The Audain Art Museum's executive director Suzanne Greening is leaving the museum she has helped get off the ground for the past three-and-a-half years.
Greening's four-year contract was due to end in March 2018, and the board of trustees notified her this month that they would be going in another direction after her tenure was up. Greening chose not to finish the remainder of her contract, according to the board.
"We thank Suzanne for what she's done to open the museum; that was her expertise. I think this is the fourth museum she has opened and she did a very good job doing that," said board chair Jim Moodie.
The museum's associate director of operations, Brianna Beacom, has been appointed as acting director while the board begins the search for Greening's replacement. Moodie said, in an ideal scenario, a new director would be in place by March, but he feels that might be an ambitious timeline.
Greening's departure comes at a crucial time for a museum still finding its footing in Whistler's cultural landscape. According to recently released financials, the museum drew 55,671 visitors between March 2016 and March 2017, resulting in $453,331 in admissions revenue. It also sold 2,559 memberships during that time, worth $69,182 in revenue. The non-profit closed its first year with a surplus of nearly $25,000.
Although she didn't return a voicemail by deadline, Greening spoke with Pique last month about the challenge of attracting visitors in a town not widely known for its cultural offerings.
"Culture is part of that continuum, so for us, it's not breaking down barriers but just making people aware that you may come for the skiing or mountain biking or a road race, but there's also something else here," she said.
For Moodie, measuring the nascent Audain's success isn't as simple as comparing it to other cultural facilities or tracking attendance numbers.
"I think we've done well, but I don't really have a yardstick to measure it against. There aren't that many museums like the Audain museum that you can (compare to). In many areas, in terms of the temporary exhibits we've mounted and the response we've had to those, we've been very happy," he said.
"As we get more experience in how this museum is going to fit into the community and how the community responds to culture, we'll have a better handle on what a good attendance number is."
In a move that should bode well for the future of the $44-million museum, on Friday, Nov. 10 it was announced that Vancouver business executive and president of G.I.H. Properties, Tom Gautreau, and his wife Teresa have donated $2 million to the Audain's permanent endowment fund.
"Teresa and I are happy to support the Audain Art Museum because we believe in the importance of British Columbia art and can see that the museum is doing a terrific job showcasing it to the rest of Canada and to the world," Gautreau said in a release.
In recognition of the donation, the special exhibition galleries on the lower level of the museum will be named the "Tom and Teresa Gautreau Galleries."
The contribution puts the endowment fund, which was created in 2015 to ensure the museum's long-term financial stability and is already one of the largest in the country attached to a cultural facility, at a total of $25 million, founder Michael Audain's original target. But with the Gautreaus' donation, along with the other financial support the museum has received, the decision was made to double the fundraising goal.
"(A $50-million endowment fund) would mean that the staff and the board can look at all sorts of different shows, bigger shows, we can look at admissions, we can look at sponsoring different events, and that type of thing," Moodie noted. "Rather than a situation where we're hoping to break even each year, it will give us some breathing space and we'll be able to do some even more imaginative things."
Last week, the Audain unveiled its most recent — and largest — exhibit yet: Stone and Sky, which explores Canadians' relationship with the mountains through over 100 artworks that span Canada's 150-year history. The special exhibition, which includes works by the famed Group of Seven, Emily Carr, Edward Burtynsky and Ann Kipling, among others, runs until Feb. 26.
The museum has also extended its hours for the winter on Thursdays and Fridays, staying open until 7 p.m. Closed Tuesdays, it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
For more information, visit audainartmuseum.com.