Nova Scotia

Ray Cronin departure from Art Gallery of Nova Scotia surprises artists

Lisa Bugden, the former president and CEO of Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia, will start working as interim CEO on Monday, according to the gallery's board of governors.

Gallery board appoints Lisa Bugden as interim CEO, but some local artists unhappy with the change

Ray Cronin, the well-known director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, is stepping down from the job effective today, according to the gallery's board of governors.

His departure comes as a surprise to many in the art community and some are questioning why.

John Greer, whose work is on exhibit at the gallery until the middle of September, says he was surprised and disappointed by the news of what he calls Cronin's "termination."

"It's a mistake, I think there are some politics involved in it," said Greer, who met with the board this afternoon. "Ray Cronin, I think, has done a wonderful job. They all talk about that. He's being replaced by somebody who needs a job."

On his Facebook page, Ray Cronin writes "the Board has decided that the gallery needs to move in a new direction and will seek new leadership to undertake that course." He says he's proud of his accomplishments and "the gallery is in good hands, and I wish the AGNS nothing but success in moving forward."

Lisa Bugden will start work as interim CEO on Monday, according to the board. Bugden worked as president and CEO of Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia since March 2013.

The organization, which used to be known as Film Nova Scotia, shut down when this year's provincial budget rolled its responsibilities into Nova Scotia Business Inc.

Greer says he worries the gallery's board wants to shift its focus to appeal to the public and "pander to certain tastes, instead of seeing art as a way to challenge people's mindsets." Greer says he's worried the change in management could destroy the credibility for the gallery Cronin has established.

Greer says he told the board his concerns this afternoon. The gallery would only comment through the board's press release.

Steadfast in his passion

In a news release, gallery board chair Robbie Shaw said Cronin has been "steadfast in his passion and dedication to growing the province's art collection, community and culture for many years."

"Under his leadership the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia achieved a level of stability that finds us well poised for moving forward. We wish him well in his future endeavors."

Shaw said in the statement he was confident Bugden could lead the gallery through the change.

"Under her leadership, the gallery will continue its efforts to engage, inspire and bring people together to share in our province's unique culture through the arts," he said.

Cronin, an artist himself, was first hired as a curator at the AGNS in 2001. Before being named director in 2008, he served as senior curator, acting director and chief curator.

During his tenure, Cronin curated the Sobey Art Award and brought high-profile exhibits to the Halifax gallery. He was also director when a $20 million collection of artwork by famed American photographer Annie Leibovitz was donated to the gallery.

Adriana Afford, owner of Argyle Fine Art, says Cronin brought in exhibits that engaged the public, appealing to families and the art world alike. 

"He brought a lot of more contemporary shows to the gallery space, which I think was a great way to challenge the local public," she says.

"But he was also very smart about listening to the public and bringing in some shows that were also a good balance between popularity, but also invoking conversation."

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