Gaëtane Verna - Director of The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery
"I wanted to take care of the arts and artists."
Q. You’ve had an illustrious career in contemporary art and curating – what drew you to the field?
From an early age until my twenties, I played classical cello, took part in orchestras, danced classical ballet and was part of an amateur dance company. I always wanted to work in the arts and I also knew that I did not have the calling to be a producing artist of any sort.
Regardless, I was fascinated with the ability of certain individuals to produce art. I eagerly strived to be part of the ecology of the arts milieu and become a bridge between the work of the artist and the general public. I wanted to take care of the arts and artists.
Q. Contemporary art seems very subjective, how do you know what good art is? How do you determine which artists you want to show in your space?
Since the dawn of time humans have expressed themselves through a variety of mediums, which has developed a multi-layered visual culture found in every part of the world. Whether it is the early cave paintings to the most contemporary form of sculpture or painting, humans always produce visual expressions of the world that surrounds them.
At The Power Plant our goal is to present the work of living artists that are relevant to questions that affect our society locally, nationally and internationally. The forms of arts are as a diverse as the artists that we choose to present, but we humbly believe that they represent practices that are informed by our current socio-political context or at least address the key questions of our times.
Q. What is one piece of career advice you wish you could give yourself at 25, knowing what you know today?
Never burn bridges with people, you will never know when you will encounter them in the future.
Know that people will be mean, calculating and deeply hurtful, but you will always meet exceptional people that will help you for no other reasons then the fact that they seek to support and nurture others. Be part of the later group.Share, support and nurture others whenever you can.
As a woman, and moreover as a woman of colour; know that people will still not be used to having someone like us in a position of leadership. Regardless – seize the moment, march ahead, be bold, be fierce and speak you mind, but at times keep your eyes on your final goal and allow others to help you or lobby in your favour.
Always stay true to yourself, be firm but fair.
Lastly, work hard even if you think that no one is looking! Do it for yourself if for no one else.
Q. Why is it important for women to get involved in their community – whether this is through partnerships, volunteerism or sitting on a board?
I have always considered participating in activities such as taking on a role on a board or committee as part of my professional development. It is an ideal opportunity to put your skills and ideas at the service of others, but it also helps you to develop a network of colleagues outside of your direct work environment and your respective field.
Through the different boards that I have taken part in, I feel that I was also able to contribute to my community, to affect change and learn everything from governance, to strategy. It also helped me gain an understanding of my field from different perspectives that have informed my daily work and deeply influenced my career.
Q. The Power Plant is known for being a diverse and inclusive space for artists to showcase their work and for patrons to visit. How to your make inclusion and diversity a priority - both for your artists and visitors?
An institution has a duty to represent the community in which it is embedded. In our current society, especially in Toronto where 50 per cent of residents were not born in the city or the country, it becomes evident that diversity if a fact of our environment.
For me integration is an action. It is an active decision, which is part of the values of the institution at all levels: board composition, staff, exhibiting artists and the patrons that are the audience of our gallery.
Not taking this into account would mean that we are not sensitive to our direct environment and the specific context in which we present our exhibitions, education and public programs.
Q. If you could showcase one artist, alive or deceased, at the Power Plant, who would it be and why?
There are really too many artists to choose from! It would be impossible for me to single out just one.
I would choose artists whose work transcends the material that they use, artists who produce multi-layered artworks that can be meaningful to different people for many reasons regardless of their origins or their social background. Works that resonate to human issues and that resonate to me.