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year in review: arts institutions

The Toronto International Film Festival celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2010 with the opening of its first purpose-built headquarters, Bell Lightbox, at 350 King St. W. in Toronto.Sarah Dea/The Globe and Mail

It was neither a great year nor an awful one for Canadian cultural institutions. As ever, there were changes aplenty, but nothing that could be considered convulsive, at least compared with 2008, when the Harper government cancelled the Trade Routes, Arts Promotion and Exhibition Transportation Service programs, among several others.

A convulsion may happen in a couple of years when Canadian Heritage, which accounts for about $2 of every $5 spent by all levels of government on arts and culture, will have to cut at least $60-million to help Prime Minister Stephen Harper achieve his goal of a balanced budget by 2015. For the time being, though, if one disregards the significant whacks to culture initiated by provincial governments in British Columbia and Alberta, there's a feeling of "holding steady" across the land.

Perhaps this has something to do with James Moore remaining in the Canadian Heritage portfolio for the past 26 months - a record tenure among the three Tories who've held the job since Harper came to power in early 2006.

Continuity counts, but as the Canadian Conference of the Arts has pointed out, for all of Moore's apparent steadiness, the Conservatives continue to approach culture "without an identified long-term vision or clearly articulated policy." They are content, seemingly, to move piecemeal - overhauling copyright here, tweaking book publishing there.

Departures and arrivals

William Thorsell retires after 10 years as director and chief executive officer of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. He's replaced by British native Janet Carding, former assistant director of public programs and operations at the Australian Museum in Sydney … Thomas Smart abruptly resigns as executive director of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ont., ending a four-year run. The collection's head of development, marketing and communications, Peter Ross, is named interim director … Quebec chartered accountant and MBA graduate Carolle Brabant succeeds Wayne Clarkson as executive director of Telefilm Canada … Dennis Reid officially ends his 30-year stint at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto on Aug. 31. Among other high-profile jobs, he had been the AGO's chief curator 1996-2005. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Smith, former chief curator at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, arrives as the gallery's executive director of curatorial affairs … Terry Ryan retires as general manager of West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative for Inuit art in Nunavut. He started there as an arts adviser in 1960 … Gail Asper, upon the death of her father, Izzy Asper, the sparkplug behind the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, resigns as national campaign chair for Winnipeg-based Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Friends begins a search to hire a new CEO in 2011 … CBC President Hubert Lacroix announces that Richard Stursberg's tumultuous six-year stint as head of CBC English-language TV, radio and online services is over … Helena Reckitt waves goodbye to the Power Plant in Toronto after four years as senior curator of programming at the contemporary-art gallery. Melanie O'Brian, former director/curator of Vancouver's artist-run Artspeak centre, is named Reckitt's successor. … The board of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa confirms its CEO Victor Rabinovitch is leaving in May, 2011, after more than a decade on the job. Rabinovitch's contract, which also involves oversight of the Canadian War Museum, was originally set to expire this year, but in late 2009 it was renewed until next spring.

Beginnings and endings

Culture Days, originally a Quebec-only phenomenon, goes national for the first time with concurrent events Sept. 24-26 … Project Niagara, ambitiously conceived as a sort of Tanglewood North summer festival by the National Arts Centre and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, calls it quits after realizing the current economic climate isn't the best for fundraising … The Art Gallery of Alberta opens in Edmonton, with an $88-million expansion and renovation by Frank Gehry protégé Randall Stout on the footprint of the old Edmonton Art Gallery … The Toronto International Film Festival celebrates its 35th anniversary with the opening of its first purpose-built headquarters, Bell Lightbox … In June, the federal government passes legislation to create the Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax. It's the country's sixth national museum and the second national museum to be established outside Ottawa. The museum incorporates Pier 21, a private-sector initiative started in the 1980s that oversaw the 1999 refurbishment of Halifax's immigration portal. The Harper government commits $25-million to improving the facility and almost doubling its footprint to 8,100 square metres … The harmonized sales tax, already a fact of life in Atlantic Canada, arrives July 1 in Ontario. Arts groups have to charge the 13-per-cent HST starting May 2 on individual tickets and subscriptions for performances mounted after July 1.

Resurrections and continuations

Six years and more than $250-million later, the thoroughly renovated Canadian Museum of Nature, housed in the 100-year-old Victoria Memorial Museum Building, reopens in Ottawa in May … Heritage Minister James Moore announces that the inaugural Canada Prizes for the Arts and Creativity will be awarded in 2011, a year later than originally planned. In 2009, Ottawa announced it would provide $25-million to endow the annual prize. But the plan prompted a backlash from arts groups across the country irked by cuts in the 2008-09 budget and suspicious that the idea originated with Toronto businessmen (Tony Gagliano and the late David Pecaut, founders of the city's Luminato festival). Details TBA in early 2011 … Pinchas Zukerman gets a four-year contract extension as maestro of the Ottawa-based National Arts Centre Orchestra, which he's helmed since the late 1990s. The new deal ends Aug. 31, 2015, with Zukerman reportedly receiving more than $1-million a year.


Everyone agrees the Vancouver Art Gallery, 80 years old next year, needs more spacious and up-to-date quarters. No one, however, can agree on just where this should happen. Make a move to a brand new site? Or sites? Remain where it's been since 1983, but build a satellite gallery? Partner with other arts organizations? The gallery thinks it should occupy a city-owned parcel once home to a bus depot … In 2009, the Tories' $100-million Marquee Tourism Events Program handed $400,000 to the organizers of Toronto's Pride Week; in 2010, the cupboard was bare. "Homophobia," critics cried. Au contraire, Industry Minister Tony Clement replied. We're just giving the money to other urban centres. Getting money one year is no guarantee you'll get it the next.

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