National Gallery of Canada appoints new director and CEO

Jean-François Bélisle will serve a five-year term as the head of the Ottawa-based arts institution. He replaces Angela Cassie, who has been interim director and CEO since last June.

Gallery faced staff turmoil, public criticism last year

A camera captures a picture of a man walking by a painting done in the woodland style.
The National Gallery of Canada has appointed Jean-François Bélisle, who's worked in the world of visual arts since the mid-1990s, to a five-year term as its next CEO and director. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press )

The National Gallery of Canada has appointed a new director and CEO, the art institution announced Wednesday. 

Jean-François Bélisle will serve a five-year term as the head of the national gallery, starting July 17. He replaces Angela Cassie, who has been interim director and CEO since June 2022. 

Prior to his appointment, Bélisle worked as the executive director and chief curator of the Musée d'art de Joliette in Quebec.

He's been working as a manager in the visual arts world since the mid-1990s, the national gallery said in a statement.

A smiling man standing and resting his arms on a chair.
In a statement, Bélisle said he intended to ensure the Ottawa art institution remained 'a fantastic force for good.' (Claudia Morin-Arbour/National Gallery of Canada)

"I believe that art can change society, and look forward to collaborating with the gallery's staff, as well as artists from across the country, to ensure our institution continues to be a fantastic force for good," said Bélisle in the statement.

Bélisle vowed to pursue projects that will allow the national gallery to play a leading role in Canadian visual arts and to increase the presence of Canadian artists on the international art scene.

After a tumultuous year, the National Gallery has a new CEO. We meet Jean-François Bélisle.

Tumultuous year for gallery in 2022

Over the past two years, the National Gallery of Canada has faced public criticism and scrutiny from both current and former staff.

In November 2022, the Ottawa art institution let go of four senior staff members, including Greg Hill, its longtime Indigenous art curator.

In a statement posted to social media after his dismissal, Hill said he was "deeply disturbed by the colonial and anti-Indigenous ways the department of Indigenous ways and decolonization is being run."

Later that month, seven former gallery members expressed their concerns about the staff changes in an open letter sent to Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez.

The letter said the recent departures, along with previous dismissals, created a "high degree of internal uncertainty and instability" within the gallery. 

Cassie, who was the interim director at the time, told CBC the staff departures reflected a need for change, adding the gallery was welcoming new members who had been "historically excluded from this institution." 

Earlier this year, the gallery's leaders said the art institution was making strides in decolonizing its collection and attracting first-time visitors.