Peering into the Past

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Creative innovative ‘living museum’ spaces in Chinatown

Chinatowns, located throughout the Americas and other continents, are important sites of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Today, they face myriad changes and crises, including balancing new urban developments, gentrification, population shifts, and the preservation of historical architecture and aura.

A case study of a creative opportunity and partnership between an urban development company, Chinatown communities and a museum has been submitted to the American Alliance of Museums, the most important museum network in the world, for their publication. The study documents the process of creating a short-term exhibit that animates and enriches an unconventional outdoor space, and considers the long-term goal of making Canada’s oldest Chinatown in Victoria a future ‘living museum’ site.

The opportunity arose in November 2019 when the Salient Group (a development company) offered the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society (founded in 2019 to advocate for the establishment of a museum in Victoria’s Chinatown) and the Royal BC Museum a 103 sq ft. space in a courtyard off Fan Tan Alley, a famous landmark.

The result of this collaboration was a dynamic urban pop-up exhibit: visitors experienced a mix of digital media and panels displayed on the courtyard walls and windows, all designed to highlight the space’s historical location and context and a single artifact through digital animation. The pop-up exhibition opened in July 2020, amidst the pandemic, with full community support and is located at #103 – 3 Fan Tan Alley, Victoria B.C..

This study, submitted by the Royal BC Museum, addresses the challenges and future possibilities of working with community and development partners to create living museum sites in unconventional spaces as a new way to revitalize and reimagine the future of Chinatowns.

 The result of this collaboration was a dynamic urban pop-up exhibit: visitors experienced a mix of digital media and panels displayed on the courtyard walls and windows, all designed to highlight the space’s historical location and context and a single artifact through digital animation.

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