Sudbury’s arts community is disappointed and concerned.
This is following a court ruling this week that allows Laurentian University to sell the Art Gallery of Sudbury’s art collection.
The decision also allows the post-secondary school to sell the Bell Mansion property where the Art Gallery of Sudbury is currently located. A timeline was given to give the gallery time to move into its new home within the city’s proposed Junction East Centre.
But it’s the potential sale of the $4.8 million art collection, which Laurentian said it won’t consider until the end of the creditor protection process, that has the arts community agitated.
“The fact that it’s becoming a commodity that could be used for who knows what is a little disturbing,” said Linda Cartier, former chair of the Sudbury Arts Council.
Of course, the value of [the art] it’s not monetary value is important to the community,” she added.
Cartier explained that some of the art in the collection is local and some is “essential Canadian pieces.”
“It’s a big part of who we are,” she said.
“In many cases [the art] was offered or received in different ways and people doing it wouldn’t have thought it was going to come up for auction at some point, but rather that it was going to be there for the people of Northern Ontario to enjoy it and attract others to our area.”
When the Sudbury Arts Council first raised concerns about the potential sale of the Bell Mansion property and artwork, several families of artists whose works are in the collection sent letters of concern.
“They weren’t happy that this was a possible way to solve Laurentian University’s financial difficulties,” Cartier said. “He was meant to be there so people could enjoy the exhibits.”
“It is the property of a gallery. The artists donated their works to a gallery, not for the benefit of Laurentian University to get rid of a debt,” said Danielle Tremblay, director of the Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario (GNO).
“He represents northern artists. It’s their story. It’s our story. It belongs to the community.”
If Laurentian puts the artwork up for sale, Tremblay said GNO doesn’t have the budget or the space to buy it.
“This collection represents the history of our region,” said Alix Voz, independent curator and former director of the WKP Kennedy Gallery in North Bay.
“Visual art is a cultural artifact and it’s evidence of our history, and it tells a story that books may not be able to tell correctly or tell the same way.”
Voz is concerned that the Art Gallery of Sudbury’s collection is being separated piece by piece.
“Knowing its value and knowing that these works of art are highly sought after, it’s not like they’re going to have trouble finding buyers,” she said.
“My concerns are finding buyers who are willing to either keep their artwork public, have access to it in a public way, or make sure they really care for it.”
“Art, culture and visual culture are much more than dollar signs,” Voz said.
“To sell them or lose them publicly is like losing a part of our visual history,” she said.
“I know they would always exist, I know they will always be there, but to have them in our home in northern Ontario and to have them treasured and displayed, I think, is the power of these cultural artifacts. .”
“The whole collection of 4.8 million, I’m not sure everyone would benefit from buying the whole collection, so my concern is the possible sale piece by piece,” the councilman said. Al Sizer, who is also a board member of the Art Gallery of Sudbury.
“I’m not sure there’s a big big interest in buying [the whole collection] for private use,” he added.
Sizer said he was pleased the court’s decision gave the Art Gallery of Sudbury time to move into its new location at the Junction East Center before the Bell Mansion building and property were sold.
This project is still on track for completion in 2024.
In an email to CBC News, Demetra Christakos, director and curator of the Art Gallery of Sudbury, said there was still one legal document to be executed and a public statement was still being finalized.
Laurentian must give the gallery 90 days notice if it intends to sell a work of art.
“We can’t have an art gallery without art”
If the post-secondary school decides to sell the artwork to help pay off its creditors, Councilman Robert Kirwan wants the city to buy it for the new gallery space in Junction East.
“We can’t have an art gallery without art,” he said.
Kirwan said if Laurentian decides to sell the art collection, the city must be prepared to respond.
“When you get this notification, we need to know because we can’t sell this art,” he said.
“If things get bumpy and the city has to buy the art, we can’t have a facility that’s going to cost nearly $100 million without the art.”
Kirwan suspects that issue will be discussed at the next city council meeting, scheduled for June 28. He said if the city decided to buy the art for the gallery, the money could come from debt financing, reserves or other means.
“If we were to find [the money]I know the staff could find it,” he said.
When all the smoke has cleared, this art must stay in Sudbury.– Robert Kirwan, Councilor City of Greater Sudbury
“Once all the smoke has cleared, the art should stay in Sudbury,” said Kirwan.
Tremblay said the purchase of the art collection by the City would be a good solution.
“It would be wonderful if the collection stayed in Sudbury, and if the city is willing to invest in it, I mean we keep what’s ours,” she said.
But Tremblay added that the scenario seems absurd.
“It’s almost ridiculous for the community, for Sudbury, to have to buy something of their own to begin with, but if that’s the way to keep the art then well yeah, that would be wonderful.”
Laurentian University has not yet developed any plans it may have for Bell Mansion or the art collection. The university declined an interview, but sent a written comment to be attributed to President Robert Hache.
“We are proud of the Laurentian University Art Collection,” the statement read. “And we are grateful custodians of the works of art that have been donated to the University and purchased by the University over the past 60 years.
“We recently resolved the dispute raised by the Art Gallery of Sudbury, which includes an acknowledgment that the art collection does not belong to or is not owned by the Art Gallery. As part of this settlement, Laurentian has agreed that the Art Gallery is permitted to continue to occupy Bell Mansion on its existing terms until May 2025 at the latest, and that any sale of Bell Mansion by Laurentian will not be completed until this date. “
Laurentian goes on to say that the full terms of the resolution are reflected in the written approval issued by the judge and available on the website of the court-appointed monitor overseeing Laurentian’s insolvency.