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Toronto's Power Plant gallery gets first woman director

Gaëtane Verna

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For the first time in its 34-year history, the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto is appointing a woman as its director.

The gallery announced Monday that Gaëtane Verna, currently director of the Musée d'art de Joliette, in Joliette, Que., would take on the high-profile post, culminating an international search lasting more than eight months.

Verna, who takes up the new job in March, 2012, succeeds New Zealand-born Gregory Burke. After a five-year stint, he left the not-for-profit art gallery in late May after announcing his resignation in February.

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Power Plant assistant director Christy Thompson, serving as acting director since Burke's departure, will continue as acting head until Verna relocates. All six previous directors at the Power Plant, generally regarded as Canada's premier showcase for international contemporary art, have been men.

Born in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, the fluently bilingual Verna has been at Joliette since 2006. Previously she was curator at the Foreman Gallery of Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Que. She has, among other degrees, an MA in art history from the Sorbonne in Paris.

The Power Plant, which recently completed a $750,000 revamp of its Harbourfront Centre headquarters, does not acquire or sell art; rather its main task is to organize and present themed exhibitions of cutting-edge art borrowed from local and international sources.

While always a prestige venue, the gallery – which has its own board of directors but its budget approved by Harbourfront – has struggled with attendance in recent years, a situation it hopes to rectify next year thanks to the Hal Jackman Foundation, which recently announced it would cover costs associated with admission to provide free entry.

The arrangement with the Hal Jackman Foundation was orchestrated by acting director Thompson.

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