The Gallery and Government: the Larger Context
| Français | Introduction
by Hsio-Yen Shih
Article en français
Pages 1 | 2
In my first annual review as Director, I commented on certain principles and objectives
that all art museums have in common; I commented as well on some differences
between the National Gallery of Canada and its counterparts in other
countries. During the past year I have become more aware of how different
the Gallery's position is as part of a federal cultural agency operating
in the distinctive governmental structure that is Canada's. In this
second Annual Bulletin, I shall try to describe the larger context within
which the Gallery functions. Public understanding of these complexities
is important, especially for an awareness of responsibilities and powers
at all levels of government.
In March of 1968, the National Museums
Act proclaimed the National Gallery of Canada a part of the National Museums
of Canada. The Gallery, which was described as a museum of fine arts, thus
became a part of a Crown Corporation which is scheduled as a departmental
corporation (under the Secretary of State) and is described as "...servant
or agent of Her Majesty in right of Canada and is responsible for administrative,
supervisory or regulatory services of a governmental nature." The Privy
Council Office's 1977 proposals further state that such departmental corporations'
'have been constituted in such a way that they are under more or less continuous
government scrutiny and control."
Policy matters, not only for the National
Gallery of Canada but also for all other national museums, are determined
by the Board of Trustees of the Corporation subject to the approval
of the Secretary of State. The director of a national museum has "on
behalf of the Board, the direction of the activities of the museum for
which he [sic] is appointed director." The Secretary-General of the
Corporation has, "on behalf of the Board, the direction and management
of the business of the Corporation in all matters that are not...specifically
reserved to the Board, a committee of the Board or a director of a museum."
Ideally, this structure implies that
the people of Canada are the ultimate authority. As the electorate, they
choose the government of which the Secretary of State is the spokesman
for cultural affairs. This Minister in turn delegates some of his or
her responsibilities and powers to the Boards of Trustees of crown corporations
within his or her department. Further levels of delegation to committees
and executive officers are decided by Boards of Trustees.
Practically, this structure is meant to ensure accountability.
The 1977 Privy Council Office proposals emphasized
"the relationships between the government and Crown corporations on
one hand, and Crown corporations and Parliament on the other." First
in its list of elements "integral to the clarification of these relationships"
is "the role of Crown corporations in the pursuit of policy objectives
and government priorities." Since March of 1972, the policy directive
for the National Museums of Canada has been the then Secretary of State's
goals of "democratization and decentralization."
In the fiscal year under review, the
government requested budget submissions which resulted in a 2.3 per cent
cut in the operating budget for 1978-1979, and would result in a 36 per
cent cut in 1979-1980. The Government of Canada ordered the budget reductions
and the Board of Trustees of the National Museums of Canada determined
how these cuts were to be made, taking into account the advice of directors
of the national museums and the Secretary-General. In the case of the
Gallery, two fundamental responsibilities were considered. First, the
existence of the National Gallery of Canada depends upon its collections
and their care, and therefore upon the people to whom such care is entrusted.
Second, the function of the National Gallery of Canada is to provide
Canadians with the opportunity to experience art through exhibitions, publications
and other educational activities; thus its programmes provide services to the public.
Though the full effects of these cuts will not be felt until the next and subsequent fiscal years, the
Gallery has already had to cancel or postpone all exhibitions and related
programmes that were not already booked to or from other Canadian institutions.
The irony is that in the effort to follow a government priority of cutting
costs, the Gallery has had to modify a government policy objective
of service to the public. Reduced funding means that the functions
of planning and organization become even more important in ensuring the
effectiveness of the Gallery's operations. Therefore, the Gallery began
an administrative reorganization this year; while the Director has overall
responsibility and, therefore, accountability, day-to-day operations have
been divided into three spheres. An Assistant Director of Collections
and Research will be supervisor of all study and work related to the works
of art in our custody - curatorial, conservation and restoration, and
registration activities, as well as library and research resources. A second
Assistant Director of Public Programmes will supervise all aspects of
exhibitions, publications, educational programmes, information services
and relationships with other organizations. Finally, we retain the Assistant
Director of Finance and Administration who supervises all fiscal matters
and governmental administrative practices, including personnel relations.
The incumbent has had a particularly harassing year bearing the burden
of detailed computations for meeting government cutbacks.
But reductions in the Gallery's operating budget are only part of the problem;
appropriations for acquiring new art works have not been increased since 1973,
and inflation has seriously eroded the Gallery's purchasing power.
Given the rather dismal financial circumstances,
the Gallery must be grateful that some basic work has been accomplished
in the last few years. The Lorne Building's air-conditioning mixer-boxes
and ceiling tiles have been entirely replaced. This required the removal
and reinstallation of works in every gallery, but resulted in an entirely
new look for the European collections. More works are now displayed - those
similar in style grouped together and complemented by works in various
Next Page | the
next phase of building repair
1 | 2
Top of this page
Index | Author
& Subject | Credits | Contact
This digital collection
was produced under contract to Canada's Digital Collections program,
Collections Program, Copyright
© National Gallery of