Spare Aga Khan Museum from property tax: Editorial
Toronto city council should free the Aga Khan Museum from paying property tax. Similar cultural treasures are already tax exempt.
Published on Mon Nov 02 2015
A significant amount of tax money would be lost — $240,000 otherwise going to Toronto city hall, and another $92,000 for education. But it’s more than offset by what’s brought to the city through the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre.
This religious centre and museum complex, just off the Don Valley Parkway at Eglinton Ave., is renowned for its elegant architecture, lush landscaping, and one of the finest collections of Islamic art in the world. The museum includes a 350-seat theatre, restaurant, classrooms, and areas for art conservation as well as exhibition space. In short, it’s an architectural and artistic treasure.
As a place of worship, the Ismaili Centre is already tax exempt. But the non-profit museum is supposed to pay annual property tax of more than $330,000, a bill the Aga Khan Foundation would like the city to forego. City council is to consider the issue on Tuesday and it should grant the museum a break. The province must also agree.
Property tax is already waived for large cultural institutions such as the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and even the Toronto International Film Festival. The exemption for TIFF alone costs $870,000 in foregone municipal tax revenue. Denying equal treatment for an exceptional asset such as the Aga Khan Museum is difficult to justify.
A report from city staff notes that most charities are required to pay property tax. And it raises concern that an exemption in this case could inspire other groups to request similar treatment. Perhaps so, but the Aga Khan Museum is in a class apart. It’s a magnificent cultural gem, drawing visitors from around the world and operating entirely on a non-profit basis. Given the exemption granted to comparable assets, it’s only fair that city hall and Queen’s Park give it the same favourable treatment.
Toronto council wants tax break for Aga Khan museum
Mayor John Tory and others on council said the museum deserves the same break given to other institutions including the AGO.
By: David Rider City Hall Bureau Chief, Published on Tue Nov 03 2015
The Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre, an architectural marvel in suburban Don Mills, should be exempt from $331,700 in annual property taxes, city council has decided.
Council voted 34-1 on Tuesday to endorse the museum’s request that the province add it to a list of tax-exempt cultural institutions including the Royal Ontario Museum and Art Gallery of Ontario.
City staff recommended that council not approve the exemption. Chief financial officer Rob Rossini told council staff make that recommendation so as not to encourage other facilities to make similar requests
“This is fair, equitable, transparent, appropriate treatment for this facility,” Mayor John Tory told council.
He said the “magnificent” building near Eglinton Ave. E. and Don Mills Rd. is a valuable touristic and cultural asset to Toronto. The nearby community is encouraged to use the Aga Khan Park that opened this year, he added.
Other councillors echoed his admiration for the museum and its educational programming about the history and traditions of Islam and its Shia branch.
The lone opponent was Councillor John Campbell (Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre). He asked city staff about the money spent on the facility by the Aga Khan, an immensely wealthy spiritual leader and philanthropist.
City staff says taxes for the museum, which opened in September 2014 on the former Bata Shoe site, are based on a property value of $90.9 million but, as a place of worship, $43.1 million of that is already tax exempt.
Toronto councillors support Aga Khan Museum and Imaili Cultural Centre not paying property taxes
Toronto Council doesn’t want the Aga Khan’s property taxes.
In a vote of 34-1, Toronto Councillors decided Nov. 3 to ask the Aga Khan Museum and the Imaili Cultural Centre be exempt from paying $331,700 in annual property taxes.
The museum had asked council to endorse the request for similar treatment to the Toronto International Film Festival’s building at King and John Street, which pays no property taxes in recognition of the value its presence brings to the city and the province.
The centre opened in September 2014 and has since become a striking addition to the Don Mills district near Eglinton Avenue East and Don Mills Road. The museum is home to a major collection of artefacts of Islam, from the Aga Khan, Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini Aga Khan IV the current Imam of the Nizari Ismailis.
The tax exemption was supported by everyone on Council, but Ward 5 Councillor John Campbell and by city finance staff.
Toronto’s CFO Roberto Rossini told council staff recommended against the exemption because it might open a floodgate of requests from charities who currently must pay property tax.
But Mayor John Tory and others spoke strongly in favour of the exemption.
“There is probably no group in the city that cares more about the city than the Ismaeli community,” said Tory.
“Not only do they give in terms of investment they give in terms of time and involvement and investment in this community. To me there is no candidate, no other project that is more worthwhile for supporting for an exempt status than this project. It is a jewel in this city.”
Ward 23 Councillor John Filion argued the building and grounds are “amazing,” and added: “This does not set a precedent for anything else because there is nothing else like this.”
While in Toronto in June we got to see the new Aga Khan Museum, which had opened just the previous September. The museum is a showcase of Islamic art and culture from around the world.
The Aga Khan is the hereditary leader of the Ismailis, a branch of Shia Islam known for a belief in tolerance and pluralism. Toronto’s Ismaili community goes back to the thousands allowed into Canada from Uganda after Idi Amin expelled all Asians in 1972.
Outside the museum there are 10 acres of public space inspired by the gardens of Persia. It feels like a checkerboard with square pools of smooth black stone surrounded by white gravel.
Water reflects the Serviceberry trees planted in blocks that complement the pools. The reflections and the movement of constantly flowing water soften the rigidity of all the geometric shapes.
An Ismaili community and prayer center sits on the other side of the garden.
Long rectangular benches run parallel to the rows of trees. The benches contain planters filled with thyme.
I liked the way that the Serviceberries framed the view of the museum and community center at either end.
Apparently the nurseries of Ontario were scoured to find all the mature Serviceberries needed for this design. I did wonder about the wisdom of of relying so much on a single species, though no doubt the fall foliage and mass of spring flowers are ravishing.
Anyhow, this is a museum and a garden that is worth visiting.
Consul General Juan Alsace Visits the Aga Khan Museum
Consul General Juan Alsace toured the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Center with the Center's Executive Director Mohammed Dhanani and Museum Director Henry Kim on Friday, November 20, 2015. The Consul General discussed expanding cross-border and cross-cultural dialogues during the visit to the museum. The museum is dedicated to the collection, research, preservation and display of works of art, objects and artifacts of artistic, cultural and historical significance from various periods and geographic areas of the Muslim world. The museum collection contains over one thousand artifacts and artworks and spans over one thousand years of history. The objects -- in ceramic, metalwork, ivory, stone and wood, textile and carpet, glass and rock crystal objects, parchment and illustrated paintings on paper -- present an overview of the artistic accomplishments of Muslim civilizations from the Iberian Peninsula to China.
Weddings at the Aga Khan Museum: Alim and Rabia’s Ismaili Wedding
This awesome Ismaili wedding was worth the wait to be blogged. Super awesome couple to work with, great expressions and boat load of fun shooting their wedding in Kitchener and their engagement shoot at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Enjoy the full set.
Prophetic Hadiths and good wishes were inscribed on objects used in daily life
Before the advent of Islam, Arabic was a spoken language among the various tribal kingdoms. Although these kingdoms had developed a sophisticated tradition of poetry, it was passed down orally. The first revelation to the Prophet was about knowledge and learning. The Qur’an also mentions writing materials and written books including the “well-preserved tablet” and the “celestial pen” and states that God “taught man by the pen.” The first verse of the chapter Sūrat al-qalam (“The pen”) is often understood as an expression to the exalted status of writing.
Hence, revelation became a catalyst in the widespread use of the Arabic language in written form. Calligraphy, the art of transcribing the Qur’an in beautiful scripts, developed into an esteemed art form and was considered an act of piety and devotion.
Although the art of writing on objects dates back to ancient times, in Islamic lands Qur’anic inscriptions, along with geometric patterns and arabesque, became the most distinctive form of decoration. Certain verses were often inscribed on specific objects such as the Ayat al-Nur (24:35) (The Verse of the Light) was inscribed on mosque lamps, while others such as Surat al-Baqara (2:144) were inscribed on textiles that covered the Ka’ba.
Some palaces and domestic settings also included religious inscriptions such as the al-Asma al-Husna (Beautiful Names of Allah) and specific verses on doors and gateways for protection. Items worn close to the body – jewellery and clothing – were often inscribed with prayers also for protection.
Ablution dish from Jingdezhen (north-eastern Jiangxi Province), China,dated 16th century. Aga Khan Museum(photo)
Inscriptions were also made on objects used in daily life such as bowls, vases, serving dishes, among others. The most common type of text inscribed on works of Islamic art comprises prayers and good wishes, which can range from a single word (the most common is baraka, blessing) to long phrases with rhyming pairs of nouns and adjectives.
The dish on the right, in the Aga Khan Museum’s collection, produced during the early sixteenth century, has Chinese calligraphy with the word Taharat, meaning purity. The rim is inscribed with the Prophetic Hadith Blessed is he who purifies his hand from wrongdoing. The inscription on the exterior of the dish says: Ablution upon ablution is light upon light, a Hadith traced back to Prophet Muhammad and the Shi’i Imam Jafar al-Sadiq.*
*Fahmida Suleman, “Epigraphy and Inscriptions on Objects,” Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum – Arts of the Book & Calligraphy
Sheila Blair, Islamic Arts & Architecture (accessed December 2015)
The Khalili Collection (accessed December 2015)
Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami opens up doors to a lost past
In its first show devoted to a single artist, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto is presenting 50 full-scale images of doors by the Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami (Doors Without Keys, until 27 March). Because of Canadian sanctions on Iranian imports, the pictures had to be printed and mounted on canvas in Toronto.
Curators sel ected the pictures fr om 200 that Kiarostami, aged 76, has made over the course of 20 years. He found and photographed the doors—all locked—in Iran, France and Italy. They are displayed at the museum in a maze-like configuration. “I wanted to create a neighbourhood that would carry the viewer to a lost period of time,” the artist says.
A former carpenter, Kiarostami took up photography in earnest during the Iranian Revolution in 1979 when money to make films disappeared. “Photography is a one-man show, and I’m more comfortable with it,” he says.
Toronto International Film Festival and Aga Khan Museum to present: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami
Selected by veteran film curator and film festival programmer Peter Scarlet (co-curator of Doors Without Keys), these screenings complement Kiarostami’s evocative installation Doors Without Keys, providing an invaluable opportunity to appreciate Kiarostami’s versatility as an artist and filmmaker.
The Aga Khan Museum and TIFF are co-presenters of this series, as well as The Wind Will Carry Us: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami a retrospective of Kiarostami's films screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox curated by James Quandt (Senior Programmer for TIFF Cinematheque). Visit tiff.net for details!
Opening February 2016 at Children’s Museum of Manhattan, New York.
The Children’s Museum of Manhattan will open a first-of-its-kind exhibition for children and families to celebrate the diversity of Muslim cultures in America and around the world through art, architecture, design, music, travel, trade, and more!
Advisers: The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is grateful to the international advisors and partners who guided this project over the past five years. We thank the following organizations for their wisdom, deep thoughts, and partnership.
Aga Khan Museum: A ‘museum-goers’ museum | David McDonough
Before I give my two cents, here is a little about the place:
The Aga Khan is a museum of Islamic art and heritage that includes artefacts from the private collections of The Aga Khan IV, the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, and Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum also host travelling exhibitions.
Now, my two cents:
The staff are very friendly, the building and its grounds are beautiful, and the permanent collection is well curated and worth seeing.
Diwan at the Aga Khan Museum: Top 10 Hidden Gems of Winterlicious 2016 | Scorch
If you’ve ever wanted to travel back in time and experience the ambiance of 17th century middle eastern luxury, having lunch will be worth the while. With just a short drive north on the DVP, Diwan at the Aga Khan Museum can offer just that (without the use of a time machine!).
A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul Then and Now
Feb 6 2016 to Jun 26 2016 The city we now know as Istanbul has been an important cultural and economic hub for centuries. Under its many guises — first as Byzantium, then Constantinople, and finally Kostantiniyye/Istanbul — this magnificent place has witnessed a succession of empires, the migration of peoples, and astounding urban growth. Experience the many faces of this city through the astonishing historical collection of the noted Turkish collector and art philanthropist Ömer Koç, and a selection of works by the renowned contemporary photographer Murat Germen. Albums, panoramas, and individual photographs from the 1850s to the early 1900s are combined with 21st-century views that seem almost futuristic in their rendering of scale and space. Immerse yourself in a living city whose history is as varied as the people who call it home.
Abu Dhabi’s The National – top international exhibitions this week: Istanbul’s ever-changing moods at the Aga Khan Museum
Every week, The National, Abu Dhabi Media’s premier English-language publication in the Middle East brings to its readers the top three international exhibitions for the week. For this week it profiles two exhibitions in the UK and one in Canada. UK exhibitions profile afterlife in ancient Egypt at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and India’s history told through a silk textile at the British Museum in London, featuring a 17th century Vrindavani Vastra with scenes from the life of the Hindu god Krishna. The Canadian exhibition of note is A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul Then and Now at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.
February 11, 2016: Our top international exhibitions this week: Istanbul’s ever-changing moods
A lens on the ever-changing moods of Istanbul
From Byzantium to Constantinople and now Istanbul, the Turkish city has witnessed the rise and fall of many empires, while remaining a cultural hub. This exhibition looks at photographic depictions of the city from the Ottoman era to new digital works by Murat Germen. Images from the noted Turkish collector Ömer Koç are on display, with about 70 photographs, albums and panoramas from his collection. The show takes place in Canada’s Aga Khan Museum, founded in 2014 to showcase the glories of Muslim civilisation. A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul Then and Now runs in Toronto until June 26.
Pakistani singer Abida Parveen is one of the most prominent and influential Sufi musicians of our time, and a pioneering artist who has taken on a form dominated by males. Breaking with tradition, she was taught by both her father, the renowned Ustad Ghulam Haider, and by master Ustad Salaamat Ali Khan, and performs interpretations of Sufi poetry solo and accompanied by harmonium and percussion. The Guardian called her “the greatest female Sufi singer in history,” and Björk has cited her music as an inspiration.
Aga Khan Museum Toronto is a Design Excellence Finalist for 2016 Ontario Association of Architects Awards
The Ontario Association of Architects announces the finalists of the 2016 OAA Awards: Aga Khan Museum – Moriyama & Teshima Architects is the “Design Excellence” Finalist, one among the rest of the prestigious entries.
Selected from almost 200 submissions, the 20 finalists for this year’s OAA Design Excellence Awards have been recognized by a jury of peers
Glazed courtyard. Photo: Gary Otte
TORONTO, March 1, 2016 – Demonstrating the best in architectural design and innovation, finalists of the 2016 Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) Awards feature Canada’s top projects by Ontario architects, ranging from contemporary public libraries to thoughtfully-designed private residences.
Representing Ontario’s emerging new talent and some of the province’s most established architecture firms, 20 entries have been shortlisted for the prestigious Design Excellence category this year.
Celebrating leadership in architecture, winners across all categories will be recognized and honoured in Toronto on May 13 to conclude the 2016 OAA Annual Conference.
2016 OAA Awards – Design Excellence Finalists
Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, ON
Moriyama & Teshima Architects in association with Maki and Associates
Our 2016 lecture series tackles the theme “Islam and Muslims in the 21st Century.” Featuring scholars and journalists who are leading thought-provoking conversations about Muslims and Islam today, the series addresses questions of identity and belonging, youth and integration, and immigration and settlement.
In this lecture Throughout his 48 years of reporting and supervising coverage of Canada at the Toronto Star, Haroon Siddiqui explored Canada’s model of pluralism and the representation of Islam and Muslims in the media. - See more at:
ISLAM AND MUSLIMS IN THE 21st CENTURY: Media, Muslims and Free Speech Sunday, April 17, 2–3 pm
Learn more about other lectures in this series:
The Qur'an in the 21st Century
Sunday, May 1, 2–3 pm
Of Hockey and Hijab: New Reflections on Being Female, Canadian, and Muslim
Sunday, May 15, 2–3 pm
Hybrid Identities: Muslim Arab Youth and the West
Sunday, June 12, 2–3 pm
Communing with the Divine: Islamic Mystical Traditions and the Arts
Sunday, June 26, 2–3 pm
Refugees, Immigrants, and Citizens: The Muslim Diaspora Experience in the WestSunday, July 10, 2–3 pm
Fredric Roberts Photography Workshops at the Aga Khan Museum: Toronto, Day 1: Arrival and Final Prep
After spending three hours in customs and immigration, Fred arrived from Los Angeles. Wendy drove from Rochester, New York, and Sarah flew in from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mike landed and went straight to bed after a long flight from Hong Kong. Once Sean arrives tomorrow, the faculty will all be here! We’re ready for another great adventure.
This time, we’re working at the amazing Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre.
Read more at the source: Toronto, Day 1: Arrival and Final Prep Fredric Roberts Photography Workshops
A Reflection of Heaven on Earth – Crafting an Islamic garden collage at the Aga Khan Museum
A Reflection of Heaven on Earth with Unaiza Karim
Sunday, April 3, 10 am–3 pm
Spend the day crafting an Islamic garden collage with your child! Using traditional motifs and techniques, you will work together to create your garden and adorn its four chambers with trees, flowers, fruits, and flowing water. Suitable for adults with children ages 7+.
Unaiza Karim is an award-winning British artist and teacher specializing in decorative arts from the Islamic Tradition. She holds a Masters Degree in Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts from The Prince’s School of Traditional Art, London, and her passion for art and education are brought together in an ongoing personal program of local and international workshops.
“In the Moment” at the Aga Khan Museum. A Reflection by Alyna Nanji
Perhaps it’s the beauty of the treasures of the Imam, or perhaps it’s the pure mystery engraved into the painted doors. Perhaps it’s the long tunnels that whirlwind you into the magnificent wonders of Istanbul. Either way, all those who have been here will agree that the peace, beauty, and serenity contained in the Aga Khan Museum is like no other.
A Private Performance by Abida Parveen at the Aga Khan Museum
Premiere Concert and Fundraiser
On Wednesday, May 18, 2016, the Aga Khan Museum is proud to host a Premiere Concert and Fundraiser launching Pakistani singer Abida Parveen’s album Hayderiam Kalandaram Mastam. Ms. Parveen is considered to be the greatest female Sufi singer in history, and a pioneering female artist who has taken on a musical form traditionally dominated by men. She was taught by both her father, the renowned Ustad Ghulam Haider, and by master Ustad Salaamat Ali Khan. Ms. Parveen performs interpretations of Sufi poetry solo, with accompanying musicians on the harmonium and percussion instruments.
We invite you to become a sponsor of this special evening. Sponsorships for the May 18 event are available from $10,000, entitling you to four tickets to this private concert, which will be followed by a reception with Ms. Parveen. If you would like to sponsor at the $10,000 level or if you are interested in a higher level of sponsorship, please contact Sarah Pirani at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 416.646.4677, ext 7857. Please note that tickets will only be provided as part of sponsorship packages, and individual tickets will not be available.
We hope you will take advantage of this tremendous opportunity to see one of the most prominent and influential Sufi musicians of our time in concert.
For the People’s Choice award, the public vote chose the Aga Khan Museum, by Moriyama & Teshima Architects in association with Tokyo firm Maki and Associates. Rising on a nondescript area on the outskirts of Toronto, the institution’s striking sculptural form combines a boxy, angular structure and a glass pyramid atop a round podium.
Marvelous Creatures: Animals in Islamic Art, at the Aga Khan Museum Toronto
Aga Khan Museum’s newest exhibition explores heroes and beasts from classic literature such as the Shahnameh and Kalila wa Dimna.
This May, meet the Marvelous Creatures that roam the pages of countless legends, tales, and fables!
May 7 2016 to Sep 11 2016
Through an astonishing variety of artifacts from the 7th to the 21st centuries, this family-friendly exhibition celebrates these real and mythical creatures and illuminates the knowledge contained in their stories.
Originally organized by and exhibited at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Marvellous Creatures is being modified especially for the Aga Khan Museum, and will feature key works from the Aga Khan Museum’s Collection and other international private and public collections.
Our Bollywood Classics film series presents films that influenced the genre as it developed from the 1960s to the present day. Beginning and ending in the golden age of Mughal emperor Akbar, it also showcases the arts and histories of Muslim civilizations. Mughal-e-Azam (K. Asif, 1960, 197 min.) At its premiere in 1960, this landmark film broke box office records in India, and went on to become the highest-grossing Bollywood film for another 15 years.
Experience its cinematic grandeur at our series launch! Learn about more films in this series: Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi, 1972, 126 min.) Saturday, June 11, 9:30 pm Umrao Jaan (Muzaffar Ali, 1981, 145 min.) Saturday, July 16, 2 pm Jodhaa Akbar (Ashutosh Gowariker, 2008, 218 min.) Sunday, August 13, 9 pm In partnership with BOLLYWOOD CLASSICS SERIES: Mughal-e-Azam
Sunday, May 22, 2 pm Auditorium Adults $10, students and seniors $8, Friends $9 May 22nd, 2016 at 2:00 pmBuy Tickets Performing Arts View Events About Live Arts & Film Museum Auditorium Credits Press Contact
Wild tales come to life in Marvellous Creatures exhibit at Aga Khan Museum
Have you heard the one about The Tortoise and The Hare? Greek storyteller Aesop served up the 5th century BCE fable as a reminder that slow and steady triumphs — it's just one example of how arts taps into the animal world in an attempt to teach and reflect upon humanity.
Now there's a unique opportunity to discover the story of the Simurgh (a mythical, rainbow-feathered bird) or that tale of the shape-shifting army of divs (demons) with the new exhibition Marvellous Creatures: Animals in Islamic Art, which recently opened at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.
Henry S. Kim, the director of Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, talks about the impact the establishment has had on Canadian society as well as its future plans
Henry S. Kim, the director and CEO of Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, is an ancient history scholar and classical archaeologist by training. Kim joined the Museum from the University of Oxford, where he taught, curated collections and managed capital projects at the Ashmolean Museum from 1994 to 2012. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, he served as curator of Greek coins and university lecturer in Greek numismatics at the university.
From 2004 to 2011 he was the project director for the Ashmolean Redevelopment Project, a £70 million redevelopment and transformation of the museum. He then became director of the University Engagement Programme, a three-year project sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation aimed at expanding the use of the museum’s collections in teaching across the university.
The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto has been established and developed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). The museum’s mission is to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Muslim civilisations have made to world heritage. Its stunning building, designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, has two floors of exhibition space, a 350-seat auditorium, classrooms and public areas that accommodate innovative programming for all ages and interests.
Kim spoke to Weekend Review about the museum and its plans. Excerpts:
What activities has the museum held lately?
We have a changing set of exhibitions. Our school programmes have begun, we’ve had conferences at the museum. The museum has truly had an amazing range of activities.
It is very important for museums to organise exhibitions, to give a people a sense of the activities it has.
That’s right. Through our exhibitions we want to engage the public so that there is a reason [for them] to come back to the museum. If you have the same things over and over again, they won’t come back. But they would, if you have exhibitions that are good variety but are also unique. We also need to establish our own — sort of — brand for the type of exhibitions that we hold. I think that our exhibitions ask the audience to compare one object to another. I think a lot of what we will do is comparative, it’s cross-cultural and it does make, in many ways, our displays very intelligent. Something that the public — when they look at it — they realise something that they hadn’t before.
How has the public’s reaction been?
We have academics and other museum-goers. I am very pleased by the way the public has responded to the museum. Just to give you an example, once during lunch at an event in Dubai, a woman sat down next to me because she couldn’t find a better table. She was from Athens, and when I told her that I was the director of the Aga Khan museum, she said, “I’ve been there!” She said that the museum was beautiful and the displays were gorgeous — one of the best that she had seen. She was also impressed by the fact that there is a museum dedicated to Islamic art in Toronto. That I think is something that a lot of our visitors are struck by.
That is indeed unique — Islamic art in Canada.
I think her story is very similar to many of our visitors’ stories. It’s something they were very impressed with. They hadn’t expected the museum to be this nice with such variety. I have to say that visitor response has been very strong. We have also had a lot of academics visiting because it is not only for the public but also for the specialists. We are as much a research establishment as we are a public museum. In terms of us as a museum, it’s wonderful to see the ongoing higher education and research programmes. We’ve also had several schoolchildren visit the museum. I think that’s very important because we want people to realise that this museum is also there for people in primary education.
What impact has the museum had on the cultural environment in Canada?
It’s cultural as well as educational. We want to ensure that we appeal to all levels of schooling, whether it’s primary or secondary, all the way up to a higher education. We also teach adults, people who have the time and want to learn more about Islamic art. We have a big programme for these activities and that too has an impact on people. We want to ensure that people view this museum both in terms of education and cultural aspects, and see it as a leader within Toronto, indeed within North America.
Do you invite specialists on Islamic art and artists?
Most certainly so. Much of this is based in the Arab world, and the Muslim world as a whole. One of our initial exhibitions was on contemporary Pakistani art. For this we brought over six Pakistani artists who created works for the exhibition. This is also very important for us because it’s a way of allowing our public access to the work that is being done today.
Have you collaborated with other museums in the world?
Yes, one of the museums that we have a strong working relationship with is the Islamic Art Museum in Doha. We have an agreement with them for exchange of exhibitions. We also have an agreement with State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg as well as Louvre in France ... But we’re also developing partnerships with other museums. For example, the partnership with Barjeel Foundation is very important. But we will have partnerships with other museums as well because in the world of Islamic art, it’s a relatively small field and it’s very important for museums to cooperate.
Do you plan to have more infrastructure at the Toronto museum?
I’d say we’ve done enough building for now ... but I’ll never say never. In the medium term, let’s say five to 10 years down the line, we may find that there is a need for more space ... I do see that in the future, there may be further building projects. When the site was designed, space was left for the possibility of future expansion. But one thing we have to be very careful about is to ensure that whatever expansion happens is respectful of the building that Fumihiko Maki designed. So, I’m adamant that whatever building comes up in the future should be viewed as separate. I don’t think we can add to this building without damaging its integrity.
Are you planning to have more Islamic art collections?
Very much so. We will have our collection grow, we will purchase objects. But what I’m most keen about is that we’re able to work with collectors and foundations so that they’re willing to either lend, or perhaps even gift, portions of their collection to this museum. I think it’s very important for any museum to have the collection grow. And there is certainly a lot of room for expansion of our historic collection.
Now it’s a cultural institution which has many followers, many people are excited by it. I think the most important thing is that now we can start measuring the impact we have on people’s perception of the arts and culture of the Muslim world. And that’s going to be, I think, our long lasting legacy.
Are you satisfied by the reaction of the Canadian public?
Very much so. Everyone asks, why Canada? It could have been built in so many locations, including Dubai. I have to say that the reactions of the Canadian public have been superb. They have been very supportive. I think all of them see the value of this museum, the fact that this museum represents the culture and arts of a part of the world that is tremendously underrepresented in museums worldwide. I think they’ve accepted that, they relish it.
Many people migrate to Canada for work. Do you think it’s the future vis-à-vis Europe?
I think that it’s a question of degrees. Europe is experiencing changes in its own population and cultural make-up but the rate of change in not nearly as fast as Canada. Canada, I think, is a very daring country. It is actually looking forward to emigration and accepting of the changes that might happen to society from having large groups of new people. That’s very daring and I think that Canada is not standing there and saying, ‘You come to Canada, you become Canadians’. It’s actually willing to look at what exactly defines being Canadian with the change of population. That’s something that very few countries are willing to do. Canada is a different country than it was 30 years ago and it may be a different country in the same period of time hence. It’s starting off with the perspective that growth, population change and diversity are actually a good thing. And that’s where this museum, I think, has found itself a population that is perhaps the most conducive to what it’s trying to achieve.
If you could add something to the future of this museum?
All I can say is that we’re very happy with the way that Canadians have responded to this museum, but we’re also very pleased at how people throughout the world are looking towards us. They’re interested in it. They’ve heard about it. They’re very excited by what this museum has to offer.
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