Mann Art Gallery employees moving on to new adventures

Jodi Schellenberg
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They have been fixtures at the Mann Art Gallery for the last three years, but Griffith Aaron Baker and Twyla Exner have handed in their resignations.

Griffith Aaron Baker and Twyla Exner, who have been fixtures at the Mann Art Gallery for the last three years, will be moving to Grande Prairie to follow a new opportunity this year.

Director/Curator Baker will be leaving the gallery on Aug. 29 as Baker has accepted the executive director position at the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie on Sept. 1.

“The Art Gallery of Grande Prairie actually just built a multi-million dollar facility, which is attached to the Montrose Cultural Centre, along with the library and a couple of conference spaces,” Baker explained. “The gallery is huge -- it is seven galleries and actually bigger, in terms of actually size, than the Mendel in Saskatoon.

“There is quite a bit more staff than Prince Albert and of course the salary is higher,” he added. “It is the regular process, you just have to keep moving up.”

Exner, the current gallery educator, will be staying on at the Mann Art Gallery a little longer before joining Baker in Grande Prairie.

“I’ll be staying for a short period of time to serve as our interim director for the gallery until another person is in place -- I’m hoping that will be done by November,” Exner said. “I will be staying in Prince Albert for a short time within Griff’s position, not mine, just to see things through to the next person.

“As you know, we are a small staff -- full-time, year-round, we are only three and we are two of the three,” she added. “It is a bit unfair and not ideal for the gallery for us both to take off and leave all responsibility with April and the board of directors.”

The position is already open for applications.

“We are looking forward to seeing who is in place next,” Exner said. “I’m sure it will be positive for the community. It is good to have new perspectives and new ideas. It is an exciting time, I think, for the gallery and the arts community in Prince Albert.”

The couple moved to Prince Albert in 2011 and started working at the Mann Art Gallery in July.

 “At the time I told my board of directors during the hiring process that I expected to be here for about three years so it is about exactly three years and a month, I guess,” he said.

They have enjoyed their time in Prince Albert, serving the arts community.

“Prince Albert has an amazing art community -- there is an astonishing amount of artists here for the size of the community, which is awesome,” Baker said. “We have put a lot of work into nurturing artists and increasing the gallery’s membership, which has gone from 76 people when I started to over 200 now.”

Not only has the membership increased, so did the revenue from about $230,000 to more than $330,000, through project grants at both provincial and federal levels.

“We have enjoyed living in Prince Albert,” Baker said. “We love the trees, the lakes and the rivers -- all those kinds of stuff. It’s been a blast.”

“I’ve enjoyed working here at the gallery and in my position as educator, I’ve worked with a huge amount of people over the last three years -- over 5,000 in 2013 alone -- so it has been really exciting for me to meet and work with so many different people from ages three to 93, of all skill levels and backgrounds,” Exner said. “It’s been really wonderful.”

They both will miss the arts community they have been working with for the past three years. The attendance grew from about 11,000 people in 2011 to almost 30,000.

“I’ll miss people coming into the gallery and talking with artists and donors,” Baker said.

“I will miss the openness I’ve had with my participants,” Exner added. “I appreciate the teachers who have brought their students here, many of them repeatedly, for really exciting art opportunities.

“There are some classes that I have seen every year for the last three years, so that is really fun to see their development and creation.”

Not only will they miss the artists they have worked with, but also the other people who have made the Mann Art Gallery a reality.

“Our board of directors here is really great -- they have been very supportive over the years,” Baker said. “I’ll miss that. Hopefully I’ll have the same sort of luck in Grande Prairie.

“Roger and Diane Mann have been absolutely phenomenal,” he added. “I came on just as their patronage started and they changed from the Prince Albert Art Gallery to the Mann Art Gallery.”

He also enjoyed the work, collecting artwork regionally, provincially and nationally.

“We have collected probably about 600 pieces in the three years we have been here, largely by donation but also purchasing through the Mann Acquisition Fund,” Baker said. “That has been pretty exciting too I think.”

The event Baker said he will miss the most is Wolf Back a Beer. He said the Wolf Project is underway and has raised $108,000 of the $156,000 required to get the art piece.

“I think we are in year three of our five-year plan and actually ahead of schedule,” Baker said. “Unfortunately I won’t be here to actually see it raised but I think they are well on the way. When it actually happens, I hope to come back.”

Although they will miss many things, they are looking forward to new opportunities.

“I’ll miss working with all those people, but look forward to all my future projects,” Exner said.  

Grande Prairie is about twice the size of Prince Albert and serves a region of 250,000 people.

“What I am looking forward to is having the budget to actually bring in some really cool national and international artists and maybe have some other people do some of the stuff that I am doing here, like marketing and installing exhibitions and allow me more time to actually curate exhibitions and direct the organization,” Baker said.

“I think there is just a larger capacity there and it will be pretty exciting,” he added. “The community there is fairly transient because of the oil and gas industry that is there, so I think there will be a lot of perspectives and ideas there.”

It is a very young community, with an average age of 28. The mayor is just 35.

“I’ll be old there, which will also be interesting,” he laughed.

Exner doesn’t have a job yet in Grande Prairie but hopes to find one

in the city.

“They have the art gallery but they also have a Centre for Creative Arts, which is similar to Prince Albert’s Arts Centre,” Exner said. “They do also have a college there that has a two-year certificate in Visual Arts.

“There are lots of opportunities -- none of the positions are currently open but I’m hoping sooner or later one of them will,” she added. “Until that time, I will just focus on my art practice and have a chance to develop some of my own drawings and sculptures. I look forward to that as well.”

They are thankful for the opportunities they had in Prince Albert.

“We would like to thank the community of Prince Albert for their support and patronage,” Exner said. “It has been really wonderful working with all the people here and getting to know the community.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, Mann Art Gallery, Montrose Cultural Centre Prince Albert Art Gallery Mann Acquisition Fund Centre for Creative Arts

Geographic location: Grande Prairie, Saskatoon

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