In a 2009 interview, art curator November Paynter said she couldn’t imagine leaving Istanbul, the city where she had lived and worked since 2002. However, she has indeed left the Turkish capital, where she worked at the contemporary-art institution, SALT. She arrives in Toronto to become the director of programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto Canada (MOCA).
We spoke to the native of Worcester, England, recently about what brought her to MOCA, a museum in transition at its new home in the heritage Tower Automotive building, expected to open this fall.
You were educated at the Royal College of Art in London, you were based in Istanbul for a long time, and you’ve also worked in Dubai. Do you have any connection to Toronto or Canada?
My husband spent some years growing up in Ottawa, and he attended Queen’s University. So, he has networks and friends here. In the past, I’ve followed the programs at The Power Plant [Contemporary Art Gallery]. I have some artist friends here, and I had a friend who worked at the [Art Gallery of Ontario]. My knowledge isn’t extensive, but I feel my experience in Istanbul was similar. I entered a situation where I spent a lot of time going to studios, getting to know the art community and having a fresh perspective on what was happening.
Have you a sense as to what’s happening here?
It appears to be at a very exciting moment. The MOCA has this history, since 1999, and yet it’s developing in a substantial way. The city has a strong cultural scene already. But there’s still opportunity to build upon it.
In the case of MOCA, you’re getting in on the ground floor, with its big new space. What do you think MOCA saw in you?
Well, you’d have to ask them. But I imagine one of the factors is that I have a history of building up a very strong institution, SALT, in a major industrial city that has a flourishing artistic community. Over a long period of time, I built up relationships that allowed for a very engaged program.
You have a history with L’Internationale, the museum confederation, as well. That has to look good on a résumé.
It’s a network of museums across Europe. We worked on different program ideas and different policies and practices. We were thinking about how a future museum could and should be. In terms of expanding MOCA’s own network and working internationally with other institutions, I think it’s something I have to offer.
When she arrived as MOCA’s director and CEO a year ago, Chantal Pontbriand talked about building a museum of the 21st century. She didn’t last long at MOCA, but what are your ideas about a new kind of museum?
I don’t want to talk about Chantal’s time here, but one thing I spoke about during my hiring process was research I’ve been doing on who comes to museums and how they can became participatory. It’s about building a constituency-based institution, and the museum being a constituent within a bigger constituency.
What does that mean, in practical terms?
It’s having this idea of relationships being at the centre of the organization. And allowing people to really feel they can access, and be involved in, the museum’s thinking. That’s it, really.
This interview has been edited and condensed.Report Typo/Error