The new plan spelling out the strategy of Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea for the next decade seeks to rejuvenate, rather than revolutionize the facility.
“The foundation is super solid and the community awareness and love is real,” said Pauline Finn, executive director. “So you don’t want to change it too much. But you do want to be more ambitious and you want to be more accountable and you want to inspire more change.”
The centre recently finalized a document described as a “north star” that will guide more detailed operational and financial planning for the non-profit facility, which opened in 2009 in downtown Sidney.
The plans calls for enhanced provision of education and awareness about the Salish Sea bioregion, to promote opportunities to conserve and restore the bioregion’s health, and to expand the centre’s role as “a trusted connector and catalyst for learning and community action.”
The centre will continue to create learning experiences through the lives of animals in its care, Finn said. It will also boost its promotion of “concrete, tangible actions” individuals can take to improve the health of the bioregion, such as cleaning up local beaches and restoring shorelines in collaboration with such groups as the Peninsula Streams Society.
In short, the facility aims to have a more visible presence outside its own walls to show the connection between the environment at large and the exhibits inside the centre.
This outreach comes with a broader thematic scope that aims to show connections between the local marine ecology and human culture.
Perhaps the most current example is the exhibition titled To Fish as Formerly: A Story of Straits Salish Resurgence. It tells the story of the SXOLE (Reef Net Fishery) through contemporary art, traditional knowledge and historical documentation and runs through June 2022.
The exhibit has so far drawn 26,000 visitors, Finn said, following a several-month run at the University of Victoria’s New Legacy Art Gallery in downtown Victoria. Connections like this, and hoped-for relationships with UBC’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum and the Marine Education and Research Society, demonstrate the centre’s desire to build more community partnerships.
“We have been doing little things with these groups over the years, but again, it has been periodic or episodic and now we are saying out loud that this is a priority,” Finn said. “And it’s the only way. This is a massive vision and no one is going to be able to make these positive changes alone.”
This said, the Shaw Centre does not want to duplicate what other organizations like the Sidney Museum and Archives are doing.
Noting its desire to play a broader role in helping sustain local ecology by serving as a catalyst for learning and personal action, the 10-year-strategic plan also calls for development of diversified revenue sources.
The centre continues to work on generating more sustained funding through government grants as well as private and corporate sponsorship, on top of existing revenue sources, Finn said, adding there are many opportunities out there.
The centre was seeing many positive developments and was shifting from survival mode to thriving before the pandemic hit, she said.
“I would say there were times in the pandemic, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” Finn said. “But the way we managed to weather it and most importantly, the response from the community, has given us a lot of confidence. That has helped us to think bigger.”
Not everything has sprung back.
Key educational elements such as evening and school lectures, and community group programs, remain on hold due to public health regulations, and the facility is only open five days a week. But other trendlines are pointing in the right direction.
“In the last couple of months, we are reaching pre-pandemic volume and revenue, which is just awesome, because our space is still limited to 60 people. It used to be 308,” Finn said.
Pandemic-related uncertainties remain, but reasons for optimism also exist.
“We were at the point where we ready to turn the page and we really wanted to start to soar. I think the pandemic helped us to take another deep breath and now the trajectory will be gentle, but constantly positive.”
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