"The board has given me a mandate"
The National Gallery of Canada's interim director answers critics
Angela Cassie called me on Friday.
This in itself shows class and courage, so the interim director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada deserves credit for adding me to her list of calls as she responds to concern and criticism over the Nov. 18 firing of three senior curators and a communications manager.
My own earlier story on this controversy reported for the first time that unions representing 82% of Gallery staff wrote to Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez a month ago asking for his intervention in what is plainly a workplace in turmoil. My earlier piece also quoted Mark Mayer, who was the Gallery’s CEO for 11 years, calling recent changes at the Gallery “a major Canadian cultural tragedy.”
Below I’ll reproduce my interview with Cassie, trimmed for length and clarity. She also released a public statement today, pointing out that 77% of the Gallery’s members are 55 or older.
In addition, I’ve seen an email Cassie sent to Gallery staff this week. It includes details on replacements for the four senior staffers who were let go:
“The curatorial department continues to report—as it has since June 2021—to Jonathan Shaughnessy, Director of Curatorial Initiatives, who will report to me. Ainsley Walton has been named Acting Senior Manager of Conservation and Technical Research and will report to Isabelle Corriveau, Director of Exhibitions and Outreach.
“Amy Rose is the Acting Senior Manager of Library and Archives and will report to me.
“The Publications and Copyright divisions will report to Liliane Lê, VP, Public Affairs and Marketing.”
Cassie adds that the Gallery has “a unique opportunity to welcome new team members” who will “move us forward in representing those voices that have been historically excluded from this institution.”
Then there’s this paragraph:
“Our hiring practices must align with our strategy for change. This not only means welcoming diversity, but ensuring leaders manage, mentor and build teams while fostering a sense of belonging. We always seek people who can help create a culture that promotes respect, equity, inclusion and innovation, and model anti-racist and accountable behaviours.”
Cassie’s memo to staff closes by arguing that morale is going up in many departments.
“For example, in the October Pulse Survey, the response of staff to “How likely are you to recommend the National Gallery of Canada as a great place to work?” shifted positively in several departments over the February survey: Boutique/Finance/Protection Services/Venues and Event Management (+56% change); Visitor Experience (+26% change); and FPM/ITS/Multimedia/ PCB/PMO (+27% change).”
I was left wondering why morale in the Boutique, in events management, and in “visitor experience” might be up in October over February. One possible explanation: the National Gallery of Canada was closed in February.
Here’s my conversation with Angela Cassie. I began with an open question, asking her what she makes of the last few weeks’ events.