Message from the Director & CEO

It was the great communicator, Marshall McLuhan, who said:  “Art at its most significant is a distant early warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen.”   Art is one of our oldest languages, one of the first and last ways we communicate with each other.   Before words, before the assemblage of vocabularies, there has been a visual means in which thoughts and emotions are made known.  For centuries art has been the cultural expression of humankind, central to our survival and well being.

The material we call art is an integral part of the history of civilization – tied to the idea of living. Art penetrates all sectors of our society.   We may only see or understand part of the work, but we cannot deny its impact and place.   Beyond the idea of beauty, meaning, or even truth – art is an expression of the human spirit.   Albert Einstein once said he was enough of an artist to draw freely upon his imagination.  Left to our own imagination, we tend to thrive, and art is part of this life-giving exercise.  I would like to think that the WAG plays an important role in this exercise.
Our blockbuster exhibition 100 Masters: Only in Canada, which ran from May to September, 2013, is just one example of what an exhibition can do for a community in the expression of the human spirit. Featuring 100 artworks borrowed from 30 museums across the country, and spanning 500 years of artmaking, the exhibition was the most successful in the WAG’s 100-year history, attracting over 60,000 visitors – and a few awards!

On April 9 in Toronto, I had the honour of accepting the Canadian Museum Association’s (CMA) national award for Outstanding Achievement in Marketing for the 100 Masters exhibition.  In April, the 275-page illustrated publication accompanying the exhibition received the Manitoba Book Award’s Manuela Dias Book Design of the Year Award.  In May, the WAG exhibition was announced as the runner-up for a Winnipeg Tourism Award of Distinction in Marketing. It was also the runner-up for the Winnipeg Free Press Entertainment Story of the Year, as voted by WFP readers, coming in second to the Paul McCartney concert at the new stadium in Winnipeg.

Beyond the record attendance, school outreach, membership growth, huge revenues, and national media attention and honours for 100 Masters, what was most rewarding for me was to see how the public responded to seeing and experiencing the original works of art. In an era filled with reproductions and replicas of all kinds in all places, it is a powerful reminder that people still want to see the real thing – masterworks created by men and women over the ages. 

As you read through the current and upcoming exhibitions and programs in the spring/summer issue of myWAG, you’ll see that the WAG is at the heart of the communities we call Winnipeg and Manitoba. Being central to the cultural life of the city and province means being current, relevant and meaningful to the people, groups, and institutions – all the stakeholders – who make up each neighbourhood.  If I had to pick one exhibition that stands out as a project that truly personifies this enterprise of engagement and the notion of relevance, it would have to be 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. 

Come to the WAG this summer and I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. To make this a little easier, at least for the youth around us, I am pleased to offer free gallery admission to youth 18 and under for the months of May and June.

Stephen Borys, PhD, MBA
Director & CEO

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