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A Message from Chief Curator Sequoia Miller

7 months ago

Black lives matter.

I am writing as Chief Curator of the Gardiner to add my voice to the urgent conversations about police brutality, anti-Black racism, equity, and the role of museums in our society.

The Gardiner is an imperfect institution. Our roots are deeply embedded in settler colonialism, and our founding collection is heavily Euro-centric and elite. Our leadership and staff, myself included, largely reflect historical distributions of wealth and privilege. Our audiences do not represent the full diversity of Toronto. Many folks do not feel like the Gardiner is theirs, and I understand why. How we transform the colonial legacy that we have inherited and in part maintained is something I think about every day.

On June 1, the Museum posted a statement in support of Black Lives Matter. While statements like this are important, they do not take the place of the actual work. As a museum we have a pretty weak record with Black communities locally and historically—Black artists are under-represented in our collection, our exhibitions, our programs, and on our staff.

We have taken steps in the right direction, with strong community partnerships, more diverse artists in our galleries, and the recent addition of East African ceramics to our collection. But we can and need to do more.
Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities have long been underserved by the Museum. While many projects throughout the Gardiner’s history have substantively engaged communities of colour, the majority of our work has been keyed to the sensibilities of traditional museum audiences—well-off, mostly white, and educated. Continuing on this path is not viable nor desirable.

The Gardiner staff is committed to transforming our institution into a home for a wider range of approaches, histories, and voices than it has been in the past: more exhibitions and programs foregrounding racialized artists and experiences; deeper work with historically disenfranchised communities; active grappling with the legacies of colonialism in our galleries; building more equitable representation in our collection; and diversifying our staff, volunteers, and board.

We have made progress, yet the bulk of the work lies ahead of us. We recognize the need to move from verbal commitments to developing specific goals, and this process is underway. I also recognize the need to continue learning how anti-Black racism, structural racism, and systemic oppression have distorted my worldview. I see this as essential as a leader in the institution and as a person. Looming budgetary challenges at the Museum can make this work feel out of reach, yet it remains central, urgent, and necessary.

Clay builds community. Our job is to do the work, both individually and as part of a team, to help advance the Gardiner’s transformation from its historical function to one that meets the needs of the present.

Sequoia Miller, PhD.
Chief Curator

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