Pointing to the Art World’s Possibilities: A Speculative Future – Demetra Christakos, Art Gallery of Sudbury

Over the past year, as galleries across the country have had to hold their daily operations in check due to quarantines and lockdowns, a space for some serious reflection opened up. Akimbo has partnered with Galeries Ontario/Ontario Galleries and asked the curators of eight public museums and art galleries to speculate about their future through the lens of what needs to be done to be access driven, anti-racist and anti-colonial. We proposed three initial questions and gathered the responses in text and video.

For this week’s instalment, Demetra Christakos, Director/Curator of the Art Gallery of Sudbury, provided her answers.

 

  1. What belief systems, theories, and new knowledge could revolutionize your institution?

The Art Gallery of Sudbury | Galerie d’art de Sudbury is re-locating from our current location, an adapted historic domestic building, into a new purpose-built Category A public art gallery space within a new shared arts building, Junction East, in 2024. Over the past four months, the City of Greater Sudbury and WZMH Architects, the consultant for the design of Junction East, facilitated a comprehensive program of public consultation sessions, seeking the community’s input into the development of a design for the facility. The consultation process featured thirty different two- and three-hour sessions with internal and external partners and stakeholders, directly engaging over 450 participants.

It has been an unprecedent opportunity for the Gallery Board and staff to work with four specialist consultant groups: lead architects WZMH, museum consultants WeatherstonBruer, library consultants DPAI and Indigenous consultants Guy Freedman, Raymond Hatfield, Melissa Hammell, Danielle Roy, and Cassidy Caron of First Peoples Group. Going in, the Gallery was committed to a new Indigenous gallery space (1000 square feet of 6000 square feet of new galleries) as well as to operationalizing a permanent position of Indigenous curator. Through the process, we realized we need a much more comprehensive review of Gallery operations through the lens of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and will effect that work through the new Strategic Plan.

There is a second conceptual shift coming from the Junction East architectural project that will remake the Gallery in very practical terms and instrumentalize core principals of universal access and design, not only in the building but throughout operations. The concept of universal design, according to the Center for Universal Design, “is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

Principals of universal access extend universal design beyond the physical into staffing and Board representation (equity and diversity in policy and practice), as well as to other key community relationships around social and barrier-free access. One of the most exciting opportunities for the Gallery will be to work in a shared facility alongside established immigrant and newcomer settlement programs provided by the Sudbury Multicultural and Folks Arts Association, for example.

But from the perspective of working with artists and organizing exhibitions with new and diverse audiences in mind in our new location in downtown Sudbury, it also signals careful consideration of presentation strategies for not only the traditional Canadian art history canon, but for more recent bodies of collected artworks, including post-modernist and conceptual works, which may not be as immediately readable to first-time visitors.

  1. What creative initiative could your art gallery do to shape your future programming?

I am convening a virtual symposium that proposes dialogues from six pairs of collaborative producers of major art projects originating in Sudbury over the past five years. The conference structure re-iterates one I designed for the Ontario Association of Art Galleries in 2014, Curating in the Haze of Empires, that borrowed, worked upon, and re-defined a theoretical concept – that of critical regionalism – from the contemporary perspective of the renewed vitality and curatorial production of Ontario’s regional public art galleries.

  1. Who is an artist whose work points to future possibilities?

Sonia Ekiyor-Katmi, Here to stay, baby, 2020, mural

Coalesced quickly last year by faculty and students of the McEwen School of Architecture located in downtown Sudbury, Black Lives Matter Sudbury, a Black-led coalition of educators, students, activists, and artists, continues to be present online, in the community, and politically. This past February they presented a free, virtual gathering titled HERE TO STAY, BABY! : A Northern Intersectional Conference. The conference was named for a new mural downtown commissioned last summer from designer-artist-architect Sonia Ekiyor-Katimi for Sudbury’s transformational mural and music festival Up Here. Sonia’s plan is to re-locate to Montreal and we are just getting to know more about her work with an eye to a future project.

The galleries featured in Pointing to the Art World’s Possibilities: A Speculative Future are part of the Galeries Ontario/Ontario Galleries research project Data Shy to Data Driven.