

The FP summarized its main point Wednesday--- thanks for the dough, now screw off.

The Asper family is grateful that the feds have committed $100 million to build the museum, their daddy's pet project, and that Ottawa has agreed to spend at least $22 million a year to cover operating costs. But that's as far as the love affair is going.

The Aspers won't be giving up control of the museum to anybody. The federal government has been "advised" to keep their noses out of the operations of the museum, all in the interest of avoiding political interference by pressure groups, you understand.

Arni Thorsteinson, described by the Free Press as "Winnipeg real estate mogul", is chairman of the advisory committee. He was quoted saying:

"We want to make sure that the expectations of a couple of hundred thousand visitors per year will be met and exceeded."

The newspaper's online version of the story was more direct.

Museum could lure 200,000 a year
By: Geoff Kirbyson
May 7, 2008
A new report suggests Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights could attract more than 200,000 visitors a year.

Say what?

The closer they come to starting construction, the faster shrinks the alleged number of visitors the museum will attract. Take a look:

* The National Post, January 21, 2006
Quoting Charlie Coffey, the chairman of the national advisory council for the museum.
"Mr. Coffey said he expects the museum, which is scheduled to open in 2010, will see 400,000 visitors annually."

* University of Manitoba Alumni bulletin, August, 2006
Quoting Gail Asper, alumnus, BA '81, LLB '84, in a story titled "Building the Project of a Lifetime"
"She predicts the museum will generate as many as 300,000 visitors each year."

* Canadian Press, April 29, 2008.
"Doer government grilled on Crown donations to human rights museum"
Reporting on the controversial donations of $1 million each to the museum project by four Manitoba crown corporations reporter Tamara King quoted Carmen Neufeld, chairman of the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission.

"We felt this was a project well worth investing in. It's such an international project," said Carmen Neufeld. "As a good corporate citizen, we wanted to be part of that." The museum expects about 250,000 visitors a year, which will be good for business, Neufeld said.

Less than two weeks later, the estimated number of annual visitors has shrunk even further, to 200,000.

Oh yeah? Think again.

We're betting you haven't read the report from the advisory committee on the Human Rights Museum.

If you had, you would have seen this bombshell:

"It will be important, though, to acknowledge that visitors to this museum will also include online visitors, people engaged through outreach and through travelling programs."

That's right. Everyone who clicks onto the museum's website -- will be counted as a visitor!

How exactly will those "visitors" be contributing to Manitoba's tourist economy? And what portion of that 200,000 will be cyber-people?

The museum's backers have been stoking the idea that hundreds of thousands of human beings will actually be travelling to Winnipeg to gaze at the glory of the magnificent architecture and 21st century-style participatory exhibits. But right now the only sure living, breathing souls we can expect are 20,000 hard-drinking, hard-gambling junior high school students who are to be dragged to the museum each year courtesy of even more government funding.

However the advisory report should be reassuring to a lucky few.
The human right of the rich to travel at the expense of the taxpayer will be upheld to the highest degree.

Among the recommendations from Arni Thorsteinson is this (highlights ours):

Page 7
7. Study Other Museums - While the CMHR will likely be the first comprehensive museum of human rights, the Advisory Committee encourages the Board and senior staff of the museum to visit colleagues in similar institutions and conduct a formal, methodological study of museums with comparable objectives. An incomplete list of suggested museums includes: The New York City Tenement Museum (New York, NY); The National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, DC); The National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, DC); The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum (Washington, DC); Robben Island Museum (Cape Town, South Africa); District Six Museum (Cape Town, South Africa); The Museum of Tolerance (Los Angeles, CA); The National Civil Rights Museum (Nashville, TN); Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Wellington, New Zealand); Apartheid Museum (Johannesburg, South Africa); The Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco, CA), and Member museums of the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience.

Just for fun,we looked at where the 17 "member museums of the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience" are located.

Well, there's Italy, Russia, England, Chile, Argentina, and the Czech Republic.

American locations include Memphis, Atlanta, and Manhattan, New York.

The cynic in us says it will be along time before any board member goes to the museums in Senegal and Bangladesh, not when you can escape winter in Winnipeg by having to visit a museum in L.A. or Memphis or New Zealand.

Life is tough when you're rich and connected. Just ask Robert Rabinovitch, former president and CEO of the CBC.

Documents obtained through Access to Information (not by us) show he had to travel the world, staying at $1000 a night hotels that offered in-room massages, chauffeur-driven cars and gourmet food.

On your behalf, you thankless hoi polloi, Rabinovitch even had to stay at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski Hotel in Turkey where every room came with its own butler.

Thank goodness the rich won't have to suffer for supporting the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

(Stay tuned for more, much more.)