Kimberly Phillips to join SFU Galleries as Director

July 10, 2020

Photo by Ellie Nixon

Kimberly Phillips is a committed arts leader, educator and writer of Welsh-Irish settler ancestry, based on the unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓ əm, Skwxwú7mesh and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ/Selilwitulh peoples. For the past 15 years, in her roles as gallery director, curator and teacher, she has worked to amplify the voices of under-acknowledged artists and practitioners, to ethically vision and build organizational capacity, and to create meaningful and unexpected ways for contemporary artists and their publics to find one another.

Phillips will join the SFU Galleries team in mid-August. Reflecting on the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead, she proposes this understanding of art and the larger cultural contexts in which it participates:

I fiercely believe in art as a tumultuous, inquisitive terrain that, at its best, creates space where critical questions can be asked, established systems of value interrogated and worlds imagined differently. There is an enormous amount of work to be done in cultural institutions to dismantle their colonial foundations and systemic inequality. SFU’s commitments to interdisciplinarity and engagement create an incredibly compelling platform upon which to take up that work, and to challenge all presumptions of what a gallery should be and who it is for. The forthcoming Marianne and Edward Gibson Art Museum presents us with an opportunity to resist any and all formulae that already exist, and to find a dynamic, reciprocal and yet-to-be-imagined configuration together. I am honoured to be charged with that responsibility and look forward to collaborating with the formidable community of researchers, thinkers, students, and staff at SFU to find that future space together.

Since 2017 she has held the position of Curator at the Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) in Vancouver (serving as Interim Director from September 2019 to March 2020), overseeing the gallery’s exhibitions, publications and artist residencies. Previous to this she served as Director / Curator of Access Gallery (2013 – 2017), a Vancouver artist-run centre committed to emergent and experimental practices, and as Curator of Interpretation at the Vancouver Art Gallery (2009 – 2013). Phillips holds a PhD in art history from the University of British Columbia (2007), where she was an Izaak Walton Killam Doctoral Fellow.

“We are very excited to bring Kimberly on board for this important role. Her diverse body of work over the last 15 years, including previous roles as gallery director, curator, writer, and educator, uniquely qualify her for this position,” says Joanne Curry, vice-president, External Relations. “This experience, as well as her commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, diversity, interdisciplinary work, and collaboration, will enrich the future vision for SFU Galleries and the new Art Museum.”

Throughout her practice, Phillips has prioritized building relationships (with artists, colleagues and communities) with attentiveness and care, critically interrogating organizational systems and pedagogies that perpetuate inequities, and understanding the gallery as a platform for knowledge-sharing and debate. At CAG, she significantly increased the gallery’s representation of local and international women-identifying artists, Indigenous artists and artists of colour, advocated strongly for the diversification of the board and staff team, and worked to implement support structures and mentorships for emerging cultural workers. Committed to meeting publics where they are (which isn’t always in the gallery), she has overseen the development of numerous community partnerships and kindled new dialogues with international arts colleagues, particularly in Pakistan and Mexico.

Phillips’s curatorial practice maintains a particular interest in the spectral and the resistant, as well as the conditions under which artists work. She has curated over 50 projects, including solo exhibitions for Madiha Aijaz, Deanna Bowen, Aslan Gaisumov, Julian Yi-Jong Hou, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Ingrid Koenig, Lyse Lemieux, Cindy Mochizuki, Jeneen Frei Njootli, Laura Piasta, Birthe Piontek, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Rolande Souliere, Althea Thauberger, and Olivia Whetung, among others. Phillips has organized and edited numerous books and catalogues, including first monographic publications for Jeneen Frei Njootli (2018), Sreshta Rit Premnath (2020) and Althea Thauberger (forthcoming 2020). She looks for unlikely collaborations that create platforms for investigating the conditions of our contemporary world, and is focused on building community rather than audiences. While at Access Gallery, which she led through remarkable institutional transformation and growth, Phillips developed the internationally recognized residency and exhibition programme Twenty-Three Days at Sea, which saw artists travel across the Pacific Ocean aboard working container vessels. She also partnered with Other Sights for Artists’ Projects to develop the multi-year, cross-disciplinary public programme and artist residency The Foreshore, which asked how we might support unruly practices and futures.

Phillips has maintained an active teaching practice and deep connections to university life throughout her curatorial and directorial work. She continually looks to steward opportunities for learners to inhabit the gallery as a place of open inquiry, develops curriculum and instructs courses at both graduate and undergraduate levels in visual culture and curatorial practice at the University of British Columbia and Emily Carr University of Art and Design, where she was awarded the Ian Wallace Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2015.

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