British Columbia

Vernon museum staff laid off amid plans to restructure

Six staff members with five full-time and one-part time position, were laid off last week, and the museum is now looking to create a smaller team with new skill sets. 

The only remaining staff member is the executive director

'Lots of people often come in and say that it looked the same as it did when they were in Grade 3,' said Fleck. (Photo by Denise Marsh)

The Greater Vernon Museum and Archives has laid off all of its staff except for executive director Steve Fleck, in a push to modernize its offerings.

Six staff members. with five full-time positions and one-part time position, were laid off last week, as the museum looks to create a smaller team with new skill sets. 

Fleck, who is a retired former school district administrator, said when he was hired this past March, it became quickly apparent to him that the museum was in financial trouble and the visitation rate had dropped.

"They had made more payrolls than they had money and if that wasn't adjusted by the fall of this year, there was a very realistic possibility that the museum would be in a drastic situation even not being able to meet its payroll," he said.

The museum's executive director wants to move away from having so many 'static displays' and instead create more interactive offerings. (Photo by Denise Marsh)

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the museum's problems, but a primary one is the programming being offered.

"Many of the displays and things that are available in the museum have been relatively static," said Fleck. "Lots of people often come in and say that it looked the same as it did when they were in Grade 3."

Modernizing

Fleck and the board hope to make the museum more interactive and engaging as part of the new restructuring process. This includes creating jobs which had previously been missing, such as an education co-ordinator and a curator. 

"While we were overstaffed, we were missing in key areas for that interactivity and that public engagement piece," said Fleck.

The executive director wants to make the museum more accessible by changing its hours to be open later in the evening, creating spaces for people to work and meet and digitizing more archives.

"We have an amazing archive and we're looking forward to working with UBC Okanagan on an Okanagan digitized history project to try to increase our footprint," said Fleck, who is keen on creating more partnerships within the community.

"We really want to be outside our walls as much as possible."

New jobs

However, this change comes at the cost of some employees losing their jobs after having worked at the museum for decades and the reaction to the layoffs hasn't been great, Fleck said. 

"I didn't expect people to be happy. I knew that they wouldn't [be]," he said. 

"I have tried to help people understand that while this comes across as personal to some people, that the intention was to try to move the museum forward, manage a significant financial crisis and try to move into that new paradigm that the museum wants to be in ... of greater public engagement."

The new positions will be more "multi-faceted" and may include different working hours and job requirements, so the museum's board and Fleck thought it would be best to create new jobs entirely and then give former staff members the opportunity to apply to them.

"It really is trying to provide the employees an opportunity to see what it's going to be and to see how they fit in as well."

With files from Daybreak South and Christine Coulter

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