National Gallery of Canada lays off 4 senior staff members

The National Gallery of Canada has let go of four senior staff members, including its longtime Indigenous arts curator and its chief curator, according to an internal memo sent to staff Friday.

Employees affected include Kitty Scott, the deputy director and chief, who has nearly three decades of experience at art institutions and was instrumental in bringing in Louise Bourgeois’s giant spider to the entrance of the gallery. Scott was named as the gallery’s chief curator in 2019, and was the first woman to permanently hold the position.

Greg A. Hill, the senior curator of Indigenous Art, has also been let go. He worked at the gallery for 22 years and was the museum’s first Indigenous curator who oversaw major exhibitions.

Stephen Gritt, director of conservation and technical research, and Denise Siele, senior manager of communications, are also among the four who have now left the institution.

In the memo, Angela Cassie, the gallery’s interim director and CEO, said this “restructuring” would help the arts institution “better align the gallery’s leadership team with the organization’s new strategic plans.”

The news comes less than six months after the departure of Sasha Suda, who left her role as the institution’s chief operating officer and director in July to become the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Ian Black/CBC)

The news comes less than six months after the departure of Sasha Suda, who left her role as the institution’s chief operating officer and director in July to become the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in September.

The gallery declined a request to provide more information about the staff departures.

Curator describes abrupt meeting Thursday

Hill told CBC he was asked to join an “urgent” meeting Thursday morning with a senior staff member at the Indigenous ways and decolonization department, to discuss roles and positions.

Hill said when he was introduced to the head of human resources, he knew something wasn’t right. 

“It was very brief about how … the position has been abolished, and that it’s effective immediately,” he said, adding the letter he received after the meeting had his title wrong as “curatorial assistant,” which he said was “insulting.” 

“It makes me sad because I think it could have been done in a different way, a better way,” he said. “I’m disappointed in people that were … considered friends. This is our own community, we know each other from way back, decades.”

The Great Hall in the National Gallery of Canada. Greg A. Hill, the senior curator of Indigenous Art, wonders how the gallery will keep its goal to ‘centre Indigenous ways’ and decolonization, as he leaves his role. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

As he leaves his role, Hill is left asking several questions about the gallery’s five-year strategic plan, which includes a pillar to “centre Indigenous ways of knowing and being.”

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He said he’s thinking about how the “Indigenous ways and decolonization” department is actually carrying out its mandate “beyond pointing to all the things that we’re already doing from a curatorial standpoint, beyond the exhibitions.”

“What can the gallery point to … that is defining Indigenous ways and acts of decolonization? Those are the questions I’ve been asking and offering to contribute to, and not getting answers,” said Hill. 

“I feel that I’m being pushed out for asking questions, for wanting there to be some accountability.”

Hill said looking back at his career, he’s proud of what he’s accomplished, but wants to see the National Gallery of Canada do more. 

“I want to see a timetable for decolonization. I want to see a list of progress so far. I want to understand what Indigenous ways means,” he said.