Four senior staff members at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) in Ottawa were laid off on Friday, November 11 in a move that the museum describes as part of a broader “restructuring” effort. Among the staffers affected is Senior Curator of Indigenous Art Greg A. Hill, who said on social media that he was let go because he disagreed with museum leadership on how the NGC should best embody Indigenous values.
Deputy Director and Chief Curator Kitty Scott, Director of Conservation and Technical Research Stephen Gritt, and Senior Manager of Communications Denise Siele were also let go last week. Their departure marks a period of continued instability at the museum, which recently saw the departure of Director and Chief Operating Officer Sasha Suda from her post in July after a three-year tenure. In the interim, the director and CEO position sits vacant, with Angela Cassie temporarily stepping into those positions.
“The workforce changes are the result of numerous factors and were made to better align the Gallery’s leadership team with the organization’s new strategic plan,” Cassie said in an internal memo announcing the departures of the four staff members.
Curator Greg Hill took to Instagram to offer his own perspective. “After 22 years at the National Gallery of Canada, earlier today I was declared surplus and told I no longer have a job, effective immediately,” wrote Hill, a Kanyen’kehaka member of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.
“I want to put this out before it is spun into meaningless platitudes,” Hill continued. “The truth is, I’m being fired because I don’t agree with and am deeply disturbed by the colonial and anti-Indigenous ways the Department of Indigenous Ways and Decolonization is being run.”
In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, an NGC spokesperson responded that “privacy obligations prevent us from discussing personnel matters.” As of publication, Scott, Gritt, and Siele could not be reached for comment.
In an interview with Hyperallergic, Hill questioned the museum’s justification for the termination of his employment, explaining that he had held the only endowed position in the gallery “in a department that’s been chronically understaffed and remains so — where there’s no basis for declaring a surplus.” In Hill’s view, he pushed forward uncomfortable questions that museum leadership was not willing to grapple with. In the spring, he led an effort to incorporate the VP of Indigenous Ways and Decolonization — a new position that had been established in March at the museum — into the Indigenous Art department. That spurred him to lead discussions probing what decolonization meant at the museum.
“In my role as curator, decolonizing has many faces. One of them is representation — making space for Indigenous artists to be seen in the collection — and that was already being done,” Hill said.
“So what else can decolonization be? You can recognize first that the institution’s origin is in colonialism, that museums are storehouses of the treasures of imperialism. So how do you begin to break it down?” Hill proposed a litany of questions that, from his perspective, went unanswered, such as those concerning the repatriation of historical collections, the decolonization of certain “ways of thinking” entrenched at museums, and Indigenous modes of governance.
Hill’s abrupt removal leaves the future of the endowed senior curator position nebulous. In 2007, home builder and philanthropist Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa donated $2 million to the NGC to establish the Audain Curator of Indigenous Art Endowment, meant to secure the curator position in perpetuity. (Audain could not be reached for comment.)
During his tenure at the NGC, Hill co-curated an expansive survey exhibition including the works of over 80 contemporary Indigenous artists globally and won the Indspire Award for the Arts in 2018.
“I use a pretty strong word in saying that it was anti-Indigenous. What I mean by that is if you’re holding the space of a department that has the role and responsibility of advancing change in this area, and you don’t do anything, then you’re actually working against the goals of not only the institution with stated goals in that area, but also the communities that you’re supposed to be supporting and representing,” Hill said.
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