June 16, 2014 9:04 pm

Design company searches for answers after Royal Alberta Museum contract terminated

Watch above: A move by the province is being questioned by a company in New York, and it has to do with the new Royal Alberta Museum. As Vinesh Pratap reports, a contract that was cut and now the company is taking an unusual step to find out why.

EDMONTON — A New York-based museum designer says Albertans deserve to know why his company was fired from its work on the new Royal Alberta Museum.

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“I’m very much scratching my head,” said Tom Hennes, founding principal of Thinc Design, an exhibition design firm that has worked on projects around the world, including the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

Thinc Design won a bid through Alberta Infrastructure and was hired in spring 2012 to design the RAM’s galleries.

“I did a little bit of research and found out there was an incredible cultural richness in Alberta,” Hennes said over the phone from New York Monday. “I thought it was a wonderful opportunity.”

Concerned about the aboriginal history component of the exhibit, he reached out to Alberta’s indigenous communities. According to Hennes, that’s when his company’s contract with RAM was terminated.

“I can’t really say what happened because we’ve never been given a reason for the termination,” Hennes explained. “What I can say is that we were working very deeply with the indigenous community, trying to broaden that process to include a much greater diversity of people in the indigenous community.”

RAM’s executive director said the museum decided to take a different approach in the galleries.

“The contract was terminated through language that both parties had accepted,” said Chris Robinson. “The foundation work that Thinc had done: we are using that as we go forward.”

Robinson said the museum has since consulted with several First Nations communities.

“Community engagement is something that we have taken very seriously throughout the project,” he explained. “Certainly with the case of aboriginal communities, it’s grounded in a deep respect for aboriginal culture and aboriginal history.”

Carrie Lynn Lund, a member of the museum’s aboriginal advisory panel, said the museum has been very open and dedicated to telling the province’s full story through its exhibits.

“The energy already that’s gone into the aboriginal exhibit has been tremendous. They’re really trying to make sure that they have everybody at the table and they’re telling the story.”

Still, Hennes said he searching for answers and has filed a Freedom of Information Request.

“I think it’s important for Alberta to get answers, quite honestly, and I think it’s important for the indigenous community to get answers. I have a stake in this because I really believe the power of museums to bring narratives to light that society doesn’t always want to look at.”

Thinc Design’s contract was terminated in November. Hennes said he’s been told he will likely receive the documents he has requested later this year.


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With files from Vinesh Pratap, Global News.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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