Alberta art gallery lifts breastfeeding ban

The Art Gallery of Alberta reversed a policy that banned breastfeeding in the public galleries after an Edmonton woman complained about how she was treated while she was nursing her daughter last week.
Jill Janicki said she was humiliated by a request last week to stop breastfeeding at the Art Gallery of Alberta. ((CBC))
The Art Gallery of Alberta reversed a policy that disallowed breastfeeding in the public galleries after an Edmonton woman complained about how she was treated while she was nursing her daughter last week. 

"Mothers breastfeeding were always welcome to use non-gallery spaces within the facility," AGA executive director Gilles Hébert said in a release Wednesday in response to the complaint by Jill Janicki.

"Now they can, if they so choose, breastfeed in the galleries. We regret any negative messages or experiences that may have arisen due to our previous policy."

Janicki was visiting an exhibition at the Edmonton gallery on Friday when her seven-month-old daughter needed to be fed. Janicki sat down on a bench in the middle of the gallery, well away from the art.

"A few minutes into feeding her, one of the security guards approached me and asked me to leave the exhibit itself, because it was against food and drink policy to be breastfeeding the baby in the exhibit," she said. 

Janicki was told she could feed her baby out in the hallway, away from the art.

"I felt humiliated," she said.

Policy 'archaic' and 'dated'

Janicki asked to speak to a supervisor, who repeated the food and drink policy. Janicki tried to clarify what the gallery was worried about, but no one could give her any concrete examples.

"I do think this is a very dated and archaic view of asking the mother to leave for breastfeeding," she said. "There really isn't a situation I can think of that would cause any problems to the artwork."

She says she wasn't anywhere near the art when she was feeding her baby. She said she has visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Vancouver Art Gallery and no one said anything when she breastfed her daughter.

Janicki's husband Modest Janicki sent a letter of complaint to Hébert which he also sent to Edmonton media outlets. In the letter, Janciki says he wants the gallery to apologize to his wife and change its policy, which the couple believes is a human rights violation.

On Wednesday, Hébert announced the policy change in a press release.

"While some of these policies may seem arbitrary — indeed arcane — they are in place for specific museological purposes," he said.

"That said, we appreciate that our visitors should not be preoccupied with the environmental issues we face in the day-to-day operations of a major art museum."