The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) yesterday announced that Jean-François Bélisle would be its new director and chief executive officer, succeeding interim head Angela Cassie, who experienced a turbulent year at the helm after taking over for the departed Sasha Suda, current director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, last summer. Bélisle assumes the position, a five-year term as announced by the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage, on 17 July.
Cassie’s departure from the NGC had been foreseen in an article in The Globe and Mail late last week, which said that the change in leadership had been expected earlier, near the end of March. The position was first posted in January according to a story in The Ottawa Citizen. The Globe story said she will return to Winnipeg, where she previously took on a number of senior roles at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Cassie’s term at the NGC saw dismissals of key personnel, including chief curator Kitty Scott, senior curator of indigenous art Greg A. Hill, and director of conservation and technical research Stephen Gritt.
Bélisle most recently served a seven-year stint as executive director and chief curator of the Musée d’art de Joliette (MAJ), a city located about halfway between Montreal and Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, just north of the St. Lawrence River and perhaps best known as the birthplace of a former coach of hockey’s Montreal Canadiens. Bélisle oversaw programming of 16 to 20 temporary exhibitions each year, doubling attendance while building what the NGC characterised as “a harmonious and motivating team spirit". He also prioritised outreach through a variety of community projects. Before that, beginning in the mid 1990s, he worked in managerial positions in visual arts in Canada, the U.S., Europe and China.
Among Bélisle’s notable accomplishments was curating the first edition of the Papier Art Fair (now known as the Plural Contemporary Art Fair) in 2007 in downtown Montréal and organizing the official visual arts representation of Montréal at the Shanghai World Expo of 2010. He has also contributed essays and exhibition reviews to both national and international publications.
“We are thrilled to welcome Jean-François to the Gallery", said Françoise Lyon, chair of the Gallery’s board of trustees, on announcing his appointment. “He is a proven leader with an ability to advance the National Gallery of Canada’s five-year roadmap, Transform Together. Jean-François’ art-focused tenure will continue the transformation of the Gallery into a national museum that is open to all Canadians, regardless of their political, religious or cultural identities".
“I believe that art can change society, and look forward to collaborating with the Gallery’s staff, as well as artists from across the country, to ensure our institution continues to be a fantastic force for good", Bélisle said on being named NGC director. “I also intend to engage with donours; and undertake consultations with the Gallery’s partners and other important stakeholders, including various national arts institutions and associations.”
“In addition, we will continue to pursue collaborative national projects to ensure the Gallery plays a leading role in Canadian visual arts from coast to coast to coast,” added Bélisle. “I firmly believe that by working as one with museums, galleries and art collectives across the country, together we can make a difference. At the same time, we will continue to pursue international projects to increase the presence of Canadian artists on the international art scene".
The series of shakeups at the NGC are something of a departure from recent years, with Marc Mayer(2009–19), Pierre Théberge (1998–2008) and Shirley Thomson (1987–97) all serving 10-year stints as directors. British-born Eric Brown, the gallery’s first director, presided for some three decades.