Keep the curator of the ACT Art Gallery in Maple Ridge

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Dear Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Arts Council Board Members:

It came to our knowledge that Barbara Duncan’s position as curator of the ACT Art Gallery, as well as her assistant Susan Thompson’s position have been terminated.

We know this has been a difficult decision for you to make but we are urging you to reconsider it.

The ACT Art Gallery is the only art gallery in Maple Ridge, and removing its curator is like removing its soul, and letting it die. It also sends the message that visual arts are not important for Maple Ridge. And we know that this isn’t true. Maple Ridge is the home to many artists, artisans, and art lovers, the evidence of which speaks for itself in our 2018 award-winning Cultural Plan called “Walking Together”. Some of you might have participated in the shaping of the Cultural Plan and witnessed that people in Maple Ridge do care about art services and want to continue having access to arts and culture in our community.

A curator is much more than someone who hangs pretty pictures on a wall. Curators build a program carefully for a gallery, maintain a relation with artists, sometimes through years, spend time understanding the work that they show, they know art history, they keep themselves current with the art world and with specific communities, in order to provide a context for the art they show. They write descriptions, critiques, they engage in the bigger conversation about art with other art venues and with the community.

Barbara Duncan has been working as curator at the ACT Art Gallery for 10 years and has brought a well-loved and respected program to the ACT Art Gallery. She has included local artists and indigenous artists, artists who follow in the steps of tradition and others who have brought contemporaneity to the ACT Art Gallery. She has built, through her dedicated work and her contact with the artists, the reputation of the ACT Art Gallery.

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought hardship to many people and communities, and that decisions are currently made to avoid financial disasters. Unfortunately, the arts are often an easy target, especially arts that do not seem to bring direct revenue. However, museums and galleries all over the world have kept their curators, because they know that without them the gallery is merely a set of walls.

The ACT Art Gallery might not generate visible revenue but it does attract a lot of people to the ACT. Art openings are very popular and well attended. It shows that people care about art in this community, and that art brings a much-needed value to this community. Gallery openings are a great opportunity to mingle, meet new people, exchange thoughts about art. They are crucial to newcomers, emerging and seasoned artists to gather around art, as you would gather around a warm cozy campfire to warm your body and your soul.

Art is more than pretty objects that are sold and bought. It talks to our emotions, sensibility, and intellect. It is a reflection of a culture, and helps some people build their identity. It sometimes has healing powers. In this, it does help the society as a whole save money on healthcare.

Showing work at a venue such as the ACT Art Gallery helps many artists build their portfolio, their reputation and their career. And this is thanks to the work that Barbara Duncan has done.

Instead of seeing the pandemic as a spoke in the wheel, why not see it as a lever? Galleries all over the world have adapted to an online presence. They propose talks and virtual meetings with artists and curators, they are reaching to audiences beyond their geographical communities. If the ACT Art Gallery were to continue its programming, it could certainly be part of this movement and reach people and patrons who have never set foot in Maple Ridge, and therefore contribute to further its reputation. And when the ACT Art Gallery is ready to reopen, it could be even stronger than it is now. But without a dedicated curator, this is not possible.

Barbara Duncan has been at the heart of the ACT Art Gallery and of the art community in Maple Ridge. To us, it doesn’t make sense to terminate her position, while it is needed now more than ever.

Thank you for the time that you took reading this plea, and for seriously reconsidering this decision. This is something that matters.