The community is celebrating Barbara Duncan, curator of the ACT Art Gallery.
Many of you may not know that the art gallery and the gallery store at The ACT were closed and its curator Barbara Duncan and her assistant Susan Thompson were fired by the arts council in late April, a mere five weeks into the lockdown of the COVID19 pandemic.
The gallery as we have always known it, is now referred to as the gallery space.
The arts council has never publicly admitted that they fired the curator.
In May, two high profile articles in The News featured the financial disaster the ACT was experiencing, but there was no mention of closing the gallery and firing Barbara Duncan.
The subsequent press releases from the arts council are cloaked around the pandemic creating a financial disaster.
This decision has been kept from the public.
Consistent reference to the incident as a personnel matter that couldn’t be discussed, raised questions regarding Barbara’s competence or whether she was charged with something unlawful and this speculation has resulted in harming her reputation.
In a letter I received from the executive director, Curtis Pendleton, she stated that, “Barbara has done exemplary work in our community in her position as curator and she will be missed.”
Why would an employee who has done exemplary work be suddenly fired?
The arts council is effectively standing by and watching the fallout after they lit the bomb!
A 1,250 strong petition has been presented to the arts council and city council requesting a reinstatement of Barbara Duncan. An impressive result considering that not many people knew about it and was collected within a two-week period during a pandemic.
If the arts council had appealed to the public for support to keep the gallery and retain their their employees, I am certain the community would have responded generously.
They showed no confidence that the community would choose to save the gallery. However, taking this unilateral step ensured that the community would have no input nor be given the opportunity to keep this valuable cultural asset alive.
Instead of cutting two jobs, everyone could have agreed to take a pay cut or cut back on work days. But perhaps there always was a different plan before the pandemic and a perfect opportunity presented itself.
I felt proud to have such a professional be in charge of the many facets that a high quality gallery demands and I am requesting a thorough review by a third-party investigator to see if all the proper procedures were followed, if all other avenues to save the gallery were explored and whether the two employees were compensated for their sudden dismissal and given due process financially.
It is a publicly funded organization and this decision has made the public lose trust in this arts council. They have forgotten that they are accountable to the public. I feel the arts council owes Barbara and the community an honest explanation, and perhaps we can start there.
On the sunny June 19, 40 supporters of the art community organized a surprise car and heart parade to honour Barbara Duncan. It should be noted that so many others wanted to attend, but we respected the provincial guidelines regarding large gatherings.
Barbara was our curator for 10 years and in that time, she built an exciting, well respected gallery, which was known for its support of local artists, professional artists and artisans, as well as featuring both contemporary and unique exhibitions.
She was the face of gallery, always respectful, innovative, and open to ideas.
The community did not want Barbara to disappear without a heartfelt appreciation within the park grounds outside of the ACT.
It was not a rally nor a demonstration, but a public celebration in recognition of Barbara’s support of our community and showcasing artists in their best light.
The arts community and its supporters wanted to honour and thank Barbara by giving her a warm, genuine, and joyful send off to remember the community of Maple Ridge by, because June 19 would otherwise be only remembered as a very sad day for Maple Ridge.
Betty von Hardenberg, Maple Ridge
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