Metro Vancouver’s visual arts community is wondering about the future of the main art gallery at Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECUAD) after the dismissal of its director/curator.
They’ve sent an open letter to Gillian Siddall, the university’s president and vice-chancellor, as well as the board of governors, “to express our concern” about what they describe as the “sudden dismissal” of Cate Rimmer from her position overseeing the Libby Leshgold Gallery . The letter has been supported by more than 170 artists and curators from across Canada and around the world.
Scott Watson, a professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of B.C., is one of the five people who drafted the letter. He said everyone felt Rimmer’s dismissal shouldn’t go unremarked. Watson said he had no details about what happened other than what he read in an email from Rimmer saying she had been fired and told the gallery was going in a new direction.
“Personally, I’m really tired of this kind of corporate behaviour in our institutions of learning and culture. It’s just inappropriate,” he said. “I really hope that when executives make decisions like this that they understand this will have a big impact in the community and will affect how people view them.”
Rimmer couldn’t be reached for comment.
She was director of galleries and exhibitions, which was described as an administrative position at the university. The director is responsible for all the galleries at ECUAD, which include the Libby Leshgold, the RBC Media Gallery, and the Michael O’Brien Exhibition Commons, as well as READ Books, the university’s specialty art bookstore.
According to LinkedIn , she worked at ECUAD for 22 years and 11 months from December 1997 until the end of October 2020.
Rob Maguire, director of communications and marketing for ECUAD, said the university’s “galleries play an incredibly important role, serving our university community while engaging with the cultural sector and the public.”
“Although we can’t comment on individual employment matters, we are absolutely committed to a strong and vibrant future for our galleries and exhibitions.”
“As we begin the search for new leadership in this area, we’ll be consulting with our community to learn how the university can best support the creation of inclusive and innovative gallery programs that reflect a wide diversity of voices,” he said by email.
The open letter sent to ECUAD said that “the termination of an esteemed professional without cause or rationale, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, breaches and undermines the trust placed in your institution.”
“Furthermore, the ruthlessness with which Rimmer has been dismissed sends a message that the administration of ECU does not value its gallery … At a time when the artistic community struggles to contend with serious challenges, it is alarming that the administration of Emily Carr has taken such inexplicable and unsupportable action,” the letter says. “It is critical that the vision and autonomy of this essential cultural resource that has significantly helped put Vancouver on a global artistic map be upheld.”
The four others who drafted the letter are Lorna Brown, Elspeth Pratt, Helga Pakasaar and Reid Shier.
Rimmer is co-founder of Artspeak, one of the country’s leading artist-run galleries. She curated Brian Jungen’s first solo exhibition, as well as what was described as his “groundbreaking show” at the Charles H. Scott Gallery in 1999.
In 2015 she was awarded the Alvin Balkind Curator’s Prize by the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation.
Rimmer started working at the gallery when it was called the Charles H. Scott Gallery and the art school was on Granville Island. ECUAD moved into a new $122.6 million building off of Great Northern Way in September 2017.