Boards, acquisition committees, and your collection

Published May 13, 2021

On May 12th, 2021, Galeries Ontario / Ontario Galleries hosted a workshop on Boards, Acquisitions Committees, and Your Collections. The focus of this workshop was to help build more board literacy and open up the communication pathways between board members and staff. Ultimately giving participants tools, skills, and strategies to better serve their institution in order to see a holistic transformation.

This was a timely opportunity for board members and staff to participate together in a professional development program. It reflected and discussed many situations that institutions are currently undergoing surrounding board governance and responsibilities in art and cultural institutions in Canada and the United States. During this workshop, we discussed how a board could learn how to work collaboratively in a comprehensive way to advance the institution’s mission, vision, and mandate while starting to address systemic issues.

Our speakers are sector experts from across North America who all brought a valuable perspective and a humanized view to working with boards and the institution staff; their care, energy and passion were evident in each presentation. They pulled from their personal experiences and told of their own challenges and successes, highlighting good practices for boards, acquisition policies, succession planning, and board solicitation.

A few key themes started to emerge as the day went on, such as looking outside the norm when soliciting new board members and understanding that there is value in life experience outside a professional setting. There was consensus among the group that a person does not always need to have the technical skills in order to be a board member. One can offer collaboration, dedication, interest, support, willingness to attend the organization’s programming, and being a good advocate and ambassador for the organization.  When you are identifying new board members, it is vital to look for people who believe in change and are open to reimagining the future and can offer their gift of time.

There were many interesting topics and perspectives throughout the day; one thought-provoking point was the difference between best and good practices for boards under the Cynefin Model. Understanding that best practices are for simple problems with simple solutions whereas good practices understand that the situation is complex and there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution. 

We also heard from the Director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) on the newly formed Indigenous Advisory Circle. The Circle gives voice to Indigenous people (Inuit, First Nations and Métis), plays a powerful and critical role in providing decisive leadership and counsel for developing and planning related WAG exhibitions, education, community outreach, partnerships, and programming. There was a common thread for a successful board and institutions from all the presentations. They all touch upon focusing on accountability, community involvement, and building healthy, equitable relationships.

The workshop was very interactive which was aided by lively participation and insightful discourse of over forty participants and nine presenters. Take away comments from the attendees were: 

“We are working to engage more community representation on committees — I appreciate the idea of the outward as well as the inward-looking museum! This has been inspiring on many levels –thank you, presenters.”

“An exceptional series of presentations that bring the subjective, professional reality and current art issues into dialogue.

“I am re-energized around outreach to engage more community members to Board committees.”

“I appreciate the transparency all brought to the table and hope that we can have more sessions like this!”

Museums and galleries are meeting places, with everyone who comes through the door playing a role in the production of art and construction of meaning. When working on boards and in institutions, it is essential to approach your work in a humanized and holistic way. Be honest and transparent about the challenges you’re having and the goals you’re trying to accomplish. Leaving the workshops, we reflect on the changes that we can make within our institutions to see transformations and the writings of new narratives for museums and galleries based on equity, relationships and dialogue that continues to challenge the status quo. 

On May 12, 2021, GOG hosted the workshop BOARDS, ACQUISITION COMMITTEES, AND YOUR COLLECTION. Thank you to all our valuable and insightful presenters and to the funding contribution from the Museums Assistance Program with the Department of Canadian Heritage.

A Board of Directors governs most art galleries and museums. A board’s role is to ensure the institution is operating for the public interest and that they are caring, preserving, and exhibiting the collection to professional standards. Staff and board work together to plan and implement the institution’s mission, vision, and mandate. Board members are often art collectors and will either contribute to an institutions’ collection through monetary or artwork donations. However, what if a Board member is found to be associated with unethical practices or organizations? Recently, the ethics of Board members has been under scrutiny at major institutions internationally.

The Whitney Museum saw protests during the Whitney Biennial, with a call from participating artists and Museum staff for the resignation of Warren B. Kanders. Kanders is the CEO and Owner of Safariland, a weapons manufacturing company that produces tear gas used at the Mexico-US border on asylum seekers. More recently, the Modern Museum of Art in New York’s opening of its $450 million expansion was met with groups protesting board members Larry Fink and Steven Tanenbaum’s involvement. Fink is a trustee at the museum who owns BlackRock. This New York-based investment management company is a stakeholder in private prison corporations. At the same time, Tanenbaum is the founder of GoldenTree Asset Management. This hedge fund reportedly owns at least $2.5 billion in debt from Puerto Rico (currently undergoing a financial crisis). Protestors were calling on MoMA to divest and to open a conversation of where to reinvest their money.

These protests led to a larger conversation: should institutions be responsible for their board members’ ethical alignments? How does this affect all areas of their institutions, including how a gallery acquires and builds its collection? This workshop will be for Board members and senior leaders of art galleries and museums. It will address the role of Boards in an art gallery and museum governance and their effect on all aspects of the institution. It will also open up peer-to-peer discussion on how gallery staff and Boards can work collaboratively and collectively to advance the institution’s mission, vision, and mandate while addressing their systematic issues within their institution.

Sessions included:

  • Why the Make-Up of Your Board Matters for Your Collection
  • Your Board, Collections, and the Formation of Acquisition Committees
  • Board Governance and Leadership Programs and Pitfalls: Creating a Healthy and Supportive Board

Moderator: Robert Steven, President & CEO- Art Gallery of Burlington


  • Margaret Chrumka  – Executive Director, Kamloops Art Gallery
  • Nadia Bello, Director, Dean’s Office and Strategic Initiatives, Faculty of Community Services, Ryerson University
  • Michael Maynard, Board President at Art Gallery of Northumberland
  • Michelle Jacques, Chief Curator, Remai Modern
  • Hank Bull, Chair, Governance and Nominations Committee for the board of the Vancouver Art Gallery
  • Mike Murawski, Museum Consultant and author of Museums As Agents of Change
  • Dr. Stephen Borys, Director & CEO, Winnipeg Art Gallery
  • Jan Allen, Independent Arts Advocate and Consultant
  • Clayton Windatt, Executive Director for ARCA & Trustee at National Gallery of Canada

GOG gratefully acknowledges the funding contribution from the Museums Assistance Program with the Department of Canadian Heritage.