C o m m o n w e a l t h
A s s o c i a t i o n o f
M u s e u m s
Duncan Ferguson Cameron
April 29, 2006
Duncan Ferguson Cameron, one of the most influential museum leaders of the 20th century, passed away on April 29, 2006, in Calgary Alberta. He began his museum career in 1956 at the Royal Ontario Museum where he worked several years under the close mentorship of Theodore Heinrich. He subsequently formed Janus Museum Consultants whose first major contract was the Ontario Museum of Science and Technology, now the Ontario Science Centre. After restructuring the Canadian Conference of the Arts and working on cultural policy, he returned to the museum world as Director of the Brooklyn Museum. In 1977, Duncan became Director of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and was appointed Director Emeritus on his retirement in 1988.
He brought professionalism and expertise to Glenbow and built the capacity of the organization until it could undertake virtually any project with success. Duncan initiated a significant number of major exhibitions, ?blockbusters,? but he was always very careful to ensure that these exhibitions were of very high quality in research, rich in content and a visual feast. Who can forget, among others, ?The Treasures of Ancient Nigeria?, ?The Dinner Party?, ?Pre-Columbian Art of Costa Rica? and ?The Precious Legacy?.
Duncan Cameron was a charismatic leader, a visionary and a teacher, and under his directorship, Glenbow staff were given opportunities to expand their horizons and to unite in effective teamwork to produce exceptional exhibitions backed by a sound organization, forward thinking promotion and engagement with the communities whose heritage was being exhibited. ?The Great CPR Exposition? when most staff members helped on the last day to prepare the show for the opening, ?Metis?, and ?The Spirit Sings? were examples of exceptional merit. ?The Spirit Sings? had its own complexities and controversy but in the end had a transforming effect on its viewers and moved the relationship of First Nations and Museums to a different plane.
Cameron is especially well-known for his article ?The Museum: The Temple or the Forum? which is still published and cited many years later. (Most recently included in Re-Inventing the Museum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift, edited by Gail Anderson, AltaMira Press, 2004).
Throughout his career, he was always concerned with the meaning of museums, ?the why,? and has continued to write, research and present papers to the museum community, most recently in Calgary in 2005 at the ICOFOM meeting. Throughout his career, he was active internationally through ICOM and CAM. He was regarded as one of the founders of ?the new museology? along with Georges Henri Rivière, Hugues de Varine, John Kinard and Mario Vasquez. He continued to attend the International Council of Museums? Triennial Meetings for years as well as keep in contact with his many friends and colleagues. He was still working with a French colleague, Alain Bouras, on an ethno-ecology project.
Duncan Cameron was the President of the Commonwealth Association of Museums (CAM) 1983-1989. Under his direction CAM took on new vitality and he remained active until his death. His keynote paper given to CAM in Ottawa in 1992 ?Marble Floors Are Cold For Small Bare Feet? has been requested frequently since its publication as a CAM Occasional Paper.
In 1995 he spent a year in New Zealand as a Visiting Teaching Fellow at Massey University where he worked with eight graduate students. He regarded this time as one of the most rewarding years of his professional life. It also enormously enriched his personal life as he became very close to the Maori culture and people during that period.
In 1985 he was awarded the CMA Award of Merit and in 1992 he was made a Fellow of the CMA. He was a Fellow of the Museums Association (UK) and presented with the Cowrie Circle pin as a member of the Commonwealth Association of Museums? Cowrie Circle, CAM?s highest honour (2000). In 2005 he received the Lieutenant-Governor?s Award from the Alberta Museums Association.
Duncan Cameron was often controversial and always challenging and provocative. He was for many us the best museum director in Canada, a focused visionary with very high standards, a very wide and expert knowledge of all aspects of museum work and most of all a great and generous mentor and friend who helped to launch many colleagues on museum careers. He will be missed by so many of us around the world whether we were fortunate enough to work closely with him, forged a brief but firm connection during his travels, or appreciated him through his writings.
He is survived by his wife, Nancy Tousley, and his children, Seana and David Cameron.
Farewell dear friend, your soul will remain part of us and may your legacy be our ability to continue the richness of vision, the capacity for achievement and the caring for others that you showed to us during your remarkable life.
Further commentary on the role of Duncan Cameron, and Emmanuel Arinze within CAM will appear in an upcoming CAM Bulletin.