The appointment marks a return to the Canada Council for Gilbert, who worked as program officer in the visual and media arts sections early in her career. Since then, she has also worked as a senior curator at the Banff Centre’s Walter Phillips Gallery and as director/curator of the Gallery at the Saidye Bronfman for the Arts in Montreal, as well as being an independent curator.
In a phone interview with Canadian Art, Gilbert—who admits she filed “many, many, many” Canada Council grant applications over the years at institutions large and small, as well as in the independent curator role—said she hopes to bring her diverse art-world experiences to bear on her new position.
“I think my experience within the visual arts milieu will help council to make decisions about funding—and how to fund in a very intelligent way—a community that is in dire need of money,” Gilbert said. “I’ve worked with different places, with different budgets, with different mandates, with different projects, and I feel I have a lot of experience I can contribute to the well-being of arts organizations and individual artists in this country.”
According to the Canada Council’s 2012 annual report, the visual arts section distributed $21.2 million in grant monies to artists and arts organizations last year, with the grant decisions made largely through peer assessment. It has the fourth largest grant pool at the council after music, theatre, and writing and publishing.
Duties of the visual arts head include developing, administering and monitoring the section’s budget; developing policies, programs and initiatives to enhance Canada Council’s role in the development of Canada’s artists and arts organizations; and consulting with and evaluating the needs of artists and arts organizations.
Gilbert’s appointment comes as good news to some of those concerned about precarious funding trends in the arts.
“I think it [the appointment] is great news,” says Anne Bertrand, director of the Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference. “I think [Gilbert] has enough experience in the milieu to have a really profound knowledge of all the players and the complexity of its makeup, including artist-run centres and their distinct role.”
In recent months, Bertrand and ARCA have expressed concern about the lack of notice being given to organizations regarding possible funding changes of up to 20 per cent.
“There is work to be done for sure,” says Bertrand, “And we hope to be active participants in that process.”
The head of visual arts position was vacated in early fall 2012 by Doug Sigurdson due to retirement; Sigurdson had held the position since May 2009 and had been at the council since 1989.