Laura RitchieMeet Laura Ritchie

When MSVU Art Gallery Director Laura Ritchie started at the University last December, it was a homecoming nearly a decade in the making.

Originally from the Maritimes, Laura began her career at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, NB after completing her bachelor’s degree in Art History at Mount Allison University. She later worked as the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Crafts Council before moving on to pursue a master’s degree in Art History at Western University. Laura’s journey also took her to galleries in St. Kitts (in the Caribbean), Alberta and British Columbia before landing her back east. Most recently serving as curator at the Kelowna Art Gallery, Laura has worked in collections and exhibitions management, as well as visual arts administration, for more than a decade.

A return to the Maritimes has been at the back of her mind for some time. “Since I left for grad school in 2010, I’ve always thought about coming back,” she says. “I’m grateful to MSVU for this opportunity and enthusiastic about joining the unique art scene happening in Nova Scotia.”

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Laura notes that Nova Scotia’s small yet mighty art scene is rooted in a close-knit arts community, which was incredibly welcoming as she transitioned into her new role. With multiple small galleries across Halifax, as well as the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and three university art galleries in the city (a perk of being located in a vibrant university town), Laura highlights the breadth of support she’s received, including not just a welcome event at MSVU, but also a welcome event hosted by the Dalhousie Art Gallery earlier this year.

The close-knit team within the MSVU Art Gallery has been valuable in Laura’s first year, too. The collaborative team atmosphere within the Gallery has been vital in pulling new projects together. For the beginning of her time at the MSVU Art Gallery, Laura and team focused on programs planned by previous director Ingrid Jenkner. Typically, gallery exhibitions are planned many months in advance. Laura’s programming started in the summer of this year and was in full force by this fall.

One of her most significant undertakings to date has been the Africville: A Spirit That Lives On—A Reflection Project exhibition, a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the original 1989 exhibition. Through artifacts, audiovisual materials, photographs, memorabilia and other documentation, the exhibitions reflected “the human drama of a beleaguered community which made a richly varied and self-sufficient life for itself” (catalogue). Reuniting the original collaborators and joined by the Africville Museum, the exhibition ran from August to November of this year, and gave Laura a chance to dive into the gallery archives.

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Her future plans for the gallery? She wants to start bringing the campus into the gallery more of
ten. With an ample exhibition space on the ground floor and smaller mezzanine above, the space has much to offer visitors. Whether it be an exhibition that broadens world views, a meeting place, or a quiet area to provide a moment for reflection, Laura’s committed to showing the campus and broader community the many ways in which the gallery can serve them.

Gallery accessibility will also continue to be a priority. The MSVU Art Gallery is dedicated to identifying, preventing and removing barriers to participation, and Laura encourages visitors to provide feedback on concerns and improvements. “Relationships and associations are formed through art; art can form someone’s world view, and everyone has the right to access it,” she says.

Laura has also been planning for the future with an eye on the 50th anniversary of the gallery coming up in 2021. Delving into fifty years of gallery collections is no small feat, but one she’s excited for. “To look back at the collections from the last 50 years as a newbie to the gallery is letting me see how I can celebrate the history of the gallery and let its spirit be emblematic for the future,” she says. Laura anticipates sifting through about 800 pieces in the University’s permanent collection, each piece coming with a history of its own. Some pieces from the collection can currently be found in buildings across campus, for example, a unique collection by Nova Scotia ceramicist and MSVU alumna Alice Hagen and many other works in the E. Margaret Fulton Centre.

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On now at the gallery

The Annual Mount Community Show, a celebration of the MSVU community’s creativity. The exhibition features the creative works of Mount Saint Vincent University students, staff, faculty, alumnae and their families. Entries include visual art, music, performance, poetry, craft, literature, basketry, and more. The exhibition will run until December 15.