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Why Does the University Have an Art Gallery?
MSVU Art Gallery Staff Working, 1997. Photo: Robert Zingone.
- The MSVU Art Gallery was built in 1971 by the Sisters of Charity as part of a complex intended to serve as an arts centre, with auditoria for the performing arts. Today the art gallery continues to serve both on-campus and off-campus art publics.
- At the time the gallery was built, shortly after the Canadian centennial, the arts were widely considered an expression of national identity, with the function of civilizing Canadians. Many universities established art galleries at this time. Part of the motivation was to enhance the liberal arts curriculum. The liberal arts encompass studies of language, literature, philosophy and history. Such studies are intended to develop general intellectual capacities, such as reason or judgment, as opposed to professional or vocational skills.
- Today, higher learning consists largely of a text-and-symbol-based curriculum. Yet our everyday world is ever more saturated with images. We make sense of ourselves and our surroundings through the medium of visual images. The art gallery serves as a place where we can examine our responses to visual culture through the production of living artists.
- By maintaining the art gallery, the university helps to support artists and provides a space that fosters critique–analytical and engaged thinking about the role of visual media in our lives. The gallery is a place where we are not addressed as consumers, and where the pleasure of looking does not depend on the gratifications of buying.
- The gallery is also a place where learning can take place outside the frame of classroom instruction. Think of artists as visual activists. Artists know that if you do not work on visual images, you will probably not understand how they work on you. Visual art today models an imaginative, independent approach to contemporary culture, and a way of navigating the image world that is empowering to the viewer.
- The university supports the operation of the art gallery; however, the exhibitions, events and publications of the art gallery are supported by grants from arts funding agencies. The art gallery’s publishing and educational activities are comparable to the research and teaching that go on in universities.
- The university acquires art for its permanent collection, which may be viewed in the Library. The professional staff of MSVU Art Gallery care for and manage the collection.