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Museums and Archives (67-70)

National Gallery of Canada lays off chief and Indigenous art curators

November 18, 2022
Photographic banners by artist Genevieve Cadieux hang outside the National Gallery of Canada on July 16, 2021.ASHLEY FRASER/GLOBE AND MAIL

The Globe and Mail: The National Gallery of Canada has laid off four senior staff members including Greg A. Hill, its curator of Indigenous art, and chief curator Kitty Scott.

The gallery has experienced a period of uncertainty in the wake of the departure of director Sasha Suda in July. She left only a year after unveiling a strategic plan that placed Indigenous knowledge at the core of the gallery’s mission.

The gallery is currently seeking a new director.

Mr. Hill said he was let go because he disagreed with how the gallery was approaching the new decolonization agenda.

“I want to put this out before it is spun into meaningless platitudes,” Mr. Hill wrote in a post on Instagram Thursday. “The truth is, I’m being fired because I don’t agree with and am deeply disturbed by the colonial and anti-Indigenous ways the Department of Indigenous Ways and Decolonization is being run.”

Mr. Hill did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.

Liliane Lê, the gallery’s vice-president of public affairs, declined to comment on the layoffs.

In an internal memo to staff obtained by The Globe and Mail, interim director Angela Cassie writes: “The work-force changes are the result of numerous factors and were made to better align the gallery’s leadership team with the organization’s new strategic plan. … For privacy reasons, the gallery is not at liberty to discuss details of these departures.”

Mr. Hill, the inaugural Audain senior curator of Indigenous art, had worked at the gallery for 22 years. He is a specialist in Iroquoian languages and culture, and in global contemporary Indigenous art.

“It was, of course, a great surprise,” said Vancouver art collector and philanthropist Michael Audain, who had endowed the Indigenous curatorial job since 2007. “I was under the impression that Greg had done a creditable job of introducing Indigenous art into the gallery, something which was sadly missing when former director Pierre Théberge originally asked me to endow Greg’s position,” he said in an e-mail.

Mr. Audain added that the gallery has sent him a proposal to reorient the endowment, but he has yet to review it.

The gallery has also laid off Ms. Scott, its chief curator and a highly respected advocate for Canadian contemporary art, who previously worked at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. She worked at the National Gallery in the 2000s – when she made the acquisition of Maman, the giant Louise Bourgeois spider sculpture that sits outside the building – and was brought back to Ottawa by Ms. Suda in 2020.

The other two people to lose their jobs are Stephen Gritt, a veteran staffer and director of conservation and technical research, and Denise Siele, a recent hire as senior communications manager. (The former staffers could not be reached for comment Friday.)

Ms. Cassie, formerly the gallery’s chief strategy and inclusion officer, has served as interim director since Ms. Suda left for a prestigious job as director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art only three years into a five-year term. Ms. Cassie had previously worked at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg before joining the gallery last year.

A passionate advocate for modernizing art museums, Ms. Suda had brought in the strategic plan, with its emphasis on “interconnection through time and space” and a new motto, ankosé, an Anishinaabemowin word that translates as “everything is connected.”

However, during her tenure, there was also a high turnover of senior staff.