I'd like for everyone to understand the amazing role that art can play in our lives.
—Stephen Borys, Executive Director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery
When Stephen Borys debates the importance of art in daily life on May 2, at Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada, he will be armed with a list of successes to back up his argument.
The executive director of the
Winnipeg Art Gallery beams that the gallery's current exhibit, Norman Rockwell show, has far exceeded the gallery's estimates in attendance, and there are still three weeks to go before it closes.
"No Swimming," Norman Rockwell, oil on canvas, 25 ¼" x 22 ¼" Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, June 4, 1921 (Licensed by Curtis Publishing)
Borys is anticipating that 25,000 people will have seen the exhibit, 9,000 more than initially projected.
Membership to the WAG is way up, with the month of March 2012 tripling the sales from the same month last year.
Attendance at all of the gallery's programs -- and there has been a plethora of school programs, adult programs, art classes -- has increased. Clearly, Borys is making a big difference.
Stephen Borys returned to his hometown of Winnipeg to head up the WAG in 2008, having previously worked with The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.
In addition to his job at the WAG, he also holds teaching posts at the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba.
There's no denying he is passionate about art. "I'd like for everyone to
understand the amazing role that art can play in our lives. And not just
advocacy for the arts, but advocacy for the idea of how art is a lens
on our society, he said.
"When people look at art -- whether it's new media, whether
it's painting, whether it's architecture -- I think they see more in
life, they see more of our society, they see different perspectives. We
benefit from spending time in art."
mrghosty at Game Culture and Technology fair at WAG, June 2012
Borys cites Nuit Blanche
, part of Culture Days, as one of his greatest successes. Close to 5,000 people came through the doors of the WAG during that all-night event in September 2011. The buzz over the course of the night on social media was immense. He says people came for all sorts of different reasons, but art was front and centre. He's happy that people seemed to feel comfortable there.
As well, Borys says he is pleased that the successful Rockwell show hit so many different age groups and demographics.
"It tells me that people like the art of ideas, the art of issues," he said.
"Rockwell dealt with a lot of good and bad things and people still connected with these issues. In an image-saturated world, people still love to see unique objects, original works of work."
Borys says it's important to present the big popular shows, but it's also important to
strike a balance.
That balance includes returning the permanent collection to some of
the galleries. With 25,000 pieces, it is a remarkable cultural resource.
"I'd like to think that one thing I could do for Winnipeggers is give
them the collection that they really own," he said.
His greatest accomplishment to date? "A whole new level of engagement with our public," he said.
"Making the WAG a place for people to come to not just to engage with art, but to engage with the community, society."
Borys is looking forward to celebrating the WAG's 100th anniversary in September. Beyond that, he says he has big plans to build an Inuit Art Centre and a new WAG studio.
With the world's largest collection of contemporary Inuit art, he says, "we
have a responsibility to give people a space that
celebrates this collection, that strengthens the dialogue with the Inuit
"The Sweet Taste of Maple Syrup" by Marianne Gopalkrishna (Ernest Mayer)
On April 26 it was announced that Borys was elected to the board of directors of the Canadian Museums Association
Wednesday, May 2, he will be in Ottawa to participate in a public debate
National Gallery of Canada
sponsored by The Walrus
.The topic is "ART in Daily Life: Essential
or Irrelevant? Who decides? Who pays? Who cares?" His debate partner
will be the Globe and Mail's Kate Taylor, and they'll be up against The
National Gallery of Canada's Director and CEO Marc Mayer and art critic
The arts debate will be available through a live webcast on walrussoapbox.ca
at 7:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) on May 2.