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Success: From Sudbury’s Charlotte Street to the National Gallery

Marc Mayer, whose father portrayed the locally famous character Marcel Mucker, grew up in Sudbury. His fascination with the arts took him from the Nickel City to New York City to director of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa
Marc Mayer of Sudbury has had quite the career. He has held key positions at galleries in New York City, Montreal, Toronto and Buffalo, and his resume includes serving as head of Visual Arts at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris. From 2008 to 2019, he was the director of the National Gallery of Canada.

When respected art curator Marc Mayer was in Sudbury last month to give a talk at Place des Arts, he spent a few hours walking the streets of his old neighbourhoods.

"I walked around quite a bit. Just about everyone, perfect strangers, said hello with a big smile. I said, 'Well, I am not in New York anymore.' 

"I was very impressed with how friendly everyone was," said Mayer, who left home in the mid-1970s on a road of personal discovery, which led to a successful career as a curator and museum director, writer and lecturer. 

From 2008 to 2019, Mayer held one of the most prestigious cultural positions in Canada. He was director of the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) in Ottawa.

"The most unpretentious a person as you can hope to find in the art world," is how "The Globe and Mail" described Mayer in 2008.

That may have something to do with coming of age in a down-to-earth mining town.

Mayer has fond memories of Sudbury and values the experiences of growing up in a multicultural community. He played with kids of immigrant families. He was babysat by the Indigenous teens who lived next door.

"It was a wonderful education into the larger world because I have been interested in all of those cultures," says Mayer. 

"Growing up in a hyper multi-ethnic community like Sudbury was probably one of the best things that happened to me. The neighbourhood where I have the fondest memories was Charlotte Street. Our house was on the corner of Charlotte and Fraser.

"Gus's Restaurant was my hangout when I was a little kid when we lived on Elm Street.”

He might not be a household name in Sudbury, but his father, Gilbert, a local actor and TV personality, is well remembered for his performances on CKSO-TV as the off-coloured comedic character Marcel Mucker. 

If you’ve never seen Mucker in action, here’s an old clip from YouTube.

For a time, his family lived on Oak Street, near Queen's Athletic Field, where Mayer used to toboggan.

"I would wear four or five pairs of socks and walk in the slush. The socks developed an icy crust. Then we would go down (the hill), standing up, surfing in our icy socks."

Mayer attended École secondaire Macdonald-Cartier where he admits he was not a good student.

"My parents wanted me to go to English high school, but it was very important for me to continue my education in French, but I failed high school. I lost interest. I did not like school at all. I did well in university, but I flunked out of Macdonald-Cartier. I was not a happy student."

He was interested in art as a teenager,  and he credits his uncle, Reo Gauthier, with encouraging that interest. Gauthier owned the City Surplus store downtown and operated a gallery in the same building

After living in Toronto and travelling to Europe, Mayer studied art history at McGill University in Montreal. 

He has held key positions at galleries in New York City, Montreal, Toronto and Buffalo. His resume includes serving as head of visual arts at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris.

At the NGC, he championed the establishment of the Canadian Photography Institute and prioritized Indigenous art. 

Credited with increasing private donations and corporate sponsorship, Mayer assisted with key exhibitions such as Sakahàn, a collection of Indigenous work from around the world in 2013, and a retrospective of Canadian abstract artist Jack Bush's work in 2014.

A regular contributor to the site Substack, ( and Instagram (, Mayer received a warm welcome Dec. 19 at Place des Arts when he spoke about some of the art work acquired for the NGC during his time as director. 

Marc Mayer was director of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa when it acquired "100 Foot Line" a stainless steel sculpture of a branchless tree by American artist Roxy Paine in 2010. Image: Roxy Paine Studio

These included "100 Foot Line", a 30.5-metre-tall stainless steel sculpture of a branchless tree by American artist Roxy Paine, erected near the National Gallery in 2010.

The work examines how nature and technology collide in the contemporary world.

A member of the Order of Canada, Mayer is currently director of Arsenal Contemporary in New York City, a private art centre that exhibits contemporary Canadian art.

He has travelled widely and speaks Italian and German, as well as French and English. He now lives in Delaware County, New York.

Given that his hometown of Sudbury has been debating the spending of taxpayers’ money on the arts for decades and that any decision regarding a gallery or a concert venue invariably causes an outpouring from naysayers, we asked Mayer, the art expert, for his thoughts on the city’s proposed cultural hub idea.

Mayer is not one of them. He said he thinks the idea of a cultural hub — art gallery library and offices of Sudbury Multicultural Folk Association — at Tom Davies Square is important to the city's future.

"I wish you guys all the best on that. I think it is a great idea,” Mayer said.

"A city needs a cultural infrastructure to finish it, to make it liveable, and where people are happy to be. (Art) strengthens communities, I am absolutely convinced of that.

"Arts are the furthest thing from a waste of money. The arts build community by shared experiences and allow us to learn about each other’s cultures. A cultural centre enriches a town, and more people will move to a place where they can have a cultural life. It is important to them to have access to culture. It is not a frill. It is fundamental to our humanity."

Vicki Gilhula is a freelancer writer. Success is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.