The story of the genesis of the Art Gallery in Georgina, Ontario, begins with a small group of local artists (Georgina has upwards of five hundred of them) who decided that they would like a place to show their work, a wall to hang their latest paintings and have them admired – or at least, seen – by other art enthusiasts. They also wanted a place where children could find tuition in the visual arts, because they believed that art is an essential part of life, and that children should grow up with it. They therefore decided to found, in the last years of the twentieth century, an Arts Centre. One of the moving forces behind the group of artists was Cathy Babick, an artist herself. She brought on board the director of the Leisure Services of the Town of Georgina, John McLean, a man with a vast experience of organizing and launching enterprises like this.
It happened that the town had at that time just built a new complex for its library, which had grown beyond the limits of the rather small building that had housed it for many years. The old building was left vacant. The library moved out, and the local artists moved in.
A few years later a local philanthropist, Bruce Smith, donate nearly 200 masterpieces from his private collection; one hundred and ninety-nine paintings by Albert Chiarandini. The acquisition was a huge success for the Arts Centre and it could now leap into the realms of the ‘big’ galleries as a future force to be recognized.
In the ten years since that stupendous initial donation, the collection has grown, as has the status of the Arts Centre. With its newly acquired Permanent Collection came new recognition: the Canadian federal government awarded it ‘museum status’, and the mandate of the Gallery expanded. Now, it was the Georgina Arts Centre & Gallery, and it began hosting exhibitions of external artists and sculptors. An internationally renowned photographer, Tom Zsolt, offered a number of framed photographs in 2007, and over the next few years made significant additional donations.
Then, in 2013-4, two events came together that sparked a sudden growth. First, the York Wilson Foundation offered to the Georgina Arts Centre & Gallery a donation of thirty original works by the Canadian painter and muralist York Wilson. The works – paintings, serigraphs, watercolours – arrived in the summer of 2013. Second, in January of 2014, Ewa Chwojko was appointed curator of the Gallery and the Permanent Collection. One of the first things she did as curator was put on a large exhibition displaying all York Wilson’s works. She also staged a multimedia presentation about York Wilson’s life and work, which took place in the Gallery where the exhibition was hanging. One of the immediate results of this exhibition and presentation was that the York Wilson Foundation offered to donate a further 29 works!
Suddenly the little Arts Centre became a prominent and distinguished Canadian Art Gallery, and began to receive more offers of donations of works by well-known Canadian artists from a number of different sources. As of 2015, Chiarandini has the company, apart from York Wilson, Tom Zsolt, and Bruce Smith, of prominent artists such as Kay Murray-Weber (1919-2007), Stanley Lewis (1930-2006), Marcel Bellerive (1934-2004), John Alfsen (1902-1971), and Travis Shilling (1979- ). In the space of just twelve months the collection had grown from its original size of 217 works by two artists to over 530 works by nine artists, all of whom were well-known in Canadian art and had pursued an international career.
A library building is not designed with the requirements of perfect storage for paintings in mind. Light, temperature, and humidity should be regulated on an automatic basis, and temperature and humidity should be keep within narrow limits. Add to this the requirements of storage space and security, and it can be seen that managing a rapidly expanding permanent collection is a complex logistic problem.
The issue of lighting was the simplest to resolve. There were several basement rooms available which were intended as common storage spaces. They did not requiring windows, which meant that the rooms would be dark unless the neon lights were turned on, which is an acceptable solution for an art vault. To a certain extent the enclosed basement rooms were also protected from significant temperature swings since they are largely isolated from sun and wind. There is climate control to maintain humidity within the narrow range of values that is optimum for the storage of art works. Initially, the size of the room allotted to holding the Permanent Collection was sufficient (20m2) for three reasons: the collection was not large (217 pieces of art was its initial size); a number of paintings were unframed, which meant that they could be stored very compactly; and the collection was relatively static: there was no policy of changing the exhibited works frequently, and therefore no great problem of extracting the paintings from the shelves, or replacing them.
Shelving on two levels was installed, and each painting was provided with corrugated cardboard corners so that they did not rest directly one on the other. For a collection of two hundred paintings which simply needed to be stored, the system worked well for the first ten years of the gallery’s existence.
The rapid expansion of the Permanent Collection has raised a new problem though: several new, large shelving units had to be built to accommodate the new works, and for the moment there is shelf space for all of them. However, the addition of shelves incurs a reduction in free space, and now there is just barely enough space between the shelving units to allow the larger paintings to be pulled out.
The other problem that should be mentioned here is that there is no mechanical system to store or retrieve the works. Mobile storage would have several advantages: the paintings are held securely, they do not touch in any way, it is easy to retrieve one and to replace it, and space it used with maximum efficiency. The downside is cost; the Gallery has a number of other priorities before such a storage system can be evaluated.
Information from Chiarandini: Passion Meets Paintbrush, chapter 2: Chiarandini and the Permanent Collection. Text by Ewa Chwojko. Published by Forum editrice, universitaria udinese srl, Via Palladio, 8, 33100 Udine.