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New Exhibition to Mark Seismic Upgrades Coming to Great Hall

MOA is announcing that its Great Hall will receive extensive $8.8-million seismic upgrades beginning in November 2018, to augment the building’s structural integrity and help preserve the invaluable cultural significance and living heritage of the world-renowned Indigenous Northwest Coast collection. This major project ensures MOA’s building and collections will be preserved for future generations.

John Davis (‘Nakwaxda’xw), Earthquake mask, before 1939. MOA Collection: A6357. Photo by Jessica Bushey.

In conjunction with this immense undertaking, MOA will present a new exhibition, Shake Up: Preserving What We Value, from December 2, 2018 to Fall 2019. The exhibition, which will be displayed in multiple areas throughout the Museum, will bring to light the convergence of earthquake science and technology with the rich Indigenous knowledge and oral history of the living cultures represented in MOA’s Northwest Coast collection. Beyond scientific discoveries, knowledge of earthquakes and natural disasters has been passed down through generations throughout many cultures, including those of the Northwest Coast First Nations. Also as part of the exhibition, visitors will have the opportunity to see the majestic poles of the Great Hall undergo conservation, many for the first time in 40 years.

“In Vancouver, we are all too familiar with the idea of ‘the Big One’—a catastrophic earthquake that threatens to unleash irreparable damage upon our city and beyond. That’s why we are taking measures to seismically upgrade the Great Hall and educate our community with the Shake Up exhibition,” says Jill Baird, MOA’s Curator of Education. “Join us as museum professionals, scientists, artists, cultural leaders and knowledge keepers come together to raise earthquake awareness, educate the public, and preserve what we value.”

Jennifer Kramer, Curator of the Pacific Northwest and Co-Curator of Shake Up continues, “As MOA undergoes a major seismic upgrade of the Great Hall in preparation for a potential mega earthquake, it causes us to think on what we value and how we preserve not only our belongings and iconic architecture, but also how we encourage our community to care for our cultures.”

Joe David (Nuu-chah-nulth)’s Cedar Man welcome figure, made in 1984, being moved from MOA’s front entrance into the Great Hall in February 2012. Photo by Gerry Lawson.

The Great Hall renewal project is engineered by the award-winning structural engineering company Equilibrium. The architecture firm is Nick Milkovich Architects Inc, whose principal Nick Milkovich was a protégé of MOA’s original architect, the late Arthur Erickson, and was involved in designing the Museum in the mid-1970s. Construction will be managed by Smith Bros. & Wilson.

In preparation for this work—beginning in November 2018 and over the coming months—the more than 20 monumental wooden carvings currently housed in the space will be lowered by MOA’s Collections and Conservation staff with support from Pro Tech Industrial Movers. Many of the poles currently in the Great Hall were mounted when the Museum first opened in 1976, and have not been moved in 40 years. The conditions of the poles vary and each one will require its own de-installation plan to ensure its safety during the move. The poles will be laid horizontally while temporarily stored in MOA’s O’Brian Gallery, adjacent to the Great Hall, and will undergo conservation efforts, including surface cleaning and paint consolidation. New mounts will be built for the poles to re-install them in the Great Hall upon completion of the seismic upgrades next year. Visitors will be able to partially view the poles while they are stored and undergoing conservation.

Once the poles have been lowered, the seismic upgrades are scheduled to begin in early 2019. Construction is estimated to take 9 to 12 months, during which time the Great Hall will not be open to the public.

Mount designer Carl Schlichting builds a mount to install a house frontal pole (Bill Reid, Haida, 1961-62) in the Great Hall in 2008. Photo by Heidi Swierenga.

As part of a larger renewal project during the coming year, MOA will also receive further $8.2-million upgrades to its exterior, including the replacement of the Museum’s roofs and skylights in the Great Hall and lobby areas, as well as spot repairs to the exterior walls.

Shake Up: Preserving What We Value is the first of two exhibitions at MOA to explore the theme of natural disasters and their implications. A Future for Memory: In the Aftermath of the 3/11 Disaster, curated by MOA’s Curator of Asia, Fuyubi Nakamura, is slated to open in early 2020. Based on research from the past seven years, its focus will be on changing physical and psychological landscapes in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake in Japan, and consider its local and global resonances.