Museums in the contemporary world have expanded their missions to become viable educational institutions, actively seeking to broaden their constituencies. Collections and exhibitions have become dynamic tools for instruction, debate and reflection, and for attracting large numbers to the cultural life of societies. They also act as catalysts for cultural exchange and communication, contributing to the development of civil society. It is with this perception of the new role of museums that The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has moved forward to include their establishment in its Education and Culture Programme. To this end, two museum projects were launched in 2003 with a mandate to oversee and co-ordinate the conceptualization, design, building and operation of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and the Indian Ocean Maritime Museum in Zanzibar.
It will present and promote knowledge of the diversity and breadth of Islamic art, through permanent and temporary exhibitions, with emphasis on Shi’a Islam and the Ismaili community in particular. The museum will be dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, display and interpretation of artifacts relating to the intellectual, cultural, artistic and religious traditions of Muslim communities, past and present. Artifacts will include ceramics, metalwork, and paintings covering all periods of Islamic history. Manuscripts in the collection will include the earliest known copy of Avicenna’s Qanun fi’l- Tibb (The Canon of Medicine) dated 1052. In addition the museum will display works from the Imam’s private collection, and from London’s Institute of Ismaili Studies, Prince Sadruddin and Princess Catherine The Imam, Swiss-based collectors of 16th century Turkish, Mughal and Persian miniature paintings, have also expressed interest in making their collection part of the museum. The museum is, just off the city’s Don Valley Parkway, about 25 minutes north-east of downtown. A music programme is planned, which will work to expand knowledge of the traditional music of Asia and the Islamic world, as well as their contemporary expression. The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto designed by the sublime Japanese modernist Fumihiko Maki will be the first of its kind in the English-speaking world. The museum will become a repository of historical materials related to the Ismaili community and house research programmes related to each one of the aspects of its institutional mission. It will also provide a space for permanent exchanges between the Islamic and the Western worlds on educational, cultural and socioeconomic issues.