Family members of an artist whose work is represented in the Art Gallery of Sudbury’s art collection are speaking out after learning that his art is tied up in Laurentian University’s insolvency restructuring.
Laurentian has set its sights on the art gallery’s assets due to the history of the relationship between AGS and the university.
Ernst & Young, the court-appointed monitors of Laurentian’s insolvency, addressed the matter in an April 13 report filed before the courts.
The report said that Laurentian “intends on selling the Bell Mansion,” the Art Gallery of Sudbury’s home, and may include it, or the proceeds of the sale, in the plan it will be presenting to the creditors.
Ernst & Young also mentions the gallery’s art collection in the report. “The monitor also understands that LU is considering all of its options with respect to the assets of the art collection,” the report said.
The children of the late Ontario artist Frederick Hagan wrote about the matter in an open April 27 letter addressed to Premier Doug Ford, Ontario Minister of Tourism Culture and Sport Lisa MacLeod, Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, Laurentian President Robert Haché and Ernst & Young representative Sharon Hamilton.
Referring to Laurentian’s ongoing CCAA process, the letter said “amid these many challenges, I am writing to ensure that the issue of the Laurentian University Art Collection is not forgotten.
“This art collection of over 1,400 works was carefully collected and curated by professional staff from 1967 to 1997. It represents more than 400 Indigenous, regional, Canadian, and international artists. And the Laurentian University Art Collection is in peril. That might sound overly dramatic, but it is true.”
The Hagan family said that in 1996, their father — who passed away in 2003 — made a significant donation of 245 drawings, watercolours and prints to the art gallery.
In the 1990s, the gallery, then known as the Laurentian University Museum and Art Centre (or LUMAC), also purchased the largest and perhaps most significant of Hagan’s oil paintings, called Homage.
Annemarie Hagan, who is Frederick Hagan’s daughter as well as a veteran museum administrator from Southern Ontario, told Sudbury.com in an interview this week she was “shocked” to hear the gallery’s art collection is in peril.
In some ways, though, Hagan said she is “not surprised,” as Laurentian’s restructuring under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (or CCAA) is a complicated process.
Perhaps the court-appointed monitors have not properly considered all of the relevant issues, she said.
Hagan said she understands Greater Sudbury has suffered many losses as part of Laurentian’s restructuring, including job losses and program cuts.
But she said that for the art collection to “just be sold off, like at a fire sale, really I think would be a heartbreaking loss for the community.
“There's a loss of trust … that I think is going to reverberate well beyond Sudbury, if that happens.”
She said her father’s donation to the art gallery hits the family on a very personal level, as it represents 50 years of her father’s career, and he made the donation as a tribute to his late wife, who died relatively young in 1989, at the age of 66.
The letter from the Hagan family said treating the art as “everyday assets that can simply be sold off and dispersed to pay down debts” is “both unethical and a betrayal of every donor who contributed to this significant collection, and to every artist represented in it.”
It goes on to say that the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics states: “Museum collections are held in public trust and may not be treated as a realizable asset.”
The Canadian Museum Association Ethics Guidelines states that “... it is clearly unethical for museums to dispose of collections in order to provide funds for purposes other than for the acquisition of, or direct care of, museum collections.”
The letter said that the former LUMAC Collections Policies respected these ethical guidelines.
Their Deed of Gift — used for art donations — stated “any proceeds arising from the sale, or collected as insurance in the event of the damage or destruction of the works of art shall be applied to the purchase of other works of art.”
“Each deed was signed and witnessed by both the donor and Laurentian staff,” said the letter from the Hagan family.
Demetra Christakos, director/curator of the Art Gallery of Sudbury, said when she saw the April 13 report from Ernst & Young that refers to the art gallery’s collection, “it confirmed our worst fears.”
She said the gallery has been in touch with Laurentian and Ernst & Young about the issue since late last spring, and even met with Laurentian president Robert Haché and other LU officials at the gallery last fall.
“And we conveyed the information like you see in Annemarie Hagan’s letter during that meeting, and it’s had no impact on their response,” Christakos said.
The Art Gallery of Sudbury will go before the courts Monday because of its involvement with Laurentian’s CCAA process.
The gallery submitted a claim of $6.4 million through the CCAA proceedings on July 30 for a number of assets. Ernst & Young denied AGS’ claim this winter.
AGS now says it submitted the claim in error, and wishes to withdraw the claim, as Laurentian does not actually owe the gallery any money. The Monday hearing deals with the gallery’s request to withdraw its claim against LU.
The gallery said it submitted the claim “in order to ensure that the process did not have unintended consequences for the gallery given our long-standing relationship with Laurentian University.
“To our surprise, the court-appointed monitor has used this proof of claim process to attempt to summarily assert that the art and our premises described therein should form part of the assets available to satisfy the creditors of Laurentian University,” said a press release from AGS.
“As such, the gallery has now been forced to engage counsel and litigate to protect these assets from being unfairly and unnecessarily swept into the CCAA process.”
While Ernst & Young provides evidence in its report that Laurentian owns the gallery’s assets, Christakos said she believes these assets are actually the property of a separate entity, the Laurentian University Museum and Art Centre (or LUMAC).
As mentioned above, the Art Gallery of Sudbury has its roots in LUMAC, a gallery established in the late 1960s.
Laurentian University transferred operation of the art gallery to a community group called Art Gallery of Sudbury in 1997.
Although the intent was to officially transfer assets such as the Bell Mansion and the art collection to the Art Gallery of Sudbury, that never happened.
Ernst & Young said in their April 13 report that a memorandum of understanding between Laurentian and the Art Gallery of Sudbury “expressly provides for the retention of ownership of the assets by LU.”
Christakos said the gallery assets were not transferred to the Art Gallery of Sudbury because of a bequest to the former LUMAC. Those funds would have to go to the Royal Ontario Museum if the LUMAC collection were transferred to the Art Gallery of Sudbury.
In terms of the art gallery being dragged into Laurentian’s insolvency, Christakos said AGS still hopes that the university will “set aside these assets from the CCAA process,” recognizing that “museum assets are special assets,” not just financial assets.
Heidi Ulrichsen is the associate content editor at Sudbury.com. She also covers education and the arts scene.