Welcome to the Museum of Anthropology, a place of world arts and cultures with a special emphasis on the First Nations peoples and other cultural communities of British Columbia, Canada. The Museum is built on traditional, ancestral, unceded land of the Musqueam people and it is fitting that the first artworks and words you encounter outside the Museum are a welcome from our generous First Nations hosts. The Museum itself embodies the essence of Canada’s West Coast. In the Museum’s Great Hall, massive and magnificent First Nations sculptures stand against a soaring glass wall that opens onto a panorama of forested islands and snow-capped mountains bordering the Salish Sea. Outside, eagles glide and ravens caw under a sky whose subtle, constantly changing colours and tones form a backdrop for the stories and performances choreographed in the Museum’s exhibition galleries.
Designed by architect Arthur Erickson to sit on a steep promontory, the building takes its inspiration from the cedar post and beam constructions found in traditional Northwest Coast Aboriginal villages. Erickson himself has described the Museum as “a work of light and shadows, a building perfectly harmonized and nestled in its landscape, designed to resonate to the metronome of the seasons and the diverse cultural collections which it houses.”
MOA is unique not only because of its physical setting but because it has created unusually close relationships with cultural communities in British Columbia and around the world through experimental and collaborative research methods and exhibitions. Part of the MOA’s originality comes from it being both a public and research and teaching museum. The cutting-edge scholarship of the Museum makes possible a range of exhibitions and events that cut across traditional disciplinary divisions to provoke creative engagement and dialogue.
MOA’s Multiversity Galleries combine high-density storage with displays intended to enhance the viewer’s appreciation of the formal and aesthetic qualities of the works. MOA collaborated with First Nations communities across British Columbia, as well as Pacific Islanders, Africans, Asians and Latin Americans, to display the Museum’s collections. Instead of exhibiting works according to their provenance, usage or type, MOA arranges works according to indigenous criteria. Some objects are grouped according to the ceremonies in which they were or are used; some are gathered into groups based around their ownership history; some are displayed simply as great art. These galleries embody the idea that there is never just one way of knowing and seeing the world. All cultures and civilizations have developed their own unique criteria, and MOA aims to provide access to many alternative views of “reality” or “ways of knowing.”
Back of house, MOA has one of the most advanced and comprehensive research infrastructures of any museum in North America. The Museum’s state-of-the-art conservation and research laboratories, our audio visual and oral history studios, our library and archive, and modern storage facilities all provide tools through which works can be preserved, researched and interpreted. The Reciprocal Research Network, or RRN, is a digital platform that MOA, the Musqueam Indian Band, the Stó:lō Nation, and the U’mista Cultural Society in Alert Bay, have developed with Museum partners from around the world as a single-access portal to Northwest Coast collections in all of these institutions. You can access MOA’s own world-wide collections from this website through Collections Online under Research and Collections.
I welcome you to MOA and invite you not only to visit the Museum, but to also take a moment to explore our online resources, whether our collections online, our digital sourcebooks or our blog. There is much to experience. Enjoy!
Professor Anthony Shelton