Canadian National Gallery of Aboriginal Art curator Greg A. Hill and senior curator Kitty Scott were among four high-ranking gallery employees fired Friday afternoon in a purge that has shocked the Canadian arts community.
The gallery’s interim director and CEO, Angela Casey, announced the dismissals in an internal memo Friday afternoon, saying they were part of a restructuring “conducted to better align the gallery’s leadership team with the organization’s new strategic plan.”
Hill, who was named Audain’s president and chief curator of the 2007 Indigenous Art Gallery as part of a $2 million grant from Vancouver philanthropist Michael Odain, said he’s still trying to understand why he was fired.
“It makes no sense to me,” said Hale, who has worked on the show for 22 years.
“For me,” he said, “to be declared redundant in a chronically understaffed department, in which it occupies a unique position because it is the only one given within the entire gallery, is difficult to comprehend.”
It was as surprising as the press release. You don’t get any advance notice of these things. You’ve just been called into a meeting and told, “This is what happens and these are the reasons” — the same reasons Cassie listed in her memo.
Stephen Grett, the gallery’s director of preservation and curatorial research, and Dennis Seal, senior director of communications, have also been fired. One observer likened it to a “mansion purge,” though the only person left in the purge was Cassie, who took over as interim director in July when previous director Sacha Soda left to work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In her memo to staff, Cassie said the show wouldn’t say anything else about the firings due to privacy concerns.
Hill responded shortly after the release in his own Instagram post, which was shared widely.
He wrote, “I want to put this out before it degenerates into meaningless platitudes.” “The truth is that I am fired because I do not agree with the colonial and anti-Indigenous ways that the Department of Indigenous and Decolonization Ways operates. Point.”
Hill was asked to elaborate in an interview on Monday.
“The department has this title, Indigenous Ways and Decolonization, and it’s been around for nine months now,” he said.
“During this time, I’ve been trying to work with my management team to define that. What does that mean? What are the ‘Aboriginal Ways’ at the National Gallery of Canada? What could they be? How do we proceed and how do we decolonize? These are questions I still have and I haven’t A dialogue is taking place on it. The questions have not been answered, and it was not appreciated that I would dare to raise these questions and continue to press these questions.
“Aboriginal ways of knowing and being” is one of the five pillars of the National Gallery’s five-year strategic plan, which was unveiled last year. She pledges to make the fair welcoming of the Indigenous community and to work with Indigenous leaders to integrate Indigenous ways across the organization, both internally and externally.
“There were many words and our path was outlined in the strategic plan,” Hill said. “What I’m trying to do is go beyond words into action.”
He played down any dispute with Cassie, who came to the exhibition in 2021 from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
“The media’s interest in the conflict strays from the main points,” he said. “Yes, the Foundation is ineffective in various ways, but I am most interested in talking about ways it can still move forward.
“The thing I find so tragic is the loss of potential. Not for me. I’ve had a good trajectory. This is about the great potential of this place to really advance the promotion of Aboriginal art and support contemporary Aboriginal artists, and to share that knowledge and experience to everyone in this country trying to move forward.” And understanding each other and living in harmony and, at some point in the future, reconciliation.
Hale put on an exhibition in 2006 of works by Norval Moreseau and the huge and successful 2013 show Sakan, an Algonquin word for “lighting fire” that brought together work from 75 Indigenous artists from around the world.
“This global momentum is driving this exhibition here. “Having an exhibition like Sakahàn is a very powerful statement of the extent to which the National Gallery will recognize the vitality of Aboriginal art,” Hill told The Citizen at the time.
The gallery has added more than 1,300 pieces of Aboriginal art to its collection during its tenure.
Scott was the curator of Contemporary Art from 2000 to 2006, when she brought the show’s iconic spider, “Maman,” to its prominent place outside the gallery’s entrance. After a stint at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Scott returned to NGC in 2019 as the first woman to be appointed Chief Curator.
“It is exciting to have Kitty Scott return to the National Gallery of Canada at a time when we are re-engaging with our mission in bold new ways,” Suda, the former director, said at the time.
“Kitty’s depth of experience, both nationally and internationally, and her forward-looking vision for building collections and programs will enable us to resonate with our audiences across Canada and the world.”
Scott and Seal did not respond to requests for comment.
Hill, an Aboriginal artist whose father is a Mohawk from the Six States of the Grand River and whose mother is French, said he is looking forward to putting more energy into his “artistic sound.”
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