A Blog About Our New Reality by Josephine Mills, Director/Curator

December 3, 2020

As 2020 comes to an end, we most certainly haven’t returned to the old normal and nor has a new normal settled in. Here in Southern Alberta, the COVID-19 pandemic is raging worse than it was 8 months ago when we first went into lockdown. My wild swings between existential dread and giddy optimism that we’ll have large-scale social change have diminished. As this awful year comes to an end, I have more of a cautious optimism, fueled by the promise of a vaccine, but moderated by the unavoidable fact that dealing with the pandemic is taking, and will continue to take, a long time.

My new reality is that I’m the director of an art gallery that has been closed for over 8 months and we can’t predict when we will re-open our physical spaces to visitors again. At the University of Lethbridge, classes will continue to be mainly online for the winter semester of 2021 and only a few employees and students are allowed on campus – and that with the restriction that they need to be there for work that cannot be done from home. As such it has been clear from early in the pandemic that the uLethbridge Art Gallery would be closed to any in-person visits and programs. That at least did make it easier to recognize that we would only focus on online programming or behind the scenes work with the collection and exhibition research.

As I hope is evident from the blogs, videos, and projects now populating the uLethbridge Art Gallery’s website, the gallery staff and artists we are working with have adapted to produce an array of outstanding work for engagement virtually. We made the decision that the Art Gallery would focus on generating material that explores ideas in depth. We aren’t trying to quickly put material onto our website, but rather to create projects that foster contemplation, creation, and discussion, and that are worthy of being a long-term resource.

My job requires that I plan what the Art Gallery will be doing in the future – no matter that this now borders on the impossible. We are planning to install exhibitions in January: Alana Bartol’s Processes of Remediation: art, relationships, nature in the Hess Gallery and an exhibition from the collection, curated by Ryley Gelinas, a new employee hired with a Young Canada Works grant, in the Christou Gallery. However, we aren’t planning to be able to have visitors come in-person to the gallery. We’ll launch the exhibitions with online talks, video tours, and blogs and then see how the situation develops for allowing in-person visits later in 2021. The links for these projects can be found in this section of our website, New Reality Notebook, listed by title. Come back to our website, or subscribe to our e-news using the link found in the right sidebar of this page, to find updates when we re-open.

Now and in the future, let us give you a place to talk, think, create, and learn.

For a meaningful experience, come through our virtual door.

April 13, 2020

For those of us who are not occupied with the exhausting work of caring for people or keeping essential systems running, we have the opportunity to reflect on what future we would like to see when life returns to “normal.” I know I am not alone in recognizing that there are many things about the previous normal that I hope will change. Clearly there needs to be improved care of the elderly and that means better wages and working conditions for those who provide that care. I hope that the majority of people now recognize that the minimum wage should be a living wage because our lives depend on the people who provide food and care. Our previous normal included a lack of respect and understanding for Indigenous peoples by non-Indigenous peoples; accepting that the stock market and the ultra-wealthy 1% make the key decisions; buying things we don’t need and then throwing them into landfills; destroying the air, soil, and water that we, and every living being on this planet, need to exist; and believing that we cannot fix these problems. Trying to find solutions seemed overwhelming. Where would we start? How would we fit the work needed into our busy schedules? How would we get enough people to make the kind of radical change that is needed to save our planet?

Radical change in our daily lives has happened. People all over Canada and other privileged parts of the world are staying home. We are not flying. We are not going shopping. We are cooking our own food, planning gardens, considering every purchase we make. We are walking, playing, and talking. We are resting, recovering, grieving, and processing. We are engaging with art: we are reading, watching movies, and listening to music. And we are creating: we are painting, drawing, playing instruments, singing, dancing, making videos, and writing.

I hope that the extraordinary potential that is arising from this crisis can grow, that we can learn from the pain and loss from the pandemic, and that we can work together to build a better “normal.” As one small step towards this goal, the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery is creating a new section on our website where we will pay artists to present projects that are specifically designed for digital platforms and the gallery staff will produce material that provides insight into their work processes. This new section will support people in pausing, reflecting, and acting. We want to be part of a network that works to alter the course of climate change, maintains connections between diverse people, learns from Indigenous knowledge and perspectives, and fosters civil public discourse.