Gallery is now home to more than 4,000 works of Canadian art
BY REBECCA KENDALL
When Judith Nasby began her career as the curator of art at U of G in 1968, she was organizing exhibitions for the first floor of the MacKinnon Building. There was no formal gallery available, so she made the best out of the space she had.
At the time, Nasby was also a sessional instructor in design and art history, and as Guelph's fine art program grew, funding increased and the exhibition space moved to the first floor of the McLaughlin Library in 1973.
She and others involved in promoting art at Guelph began to imagine the possibility of having a proper art museum. By then, U of G's art collection had about 550 pieces, including The Drive by Group of Seven precursor Tom Thomson.
“We had no proper place to show it,” says Nasby, who now teaches courses in museum studies and aboriginal art as an adjunct professor in the School of Fine Art and Music.
In 1980, thanks to the vision and co-operative efforts of U of G, the City of Guelph, Wellington County and the Upper Grand District School Board, the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre (MSAC), a non-profit charitable organization and public art gallery, was born. Nasby was named director and curator.
Without the multiple levels of support and sponsorship offered by the four partners, the gallery would not have been possible, she says.
Twenty-five years later, MSAC is marking its silver anniversary with the exhibition “Body Unbound: Works From the Collection,” featuring a selection of significant works by prominent Canadian artists from the past and present. It opened March 30 with a reception that drew 150 people and continues until July 10.
“The art centre is a vital cultural component of the whole University, it's free and it's open for the community to see contemporary and historical art from across Canada,” says Nasby of the three-level, seven-gallery facility located on the northeast corner of Gordon Street and College Avenue. “It's enriching not only for fine art students but also for all students, staff and faculty to see it as their art gallery.”
MSAC curates 12 exhibitions a year and is particularly proud of its emerging artists series, says Nasby. The art centre also strives to engage the interest of a wide demographic with a variety of programs ranging from children's art lessons to lectures by visiting art critics, she says.
“I have a wonderful experienced staff of three full-time, two part-time and lots of student employees who allow us to accomplish a great deal.”
Over the past quarter-century, MSAC's art collection has grown enormously, says Nasby. Between its collection and the University's, which is on permanent loan, the gallery is now home to more than 4,000 works representing 300 years of Canadian art.
Specialization is a key component of setting MSAC apart from other galleries, she says, and Inuit art has had a defining influence and presence. Some 700 drawings that represent Canadian Arctic communities have been put together in a unique collection, with pieces dating from 1960 to the present.
“It's the area we've been actively researching for almost 25 years, writing on and touring exhibitions around the world. It's been very satisfying to see how much we've been recognized internationally for Inuit art.”
This fall, Nasby will travel to Bucharest and Buenos Aires to give lectures on the art centre's touring exhibitions of Inuit drawings and wall hangings.
Another unique feature of the art centre is the Donald Forster Sculpture Park, the largest sculpture park at a public art gallery in Canada. Home to the Canadiana/Begging Bear and the Mask installations, the park represents artists from Vancouver to Halifax and will welcome its 30th piece, created by Inuit artist William Noah, at an unveiling June 25 at 2:30 p.m. Two more pieces will be added this fall.
Bringing Canadian art to the community has been an important aspect of Nasby's work, but exchanging ideas and influences within a global context is another valuable role she aims to fill. Next month, she will fly to China to curate an exhibition of paintings by Chongqing artists for showing at MSAC in spring 2006. She's also on a speaking tour, giving lectures on Canadian public sculpture.
Nasby says bringing international artists and their work to the gallery provides the local community with a broader view of the world and global culture and makes important links for the University and the city.
“I think we're helping to put Guelph on the map internationally through our exhibitions and publishing.”
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