University art galleries are campus jewel boxes: A free shot of culture, a place to grow and learn that isn’t the lecture hall, a community hub simultaneously dripping with emotional resonance that’s also dry, so your sober friend can hang, too. But these deeply accessible spaces are for more than just the student set. They also provide a key level in the city’s venue system, offering space for emerging and established artists alike to debut works. Without them, career-minting retrospectives would be far fewer, and group shows that jump-start careers would be farther between.
During COVID, we’ve missed these important spaces. Without them, Halifax is down over 100 art exhibits a year. Yes, these galleries are key—especially given the current venue crisis that means it’s tougher than ever for artists to find places to showcase their work. And now, with the Dalhousie Art Gallery’s late October reopening and Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery’s mid-November return, almost all of them are back to delivering doses of visual art to students and civilians alike. Here, we’re sharing the latest status of each of major university gallery.
Throughout the pandemic, the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery continued creating rich programming, from off-site shows to Zoom lectures with curators to online art festivals. Earlier this month, though, it returned to business as usual, reopening its doors to the public for two in-person exhibits: 50 Bits and Pieces, a retrospective celebrating the gallery’s five decades ‘round the sun, curated from more than 700 past exhibitions and 1,000 programs, and Fundy, a video installation by artists Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel H. Dugas. “Working in reference to the historical Apollo 11 moon landing, and seeing parallels with extraterrestrial landscapes, LeBlanc and Dugas adopted the personae of astronauts to consider the relevance and beauty of their home planet from a different perspective,” explains a press release of Fundy. Both shows are on view until December 17.
The Dalhousie University Art Gallery was in the middle of one of its most exciting exhibits in recent years—the group show Gut Feeling, which featured, among others, works by artist Stephanie Yee—when lockdown meant the space had to close its doors. Aside from a couple of co-productions with the MSVU gallery, it stayed pretty quiet during the pandemic, until it reopened in time for Nocturne 2021 in late October. Currently, the space is showing work by Sobey Art Award longlister Lou Sheppard and William Robinson, an exhibit titled I want to be a seashell / I want to be a mold / I want to be a spirit. On view until Nov 28, the show tackles the Japanese concept of Metabolism, “a theory grounded in a fusion between post-war megastructures and organic biological growth” as the gallery explains it.
Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery replied to an email from The Coast in late November, saying the space will be fully open sometime in February 2022, pending pandemic changes. New construction on the building next door to the SMU gallery will "impact entrance and access to the gallery in different ways from now until Fall 2022," a gallery spokesperson adds. The gallery’s Instagram shows a new window installation by artist Rob Shedden is underway, a follow-up to past window installations like the one depicted above, by Claudia Legg.
While there were rumours circulating in the visual arts community that the SMU gallery was closing soon, the gallery did tell The Coast earlier this year in an email that the whispers are false, and the search for a new curator is still on after longtime curator Robin Metcalfe’s 17-year-tenure wrapped last spring. This year also marks the space’s 50th anniversary.
It was a busy year at NSCAD’s art gallery, The Anna, as the space’s annual new grad exhibition was interrupted by COVID’s first shutdowns. The gallery pivoted to an online exhibit for the show’s remainder, with the IRL space only in use for closed viewings of MFA thesis exhibits. In September, though, the gallery got back to the swing of things, with a regular exhibit schedule—and reduced occupancy along with other COVID measures, of course. A recent success was emerging artist Max TS Yang’s show, D[a]UNTING, which managed to avoid COVID fatigue while processing current events. Read our full review of the show here.