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Renewal plan is ‘anthropology in action’

7 June, 2006

Partnership forged to expand a UBC museum is a study in human creativity

VANCOUVER — Anthropology is commonly perceived as the dusty exploration of past cultures and extinct peoples. A huge renewal project at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology proves that notion dead wrong.

The Partnership of Peoples, a $52-million expansion project that is intended to reinvigorate this world-renowned institution, was announced yesterday morning at a ceremony in the museum’s Great Hall, a stunning glass-encased, post-and-beam inspired room designed by Arthur Erickson. It houses North America’s most impressive collection of Pacific Northwest totem poles.

“We’re not ready to die down yet,” Anthony Shelton, the museum’s new director, joked after the presentation, which included traditional native drumming and prayers. His comment was more politically loaded than you might imagine.

At first glance, the renewal plan might seem like simply a major addition to a cultural cause. But if you take a closer look at the larger context of the province’s divided arts community and the various controversies, both past and present, attached to the parties involved, this so-called partnership actually sets the framework for a fascinating study in human creativity. You could almost call it “anthropology in action.”

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