Laurentian selling donated art would be “ruthless,” the artist’s family says

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The work of Frederick Hagan and others belongs to the Art Gallery of Sudbury, not the university, it says

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The family of an acclaimed Canadian painter believes works donated to Laurentian University should remain in the Art Gallery of Sudbury and not be treated as disposable property.

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“As it currently stands, the university and the bankruptcy trustees are ignoring their ethical and legal obligations to the donors and artists who trusted Laurentian to keep their prized works of art public,” write Annemarie, Julie and Karl Hagan, whose father gifted Frederick in the middle of the 1990s a significant number of his artworks to Laurentian.

Hagan, who died in 2003, studied with Franklin Carmichael at the Ontario College of Art and began exhibiting at the Royal Canadian Academy at the age of 21. His career as a painter, lithographer, and watercolorist spanned more than seven decades, and his work has been exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario, as well as the AGS in Sudbury.

In 1996, the painter “made a significant donation to Laurentian University,” his children noted in a letter sent Wednesday to Premier Doug Ford and Secretary of State for Tourism, Culture and Sport Lisa MacLeod. Also included in the letter are Comptroller Bonnie Lysyk, Laurentian President Robert Hache, and Ernst & Young, the firm appointed to monitor the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act proceedings relating to Laurentian’s bankruptcy.

“We have the signed deed of gift for this donation, which includes the Hagan family portfolio of 245 drawings, watercolors and prints that depict the scope of his career as an artist from 1939 to 1989,” the Hagans write. “This portfolio was Father’s tribute to our mother Isabelle, who died in 1989; She had been by his side for those 50 years.”

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In the 1990s, Laurentian also bought “the largest and perhaps most important of Fred Hagan’s oil paintings, Homage,” according to his children. “This complex, wall-like work explores his personal journey through life and the Canadian artists and northern Ontario landscapes that influenced him.”

The Sudbury volunteers “raised funds specifically to purchase this work,” add the family members. “It is irresponsible that artworks acquired with limited community funds should be sold as part of these bankruptcy proceedings.”

The family said AGS has done “an exceptional job of caring for and managing” the Laurentian art collection since the university decided in 1997 to retire from running a gallery.

“The university must now fulfill its original 1997 intention: to transfer ownership and management of the Laurentian University art collection to the Art Gallery of Sudbury,” they argue. “We can have confidence in the professional staff of the Art Gallery of Sudbury to appropriately care for this important collection and share it with the community for decades to come – which is what the original donors intended.”

Lysyk stated in a recent audit report that in her view, “Laurentian did not need to apply for CCAA protection,” according to the Hagans note. “Yet they did. Because of ‘bad management’, according to Lysyk.”

Walking the CCAA path has resulted in “a multitude of devastating impacts on individuals, organizations and communities,” the letter’s authors claim.

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These include the Art Gallery of Sudbury, which could lose its building, and is also concerned about the future of its collection, at least some of which could be claimed by Laurentian and potentially sold.

In a lawsuit filed as part of the CCAA process last year, the gallery estimated the value of the Bell Mansion she lives in (and which the university owns, having acquired it for a symbolic dollar in 1969) at $1.3 million dollars, while the artwork is worth more than $4.8 million.

The Hagans said they want to make sure the issue of Laurentian University’s art collection isn’t forgotten.

“This art collection of over 1,400 works was carefully collected and curated by professional staff from 1967 to 1997,” they note. “It represents more than 400 Indigenous, regional, Canadian and international artists. And Laurentian University’s art collection is in jeopardy.”

That’s no exaggeration, they insist.

“The ongoing bankruptcy proceedings at Laurentian University treat the publicly owned art collection as an everyday asset that can be easily sold and dispersed to pay off debts,” the trio write. “This is both unethical and a betrayal of any donor who has contributed to this important collection. And to every artist represented in it. And to the community.”

The Hagans cite a code of ethics from the International Council of Museums, which states: “Museum collections are in the public domain and shall not be treated as a salable asset,” as well as ethical guidelines from the Canadian Museum Association, which state: “This is it. It is for.” It is clearly unethical for museums to divest collections to provide funds for purposes other than the acquisition or direct maintenance of museum collections.”

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The collection policies of the former Laurentian University Museum and Art Center (which preceded the Art Gallery of Sudbury) respected such ethical guidelines, the Hagans say. Her deed of gift, used for art donations, states: “All proceeds from the sale or as insurance in the event of damage or destruction of the artworks will be used to purchase other artworks. ”

Each certificate was signed and witnessed by both the donor and Laurentian staff, the Hagans point out.

In a press statement issued on Wednesday, the Art Gallery of Sudbury said it continues to seek assurances that its assets, including artworks, are protected.

AGS filed a lawsuit in July as part of the CCAA process “to ensure that the process did not have any unintended consequences for the gallery given our longstanding relationship with Laurentian University,” said gallery director Demetra Christakos.

“To our surprise, the court-appointed examiner used this proof of claim procedure to attempt to assert, in summary, that the art described therein and our premises should be part of the assets available to satisfy Laurentian University’s creditors.”

The observer’s position “shows a complete misunderstanding of public art galleries, their role in the societies in which they function, the nature of their holdings and the history of this matter,” according to the AGS statement.

“As a result, the gallery has now been forced to seek legal counsel and sue to prevent these assets from being unfairly and needlessly drawn into the CCAA process.”

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The gallery said it has demonstrated fiscal responsibility throughout its existence and “continues to grow and thrive”. She wants to continue on this path “now and in the future”.

AGS said it’s important to note that the artworks in the LUMAC collection form part of the gallery’s permanent collections.

“The Gallery Board understands and appreciates the importance and critical role these assets play in the community,” AGS said in its statement.

“The gallery’s goal is to protect the assets for the benefit of the public and to continue to promote and fulfill its mission to be an educational, cultural and tourism destination in Northeastern Ontario.”

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