Anxiety over foreign takeovers is nothing new in the corporate world, where buyers from abroad have scooped up everything from Canadian Club to the Timbit. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the wave of high-profile outsiders who have been hired to oversee some of Canada’s largest art and cultural institutions has also led to similar bouts of nationalist hand-wringing.
The list of non-Canadians who’ve ascended to the top of our arts world over the last couple of years is indeed long. An Australian is now the artistic director of Toronto’s Luminato Festival (replacing a German), while its CEO hails from the U.K. The Art Gallery of Ontario is run by an American, while the Shaw Festival’s artistic director is British. The National Ballet of Canada’s executive director: an American. The Harbourfront Centre’s CEO: an Australian. The Royal Ontario Museum: also an American (who replaced an Australian).
Each new arrival is accompanied by uneasy, often public introspection in arts circles. Such was the case when Ian Dejardin was tapped from London to lead the McMichael Canadian Art Collection this summer, prompting the Globe and Mail to bemoan the “glass ceiling” for Canadians in the arts. John Miller, artistic producer of the Stratford Summer Music Festival, is more outspoken: “Would that the boards involved with these timid decisions show some pride and guts in the strong Canadians who could lead,” he says.
Since hirings are confidential, we’ll never know if they were made in weakness or strength, whether Canadian candidates were overlooked or whether hiring committees were overwhelmed with international excellence. Nor do we know how important other factors might have been: hire an American headhunting ﬁrm, like the AGO did, and they will send you Americans....
-- Lev Bratishenko, For top cultural jobs, Canadians need not apply, Maclean's online, Oct. 13