On Wednesday, September 21, 24 members of the Power Plant board of directors resigned en masse in response to their parent organization Harbourfront’s alleged attempt to terminate and replace 12 members of the board. The only remaining members left on the board of the Toronto contemporary art center are two Harbourfront directors, including CEO Marah Braye.
“Unfortunately, and unnecessarily, the very existence of the Power Plant has been jeopardized by the actions of Harbourfront Centre,” reads a letter written and co-signed by 15 former members of the board. According to the letter, little explanation for these actions was provided by Harbourfront. “This decision was made without consulting the Power Plant, nor was any compelling rationale provided.”
The Power Plant is a non-collecting public art institution that was founded in 1976 on Toronto’s waterfront as part of Harbourfront, a “Crown corporation” development (a sort of public-private partnership) that is also home to theaters, community spaces, concert venues, and artists’ studios. In recent years, it has staged exhibitions of work by Iraqi activist artist Hiwa K, American artist Rashid Johnson, and Senegalese artist Omar Ba, among many others. Each year, the gallery commissions several major new works by Canadian and international artists, and puts out publications accompanying its shows.
After terminating the 12 members, Harbourfront reportedly took legal action against the Power Plant. “Representatives from the Power Plant have repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to resolve its differences with Harbourfront and keep this matter out of the courts,” the letter reads.
In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, Harbourfront CEO Marah Braye cited “governance and operational concerns that were not being addressed by The Power Plant Board.”
“Despite multiple instances and communications presented to the Chair of the Board for over a year, they continued to not be addressed by The Power Plant’s Board to Harbourfront’s satisfaction and little to no action was taken,” Braye continued, adding that “proper communication and dissemination of information was not being conducted to all relevant parties as required.” Braye did not specify which concerns failed to be addressed by the board.
Richard Lee, a former board member, lamented that there had been “no democratic process” to resolve the conflicts that led to the resignations.
“I wish I understood why Harbourfront took the actions that they did. That’s one of our biggest questions — why Harbourfront has chosen such a violent method to have its way,” Lee told Hyperallergic. “We were very willing as a board to sit down and work it out together, and to find a resolution that works for us both.” But no such opportunity for communication ever arose, he said.
Lee expressed concern that the new board members Harbourfront proposed to replace existing members seemed to be affiliated with the organization, something he worried is “certainly not good governance for a nonprofit organization.” Braye confirmed that “a number of Harbourfront Centre directors” had been appointed to the board on “an interim basis,” and that the organization is committed to finding new board candidates “who represent the diversity, skill set and experience that has been at the heart of our mission for almost 50 years.”
The open letter also indicated that the Power Plant’s former artistic director Gaëtane Verna, “a globally recognized visionary leader and one of the few BIPOC women in the Canadian cultural sector,” had also recently announced her resignation.
“We hope our resignation draws attention to the current crisis of governance and enacts the necessary changes to ensure a healthy and successful Power Plant going forward,” the letter concluded.
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