A group of more than 100 current and former employees of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has released a letter supporting the dismissal of former director Nathalie Bondil, alleging she created chaos within the workplace and took credit for subordinates’ ideas.
The letter, issued late Monday, backed the decision of the board of trustees, who ousted Ms. Bondil last month after a third-party firm hired by the board alleged she had created a toxic work environment. Ms. Bondil and her allies, however, say the dismissal stemmed from a disagreement over who to hire for a senior role at the museum.
Since then, the dismissal of the well-connected museum director has become a serious debate in Canada’s visual arts world, with major donors, governance experts and international art leaders weighing in on whether the board made the right call. The Quebec government has even hired its own independent firm to investigate the circumstances.
Anne Grace, curator of modern art at the MMFA and one of the organizers of the letter, said it wasn’t easy for staff members to speak publicly. But, she said, the debate has become so heated it has made it difficult for them to do their jobs.
“We have wanted to be discreet, we have wanted to take the high road through all of this controversy,” Ms. Grace said in an interview. “But at a certain point we wanted to rectify a lot of misinformation.”
Ms. Bondil’s supporters point to her track record of doubling the gallery’s floor space and tripling its attendance since she took over in 2007. She won national and international recognition, including an investment in the Order of Canada in 2016.
When reports began to surface in the Quebec press last month about issues with Ms. Bondil’s management, provincial Culture Minister Nathalie Roy declared: “The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is Nathalie Bondil!”
But behind the scenes, staff say in the letter, conditions had deteriorated in recent years. The letter says Ms. Bondil largely rejected her staff’s ideas, and took credit for those she did accept. The letter also said incidents of harassment and intimidation were “daily occurrences.”
Ms. Grace said that many staff members took offence to Ms. Roy’s characterization. “An institution is more than just a person who has the high-profile position of director,” she said.
The letter did not provide specific examples of the allegations. Ms. Grace said the group wanted to protect each other’s privacy and that, as far as she knew, those who had shared their experiences with the independent human resources firm were bound by confidentiality agreements.
Ms. Bondil did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment on the letter. In a previous interview with The Globe and Mail, she said that difficulties arose at the museum during a stressful period leading up to the much-delayed 2019 launch of the One World galleries, a suite devoted to non-Western art and archeological objects.
One staffer was driving installers too hard, she said. When the museum’s board hired an outside consultant to report on working conditions, she said she agreed to its recommendations, including working to improve relations with a “problem employee.”
Ms. Bondil held the titles of director and chief curator, which is unusual for comparable art galleries. Ms. Bondil said she was stretched too thinly at the rapidly expanding museum and heartily agreed with the board’s decision to hire a new curatorial director to share the load. That idea came from the outside consultant the board had hired to look into workplace issues.
Ms. Bondil said her dismissal was the result of a disagreement with the board over who to hire as the lead curator. Ms. Bondil said she disagreed with the board’s choice of Mary-Dailey Desmarais for the job because she wanted someone with more experience in the senior role, although she said Ms. Desmarais was a capable curator.
Ms. Grace said Ms. Desmarais was supported by her colleagues at the museum, who signed a public letter last month welcoming her appointment. Ms. Desmarais, who is part of the wealthy Quebec family that is prominent in corporate and cultural circles in the province, was first hired by the museum in a junior role in 2014.
“Yes, she’s a Desmarais,” Ms. Grace said, “but for us she’s a very well-educated, well-respected colleague who we felt was very capable to take on her position.”
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Travel news: Local cultural events, live music and art classes – The Globe and Mail
An expanded Culture Days 2020 launches Sept. 25 across Canada with the theme Unexpected Intersections, offering free livestream and in-person arts and culture experiences. Concerts, art classes, dance performances and self-guided tours are some of the options available until Oct. 25. Highlights include Nuit Blanche in Winnipeg, Behind the Wall: Making of a collective mural by the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre and the Yukon Arts Centre’s Waterfront Parade in Whitehorse.
Get a dose of live music at Vancouver’s Gastown Unplugged, a pop-up music series happening until the end of October. Wander the cobblestones or listen from a patio to local musicians at four locations including the Maple Tree Square Pop-Up Plaza.
Supplement back to school with BIPOC history and stories: digital Doors Open Ontario has videos, virtual tours and photos from Canadian Black History sites such as Amherstburg Freedom Museum, Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historical Site and John Freeman Walls Underground Railroad Museum while Hot Docs at Home (hotdocs.ca) has launched For Viola, a documentary series focused on BIPOC stories and filmmakers, streaming for free.
Kimpton Hotels has introduced Chief Virtual Learning Officers (CVLO), helping families on vacation with remote learning. Reserve access to an on-property CVLO and get set up with complimentary desks, snacks and school supplies. Now available at Toronto’s Kimpton Saint George (kimptonsaintgeorge.com), the hotel currently offers a 15-per-cent discount on reservations made three days in advance for IHG members who book directly.
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2nd annual Newmarket Juried Art Show goes online – NewmarketToday.ca
The organizers of the Newmarket Juried Art Show (NJAS) took to heart the well-known credo that “the show must go on.”
With the closure of Serpa Galleries in Newmarket’s Old Town Hall due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, this year’s art show is being held online beginning Oct. 7.
“We believe the arts are integral to strong, resilient communities and that such resilience is increasingly important in the face of a changing climate and other global challenges,” said NJAS co-directors David Kempton and Peggy Stevens in a news release. “We hope to showcase Newmarket as an arts hub – both to the province and to itself. Newmarket has a thriving collection of artists.”
Paintings, photography, sculptures, mixed media and ceramics are among the mediums that will be on display by artists from across southern Ontario.
An online gala will be held Oct. 15, starting at 7 p.m. There will be cash awards announced at the gala for the different categories of artwork, as well as a Juror’s Choice award.
“Following on the great success of the First Annual Newmarket Juried Art Show in October 2019, we were very much looking forward to NJAS 2020. Then COVID-19 happened,” the organizers said. “After much discussion, we decided to go for it, and have created an online version for this year.”
The online version of the show included lowering the entry fee, making alternate arrangements for artists hit hard by the pandemic, and doing the jurying by Zoom.
In total, 112 pieces of work were entered by 40 artists from across Ontario, from Windsor to Reaboro, and Penetanguishene to Fonthill.
Of those, 31 pieces of artwork submitted by 28 artists — 10 of whom are from Newmarket and Aurora — were selected for the show.
Judging was based on digital images submitted by the artists, and the images were “anonymized”, organizers said.
All award money and other support was donated by local citizens and small businesses.
The Town of Newmarket partnered with them to help make the show a reality, they added.
Their ancestors were sworn enemies. Now two artists are exploring the power of apology – Art Connects on q – CBC.ca
Six years later, in 1883, Bronson’s great-grandfather, Rev. John William Tims, became the first Anglican missionary sent to the Siksika nation, where he was tasked with building the community’s first church and residential school.
As was the case across Canada, Indigenous children were taken from their parents and forced into residential schools where they were physically, sexually and emotionally abused, creating profound intergenerational trauma that still ricochets through the community half a century after Old Sun closed. Many call it a cultural genocide.
“[Rev. Tims] took the children away from their parents, he forbade them to speak their own language or practise their own customs or wear their own clothes,” Bronson said of his ancestor. “And he did his best to destroy Siksika culture.”
In a bitter twist, the Siksika school was named after Stimson’s ancestor, Chief Old Sun.
“It’s ironic that his name would be used in an institution that was meant to kill the Indian in the child,” said Stimson, who himself suffered abuse at residential schools.
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