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Pandemic offers chance to rethink art accessibility: SFU Galleries’ new director

July 10, 2020
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By Shradhha Sharma

Among its many impacts, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the precarious status of artists and cultural workers and tested the tenuous relationship between art lovers and the physical spaces they frequent.

As the new Director of SFU Galleries, Kimberly Phillips hopes to reimagine that relationship and its impact on the communities served by Simon Fraser University, as well as find new ways to build connectivity with these communities.

“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,” says Phillips.

Reimagining visual arts

A seasoned art curator, educator and writer, Phillips will step into her new role on August 17. She will oversee SFU Galleries’ three locations — Audain Gallery, Teck Gallery and SFU Gallery — as well as the SFU Art Collection, which comprises over 5,500 regional and national works of art spanning the last century.

“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.”

Art for change

In her most recent role as Curator at the Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) in Vancouver, Phillips oversaw the gallery’s exhibitions, publications and artist residencies.

She holds a PhD in art history from the University of British Columbia (2007), where she was an Izaak Walton Killam Doctoral Fellow, and is a sessional instructor at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Throughout her practice, Phillips says she 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.

This thought process also ties in with how she envisions her new role at SFU. As Phillips says, “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 a 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.”

Improving access to the arts

Phillips hopes the pandemic and its impact on university life will offer fresh insights into the ways contemporary art can be made accessible to different communities, especially those that have been historically underserved.

“Contemporary artists’ work comments and responds to the current moment. And they are finding inventive ways to work through difficult situations, histories, legacies and potentially unknown futures,” she says.

For Phillips, SFU’s planned 12,000-square-foot new Marianne and Edward Gibson Art Museum located on the Burnaby campus offers the perfect opportunity to do that.

“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 look forward to working with faculty deans and collaborating with the formidable community of researchers, thinkers, students and staff at SFU to find that future space together.”

As the new Director of SFU Galleries, Kimberly Phillips hopes to reimagine that relationship and its impact on the communities served by Simon Fraser University, as well as find new ways to remain connected to these communities as well as to the SFU community.