Appreciative inquiry for the Richmond Museum

Richmond Museum concept and Sydney Opera House

This article is by request, and it was going to be newspaper column, a follow-up to “Inspiring the world with Richmond’s destination museum.”

The call to action came from Ying Wang, executive director of the Cinevolution Media Arts Society, a group of volunteers who bring out the best in our community. Five years ago, the founders were new Canadians learning English, but Cinevolution has always reached out to everyone, trusting in shared creative experience to surmount any cultural obstacles. By believing and doing, they’ve given us a Metro arts leader.

So I heeded Ying Wang’s email about my words to council on the museum issue (in the April 8th minutes). She liked the approach to self-confident creativity in Richmond. “Can you make it a column?” asked Ying. Here goes.

I can support the ongoing museum project if we do it with excellence in keeping with the City of Richmond’s mission. You’re probably familiar with a process called appreciative inquiry—“Build on what you do well.” Let’s use that process. What we’ve done well in recent years is the Richmond Olympic Oval. Let’s identify what we’ve done well there and build on it.

(Since the financial spin around the Oval is debatable, it’s not relevant. We just want to continue the cycle of success.)

First of all, the Oval building is striking but functional, using British Columbia materials to express our values, especially with the denim pine ceiling. It came from a forest brought down by pine beetles that has literally risen above that immense setback.

In that context, it was disappointing to see the artist’s sketch of the museum’s signature element, an imitation of the Sydney Opera House. We need to aim higher, as we successfully did with the Richmond Olympic Oval.

Second, the Oval building serves its whole range of purposes at a high level, and I’ve been there for Olympic skating and Winterfest celebrations and typical days. At 9 or 9:30 in the evening, the building is still buzzing with focused happy healthy activity of many kinds. And it’s by no means just elite athletes, although they deserve their place.

When I listened to Oval general manager John Mills describe the Olympic Museum at a council meeting, I went from skeptic to unsuspecting supporter. Like the 2010 Olympics, it is thoroughly planned, and the assumption of only ten thousand visitors a year suggests that any erring is on the side of caution.

The Richmond Museum already plans well, but growth will need to be at little or no cost to the taxpayer, like the Oval Museum. I discussed one way, the Garden City Lands, in my previous column.

Third, the Oval seems to have developed expertise in forming partnerships where it mainly wins for Richmond while also enabling its partners to win. In contrast, the City tends to lose out in its dealings with developer partners, and that has to change.

In the museum resolution in the agenda, there’s talk of a “donation” from YVR in connection with a museum for their Sea Island mall. But YVR and their mall should be a big winner from the museum, so their money wouldn’t be charity. In the good investment, I see the Richmond Museum as the senior partner to the airport and its businesses.

I’m assuming the concept is a flight museum, a fitting niche.  There’s a museum of flight in Langley, but YVR has stories like Grant McConachie and Russ Baker, bush pilots who grew airlines. And there’s so much more.

Council supports the museum concept. With what we’ve learned from the Oval, we can get it right.


You’ll notice that I started out saying this was going to be a column. I had to scrap the column idea because Richmond Review readers skimming could easily see it as inconsistent with my previous museum column, even though I see it as a progression in thinking about the topic. And it’s asking too much of the readers to suggest they block out the financial spin around the Oval, even though appreciative inquiry typically does focus on the positive with that sort of effect.

Also, I should mention that Ying Wang is a director of the Garden City Conservation Society in addition to her Cinevolution role.


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