At the head of a public art institution is its director. The director is generally responsible for the running of the museum or gallery, and as such also determines the distinctive qualities of the organization for a period of time. Will an institution focus on collecting for the next 10 years, or on touring its existing collection? Will it focus on showing emerging local artists or on bringing in famous works of art from history? Will it be primarily interested in exhibitions and curation, or in public outreach and education initiatives? These are the sorts of questions a Director must think about and be able to answer.

Though directors have a great deal of say in the direction a gallery takes, Canada’s public institutions are ultimately responsible to a Board of Governors or a Board of Trustees, or another public entity that oversees the institution. The Board of Trustees represents the public interest in the institution, since it is largely paid for with public money. The Board is usually made up of volunteers from the community, citizens willing to be responsible should anything happen to the gallery, but also willing to pitch in and donate their time and expertise to support the director.

A gallery director must be effective in interactions with people, responding to the interests of various groups that do not always agree with each other. A director is responsible to the public (via the Board of Trustees of the institution) who want the gallery to exhibit and care for important works of art, use public resources efficiently, and contribute in meaningful ways to the community; a director is responsible to the staff of the institution, who should be assigned tasks that match their skills and ambitions; and a director is responsible to the artists and the art works in the gallery, ensuring that the work is presented with integrity, adequately protected and thoughtfully publicized.

However, sometimes, based on experience, expertise, and a balanced outlook, a director may have to sacrifice the desires of the public, or of the artists, or the Board in favour of the legacy of the institution or some other important long-term goal or perspective.

A gallery director might have an education in visual art, another arts field, or in business and administration, or even specifically in Museum Direction. Kate Davis, the director of the MacKenzie Art Gallery until 2008, has also been the Director of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta, and Vincent Varga, the Mendel Art Gallery’s Executive Director and CEO (2008), was Executive Director and Chief  CuratorAn individual or group, who conceives an idea for an art exhibition, selects the art works, plans how they will be displayed and writes accompanying supporting materials for the ideas presented. A curator can work freelance or be affiliated with a gallery, and serves as the link between artists and gallery.  of the Edmonton Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Alberta).

Things To Think About
  • Find out more about the other seven departments discussed in this theme (Curation, Conservation, Promotion, Collections, Preparation, Education, Community). Imagine that you are a director of an art gallery in one of the following situations:

    • Your gallery has had its funding cut by its main funding source. Your Board wants to cut one of the departments listed above, but as director, you disagree. Write a letter to your Board to justify why that department should be kept.

    • Your Board has just decided to cut one of the above departments and they have given you the choice of which one to cut.  Prepare a list of the gallery departments, in order of what you believe to be their importance to your community.  Name your first choice and then your last - justify why you think it is the one to cut, and why the gallery needs it less than the others.

  • Directors often have to organize funding applications in which they try to prove to a government or a company that their galleries deserve funding. What arguments might they use when making their cases to the government and corporations? How would a gallery’s request for funding from the government differ from its request for funding from a corporation? What arguments are likely to convince each group?


Studio Activity

Use the following links for information about the directors and mandates of the MacKenzie and Mendel Art Galleries.

MacKenzie Art Gallery

HINT: click on the ABOUT link at the top of the homepage, then click on the History and Vision link (in the Left-hand menu) to find the Gallery’s mandate, then click on the Trustees and Staff link (in the Left-hand menu) to find the name of the director.

Mendel Art Gallery

HINT: click on the ABOUT link at the top of the homepage to find the gallery’s mandate, then click on the Staff link (in the Left-hand menu) to find the name of the director.
Studio Activity

Direct an amazing art show

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning