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Art Gallery of Mississauga responds to allegations of racism, calls for the gallery to cease operations –




The Art Gallery of Mississauga (AGM) has responded to allegations of racism and bullying, as well as calls from people who identify as former employees to cease operations and replace all operators, staff members and board members. 

Earlier this summer, a website documenting allegations of racism, bullying and harassment at the city-run gallery, along with a petition calling for the temporary cessation of all operations (and the firing of all staff and board members) went live.

According to the people who created the Hold the AGM Accountable website and associated petition, the site and petition were launched after the AGM’s former community activator, Sharada Eswar, came forward with allegations of bullying, “patriarchy and white supremacy,” and “gaslighting” at the gallery. 

The site also claims that the AGM has caused “significant harm to individuals and communities,” alleging that operators have mistreated and harassed Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), showed a lack of leadership and “bad governance,” engaged in conflicts of interest, shown a lack of transparency/accountability, and “pretended to care about marginalized communities in Mississauga.” 

In a statement posted on its website and social media, the gallery said some allegations were levelled as part of “smear campaign,” but added that it will endeavour to address the issues raised “with the time and attention they deserve.” 

“The [AGM] acknowledges widespread systemic racism and discrimination as well as oppression in our arts community that has gone on for too long. We are committed to advancing the important dialogue and action for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), 2SLGBTQ+ and those with disabilities with an inclusive platform,” the organization wrote. 

“Given the complexity of the issues, the AGM will endeavour to address them with the time and attention they deserve.” 

According to the Hold the AGM Accountable website, the board of directors “was given an opportunity to reflect on and address concerns” at its annual general meeting in June and “chose not to do so.” 

The group behind the Hold the AGM Accountable website has demanded a “reset” and is calling for all staff to be let go, precariously employed staff to be offered severance equal to them having worked for one year, the resignation of the interim executive director, the disbandment of the current board of directors, the establishment of an advisory community made up of members of the BIPOC community, a new integrity process and more.

The site also calls on donors and funders, such as the City of Mississauga, Ontario Trillium Foundation, Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts and others to refrain from releasing any further funds to the AGM and recouping funds that have already been provided. reached out to the AGM for comment but did not receive a response. 

In a statement, the AGM said that five days prior to the gallery’s annual general meeting, former employees “spearheaded a smear campaign” against the gallery.  

“Our investigation has uncovered private human resources information which we cannot discuss or disclose in respect of, and in compliance with privacy laws. We acknowledge an intent to disrupt the annual general meeting of the members of the AGM. We confirm that the AGM has not received, and have not been presented with any official letters or documents by the individuals involved,” the gallery wrote. 

The Hold the AGM Accountable website features testimonials from people who allege they were treated poorly or differently while employed by the AGM. One anonymous post, reportedly written by a former staffer, alleges that gallery staff told them to speak more clearly on the phone so that callers could better understand their accent. The same worker also alleges that they were asked to work overtime without pay. 

Another testimonial, written by a former Black and Status First Nations employee named Keisha Erwin, alleges that the interim executive director of the gallery suggested conducting a sage burning to rid the space of negative energy. Erwin said that when she told the director that the suggestion amounted to cultural appropriation and that the gallery should consider an alternative action, she was reportedly told that her alternative solution was “too expensive.” 

In a testimonial, Eswar, the former community activator who led the AGM’s Border Crossings project, alleged she was forced to abandon the project because of bullying from the gallery’s then-treasurer.

In a lengthy post on the Hold the AGM Accountable website, Esar said that after the board of directors assumed leadership at the gallery, she was subjected to “aggressive emails” regarding artist payments, the reported lack of inclusion of European voices in the project and “questions that were beyond the scope of [her] job description and expertise.”

“Emails, so aggressive that I began to dread logging into my computer. I was made to feel incompetent, incapable of doing minor tasks correctly and peppered with questions that felt more like inquisitions,” she wrote.  

Eswar said that on one occasion, she was asked about a missing camera that she insisted she never bought for the project and was told she would have to file a police report for insurance purposes if she couldn’t recover it.

“In spite of me insisting that there was no camera bought, I was repeatedly interrogated, making me feel like a criminal…It reached a point where I began to question my own sanity, my memory, my actions, my thoughts. After much heart wrench and soul searching, I resigned. I left the project and everything that I had worked towards to that point behind.” 

Eswar wrote that she felt compelled to share her story after the AGM made a “hypocritical” #BlackOutTuesday post in support of Black Lives Matter on Instagram. 

In the statement posted to its website, the AGM said it has created a public advisory committee in response to the situation.

“We do intend to take thoughtful action for positive change,” the gallery wrote, adding that its board is comprised of a “diverse, multicultural group of individuals who are committed to contributing in an equitable and inclusive way.” 

The gallery said it has invited members of the public to join its committee, which it says will contribute to the “ongoing process of upholding and growing the mandate of the gallery.” 

“We take great pride in our mandate and support access for all. We continue to hire artists for various projects from all communities. We continue to work closely with our benefactors. In 2019 our database indicated hundreds of artists hired from the BIPOC community,” the AGM said.

“Our staff database indicates great representation of individuals that are multicultural and inclusive of all people. As well, we continue to increase representation of newcomers to Canada to enhance our learning experiences through our various projects.”

The City of Mississauga, which provides space and funding to the AGM, said it’s keeping an eye on the situation and working to ensure that the gallery is not in violation of the city’s funding terms and conditions.  

It did not signal any intent to pull funding from the gallery at this time but said it is monitoring the controversy. 

“The [AGM] is a separate and autonomous not-for-profit organization with its own board of directors and policies. In keeping with our role as a funder, staff have engaged the gallery’s board leadership on these matters to ensure that the gallery is not in violation of its funding terms and conditions,” Sonja Banic, Manager, Culture Services, said in an email to

“The city’s values, policies and commitment to equity, inclusion and the assurance of safe and respectful workplaces are requirements that we demand all of our funded groups to demonstrate and uphold. Our grants team is continuing to monitor this issue and will maintain regular contact with the AGM’s leadership group over the balance of this current funding year.”

According to the gallery’s website, the AGM, which is located inside City Hall, is still closed due to COVID-19-related restrictions. 

Cover photo courtesy of the AGM’s official Facebook page


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MUSE NEWS: Highlighting the new Douglas Family Art Centre – The Kingston Whig-Standard



Let me introduce you to the Douglas Family Art Centre, a new addition to Kenora. Come visit us downtown across Memorial Park from the Lake of the Woods Museum. The building incorporates the former land titles building with a new addition. It was designed by Nelson Architecture and built by Solid Construction; both local companies. The space is gorgeous. Inspired by the old building and the natural elements of our region the Art Centre is a vibrant place that engages the senses and the mind.

My role as curator is to manage the selection and interpretation of art on display. There are two gallery spaces that present art exhibitions from regional, provincial and national artists. The main room of the former land titles building is a grand studio space where creatives of all ages and abilities make art in classes and workshops presented by Shelby Smith, the art centre programmer and/or visiting artists. There is a library for anyone curious or interested in anything art. Take a book out or enjoy one of the two lounges on the second floor. There is a multipurpose room for rent that is glowing with natural light and has a full kitchen. The MUSE shop features artwork from local artists and vendors as well as carefully selected creative gifts. There is artwork throughout the building as well, wood and bronze sculpture, photography and colour woodblock prints. If you are one who enjoys geology you will love the fossils in the Tyndall stone used in the interior and exterior of the building.

Exhibitions are displayed for three to four months. Currently on display are two exhibitions. “21 Pillows” is by award-winning Red Lake glass artist Cheryl Wilson-Smith. Wilson-Smith has hand-made over 10,000 glass stones, her interpretation of a moraine found north of Red Lake. You have never seen glass like this! Visitors are encouraged to touch and move any or all of the stones and pillows as you are inspired, leaving your trace on the landscape.

“To realize by moving a rock, throwing a stone in the water, [you are] altering the environment. So in my show, by moving the stones we are all altering the environment, for better or worse, we are all participating,” Wilson-Smith said of her exhibit.

“From The Vault” is an exhibition curated from the collection of the Lake of the Woods Museum. Many of the artworks have never been displayed before. Each piece tells many stories, about the period in which it was created, the life of the artist, or the lives of the many people who owned it. This exhibition features artwork important to this community donated by private and public collections. There are some mysteries on the walls we need your help with! Some artwork keeps its secrets close.

This fall, Shelby Smith is hosting three 10-week classes for children and teens. These classes are after school and explore many ways of making art. Spots are filling up! On Oct. 1 the Douglas Family Art Centre is partnering with Science North to present an artist talk with Cheryl Wilson-Smith at lunch and a fossil hunt later in the afternoon. On Sept. 24 Kris Goold hosted a sold-out workshop but it looks like Kris will offer another class so book your spot! If you’re missing out keep an eye on our website or become a member to get a heads up on the exciting things that are happening at the Douglas Family Art Centre.

If you haven’t been in yet, come down and take it in. The art centre is your place to discover and enjoy. We look forward to seeing you.

Sophie Lavoie is the curator at the Douglas Family Art Centre.

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France’s Colonial Legacy Is Being Judged in Trial Over African Art – The New York Times



PARIS — Wearing a long, white tunic with the names of two African ethnic groups written on it, the defendant stepped forward to the bar, took a breath, and launched into a plea.

“No one has sought to find out what harm has been done to Africa,” said the defendant, Mwazulu Diyabanza, a Congo-born 41-year-old activist and spokesman for a Pan-African movement that denounces colonialism and cultural expropriation.

Mr. Diyabanza, along with four associates, stood accused of attempting to steal a 19th-century African funeral pole from the Quai Branly Museum in Paris in mid-June, as part of an action to protest colonial-era cultural theft and seek reparations.

But it was Wednesday’s emotionally charged trial that gave real resonance to Mr. Diyabanza’s struggle, as a symbolic defendant was called to the stand: France, and its colonial track record.

The presiding judge in charge of the case acknowledged the two trials: One, judging the group, four men and a woman, on a charge of attempted theft for which they could face up to 10 years in prison and fines of about $173,000.

“And another trial, that of the history of Europe, of France with Africa, the trial of colonialism, the trial of the misappropriation of the cultural heritage of nations,” the judge told the court, adding that such was a “citizen’s trial, not a judicial one.”

The political and historical ramifications were hard to avoid.

France’s vast trove of African heritage — it is estimated that some 90,000 sub-Saharan African cultural objects are held in French museums — was largely acquired under colonial times, and many of these artworks were looted or acquired under dubious circumstances. That has put France at the center of a debate on the restitution of colonial-era holdings to their countries of origin.

Unlike in Germany, where this debate has been welcomed by both the government and museums, France has struggled to offer a consistent response, just as the country is facing a difficult reckoning with its past.

“Our act aimed to erase the acts of indignity and disrespect of those who plundered our homes,” Mr. Diyabanza said.

Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

The restitution debate came to a head in France when President Emmanuel Macron promised in 2017 to give back much of Africa’s heritage held by French museums. He later commissioned a report that identified about two-thirds of the 70,000 objects at the Quai Branly Museum as qualifying for restitution.

But in the two years following the report, only 27 restitutions have been announced and only one object, a traditional sword, has been returned — to Senegal, in November 2019. The remaining 26 treasures that were designated for restitution, to Benin, are still in the Quai Branly Museum.

And the bill supporting these exceptional, or case-by-case, restitutions has yet to be voted on.

Calvin Job, the lawyer for three of the defendants, said in court that the bill, by focusing on exceptional rather than regular restitutions, reflected “a desire not to settle the issue.”

“We should enshrine the principle of restitution in the code of law,” Mr. Job said.

Given what they perceive as hurdles, activists from Mr. Diyabanza’s Pan-African movement have staged operations similar to that in Paris at African art museums in the Southern French city of Marseille and in Berg en Dal, in the Netherlands.

At times, these actions have epitomized growing identity-related claims, coming from French citizens of African descent living in a country where a racial awakening has started to take place in recent months.

“We have young people who have an identity problem,” Mr. Job said in an interview, “who, faced with a lack of action, a lack of political will, have found it legitimate to do the work that others don’t.”

Speaking to the judge, Julie Djaka, a 34-year-old defendant who grew up in a Congolese family, said: “For you, these are works. For us, these are entities, ritual objects that maintained the order at home, in our villages in Africa, that enabled us to do justice.”

Marie-Cécile Zinsou, the president of the Zinsou Art Foundation in Benin and the daughter of a former prime minister of Benin, said that, although she did not share the activists’ methods, she understands “why they exist.” “We cannot be ignored and looked upon down all the time,” she said.

“In France, there’s a post-colonial view on the African continent,” Ms. Zinsou added, saying that some prominent French cultural figures still doubted that African countries could preserve artworks.

Such grievances on France’s post-colonial legacy were in full play on Wednesday at the trial as a small crowd of about 50 people, most Pan-African movement activists, were barred from entering the courtroom by the police because of concerns about the coronavirus and because some feared that their presence could disrupt the trial.

Activists shouted “band of thieves” and “slavers” at the police officers cordoning off the entrance to the courtroom and they chanted, “Give us back our artwork!”

Prosecutors on Wednesday asked that a fine of 1,000 euros, or about $1,200, be levied against Mr. Diyabanza and a suspended €500 fine be levied against his associates. A verdict is expected on Oct. 14.

Activists in front of the courtroom on Wednesday welcomed the recommended sentences, which they found modest, as a collective victory.

“We all are defendants here; all of us should normally be at the stand today,” said Laetitia Babin, a 45-year-old social worker born in Congo, who had arrived from Belgium in the morning to attend the trial.

“It’s not up to them to decide how artworks are returned to us, it’s up to us,” she said.

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Kamala Harris Talks Art, Victoria & Albert Museum to Cut 103 Jobs, and More: Morning Links from September 30, 2020 – ARTnews



To receive Morning Links in your inbox every weekday, sign up for our Breakfast with ARTnews newsletter.


London’s Victoria & Albert Museum will cut its staff by 10 percent. The 103 roles set to be lost are mainly in the the retail and visitor experience departments. [The Art Newspaper]

At an event called “Artists for Biden” last night, Kamala Harris addressed her love of contemporary art in a conversation with Catherine Opie, Carrie Mae Weems, and Shepard Fairey. Here’s what she had to say. [Bloomberg]

Although museums are often criticized for the whiteness of the art collections, their fashion holdings tend to exclude Black creators, too. [The New York Times]

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The Centre Pompidou in Paris could close for three years to undergo “essential” renovations. The news comes as the museum prepares to open a major space in Massy, France. [The Art Newspaper]

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. will devote a show to works featuring First Ladies of the United States. Included will be photography by Annie Leibovitz and the dress worn by Michelle Obama in Amy Sherald’s painting of her. [The New York Times]

Sweden has set aside $1.1 million for the creation of its first Holocaust museum, whose focus will be survivors hailing from the country. [Jewish Telegraphic Agency]

What if the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s controversial renovation project isn’t so bad? Tom Christie considers the case for Peter Zumthor’s latest project. [Los Angeles Times]

Art & Artists

Kyle Chayka recommends eight books for getting through creative block, including works by Lawrence Weschler and Octavia E. Butler. [ARTnews]

The National Gallery’s long-awaited Artemisia Gentileschi retrospective gets a five-star review, with Jonathan Jones calling the exhibition the “most thrilling” one he has ever seen at the London museum. [The Guardian]

For the past couple years, artist Dawn Markosian has been creating Santa Barbara, a soap opera–like film and photography project that grapples with her mother’s choice to leave her father. [The New York Times]

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