The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) in Ottawa on November 18 announced that it had released four senior curators from their positions. Departing suddenly are Greg A. Hill, Audain Senior Curator of Indigenous Art; Kitty Scott, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator; Stephen Gritt, director of conservation and technical research; and Denise Siele, senior manager of communications. Angela Cassie, the institution’s interim director and CEO, wrote in a memo to staff that “restructuring” was behind the shock firings, which she cast as “the result of numerous factors and were made to better align the Gallery’s leadership team with the organization’s new strategic plan.”
Hill, the NGC’s first Indigenous curator and a twenty-two-year veteran of the institution, promptly took to social media to express his views on the matter. “I want to put this out there before it is spun into meaningless platitudes,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “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.”
The NGC lost director Sasha Suda to the Philadelphia Museum of Art this past summer. While at the Canadian institution, Suda had gained a reputation for increasing diversity among staff and among exhibiting artists, and for working to increase engagement between the museum and Indigenous communities.
Two days before the firings, the NGC awarded its prestigious Sobey Art Award to Divya Mehra, stating, “Her most recent explorations turn towards issues of repatriation, ownership, and modes of cultural consumption that fundamentally implicate both institutions and their publics.”
Michael Audain, the collector and philanthropist who has endowed the Indigenous curatorial post since 2007, told Canadian daily Globe and Mail that the firing of Hill, who specialized in Iroquoian languages and culture, and in global contemporary Indigenous art, came as a “great surprise” to him, adding, “I was under the impression that Greg had done a creditable job of introducing Indigenous art into the gallery, something which was sadly missing when former director Pierre Théberge originally asked me to endow Greg’s position.” Audain said that the museum had suggested a reorientation of the endowment but that he had not yet reviewed their proposal.