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New director chosen to help realize Audain's art dream

Suzanne Greening to leave post at The Reach in Abbotsford to get Audain Art Museum up and running



Just as Michael Audain envisions his art museum as part of a broad and growing spectrum of cultural offerings in Whistler, so too does the museum's new director tasked with getting Whistler's new art museum up and running in the next 18 months.

That big picture perspective is one of the reasons why Suzanne Greening was recently handpicked as director for the Audain Art Museum out of 37 applicants from across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

"We want the museum to be a very interesting place to visit in its own right but we hope it's going to be the precursor of more cultural initiatives in Whistler," said Audain, who is building the $30 million museum in Whistler to house his collection of British Columbian art collected over his lifetime, as well as exhibitions from around the world.

"She's really interested in cultural development."

Greening, currently the executive director of The Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford, calls her new job, which begins March 1, a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

"I love getting in at the beginning of an institution and working with the architects and putting systems in place and engaging community," said Greening. "That's the one thing that has been very successful at the Reach. Abbotsford has a very interesting community, very diverse in its makeup, and it's very exciting working with the staff to create programs, exhibitions, lectures, which engage everybody in some capacity. I enjoy that. I would say that community cultural development is something I feel very passionate about.

"That's very important because the success of this institution isn't in isolation. We're a component of what makes Whistler exciting. So, it's trying to figure out where we fit in and how we can engage and work collectively."

Greening was responsible for opening The Reach in 2008. Prior to that she was director of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington and the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo, Ontario. Like Audain and The Reach, both were start-up situations.

"She had the most experience opening new museums from scratch," said Audain. "It won't be the first time she's done this and she's proved very capable in doing that; that was an important consideration."

There is still no word on what Audain and his team will choose to display in Whistler. He recently donated an Emily Carr to the Vancouver Art Gallery but there are a wealth of pieces to choose from including First Nations masks and other renowned B.C. artists.

Greening calls Audain collection "wonderful bodies of work."

"I will be working very closely with him on how the works are interpreted and how they become alive for the public," she said.

Construction has begun at the 5,203 sq.-metre facility and Audain confirmed that the build is on track for its mid-2015 opening.

"The design of the building is going to be such that we will be able to curate exhibitions and bring in travelling shows from around the world," said Greening.

"We really do want to create an environment where people do want to come up — they come for the skiing, they come for the summer activities. Well, we want to be part of that reason for people to come to Whistler for culture."