by Cecilia Naismith
The road back from its temporary closure in 2015 is looking brighter for the Art Gallery of Northumberland, according to reports made at its annual general meeting on Tuesday.
It was a year of restructuring for maximum recovery, and a one-of-a-kind year in at least one respect – 2017 is when they changed their fiscal year-end to Dec. 31 from March 31, effectively making it a one-time-only nine-month fiscal year.
Mary Ots Donaldson gave the chair's report to a full room at the gallery, located on the third floor west at Cobourg's Victotria Hall – filling every chair the gallery had to offer and more, she noted.
Donaldson reminded members that the four objectives in the original mandate of the registered charitable not-for-profit corporation have not changed since it was formed almost 60 years ago – to be a respository for the county's visual arts (including maintaining and ensuring due diligence for works of art held in trust for Northumberland residents), to serve as a public exhibition centre for the visual arts, to promote and encourage activities in the visual arts, and to serve as a resource centre in all matters related to the visual arts.
Then-president Irina Orlowski hired two curators in 2017 – James Campbell in January and, when Campbell had to leave for health reasons, Olinda Casimiro in June.
Campbell began informal meetings with Cobourg director of sports, culture and recreation Dean Hustwick about the possibility of future long-term funding for the gallery. While there was a great deal of community support for the gallery, Donaldson said, its financial position was precarious. Stable financial support was needed to cover the gallery's day-to-day operations, as opposed to having to compete for small short-term community grants,
The gallery made a formal approach to the town in October, and the town agreed to provide increased funding on the condition that a memorandum of understanding be executed that included a mutually agreeable budget, periodic reports and a complete business plan by December 2018.
Meanwhile, work continued on the gallery's permanent collection (conservatively valued at $3- to $5-million), with cataloguing and accessioning procedures developed. The decision was also made to put more of this collection on display in the Paul Kane Gallery on a continuing basis.
Largely because of this work, the gallery's Category A status has been restored, making it eligible to issue tax-deductible charitable receipts.
Donaldson had other good news to share, including its membership growing to 250 (from 100), public attendance of more than 10,000 at 2017 exhibitions, hiring Richard Kirwin to develop and implement such education programs as their popular moms-and-tots program, mentoring two student co-op volunteers and a Youth Council from local high schools (who mounted a window exhibition downtown), organizing an Art Bus tour of other galleries, and using volunteer guides on Saturday afternoons.
Important tasks got done, thanks to the volunteers. She listed Duane Schermerhorn's work on the permanent collection and digital catalogue, Richard Sczymczyk's work on the constitution and bylaws to update them and make them more user-friendly, Shelagh Stewart's creativity and work on numerous shows, John Davidson's expertise on the budgets, Joan Tooke's management of the gift shops and helping with exhibitions, Louise Leclair's work on membership lists and Caitlyn Hoskin's keeping the office running when other volunteers were in short supply.
Donaldson also praised her predecessor. Orlowski gets a lot of credit for keeping the gallery open after the 2015 closure, she said,
“We are excitedly looking forward to the next few years and the new relationships we will forge, as we create an exciting and relevant public gallery with an art collection whose quality will be recognized and celebrated,” she predicted.
Casimiro said improvements on the permanent collection had included work on the vault and the installation of Hobo Data loggers that brought it up to museum standards.
The gallery can boast 45 active volunteers who rendered more than 3,000 hours of service in 2017.
The six exhibitions of 2017 were amazing successes, she said, especially the popular Then And Now rug-hooking exhibition mounted to celebrate the nation's bicentnnial and the very moving When We Came From Away that brought tears to more than a few eyes.
“It was actually organized by the county,” she said - “portraits of people who have emigrated to Northumberland. Several times we had people very emotional, as they related to the exhibition.”
Other highlights of the year included theatre productions and a poetry reading, as well as a gala last March.
The Port Hope gift shop has supported the local artistic community as a consignment shop, she continued, and the opening of C3 (standing for Cameco Creative Connections) in the alcove at the south end of the gallery was big news. It's not only popular with the moms-and-tots group but also with visitors of all ages who like to drop in and see what they can create.
“Sometimes they leave their creations with us,” she said.
Casimiro offered more details on the memorandum of understanding, which she said focuses on five deliverables – mandate, governance, organizational structure, finanicial sustainability and communications.
They will be making reports to the town June 30, Aug. 31 and Nov. 30 (at which time they will also present their 2018 business plan).
“It's a transition year for the gallery, and we will be rolling up our sleeves and getting to work,” she said.
“It's not a gift – it's a partnership with the town. It's a transition year for us to realign our operations, and the town is there to assist us with core funding.
“Thanks to the Town of Cobourg for this wonderful opportunity. I know it's a lot of work, but it's exciting and we are really looking forward to it.”