The Nanaimo Art Gallery’s new executive director says she’s looking forward to the challenge and opportunity to come to a new place, get to know people and make an impact.
On May 29 the Nanaimo Art Gallery announced that this summer Carolyn Holmes, who spent the past four and a half years as executive director of the Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George, will be taking the helm of the NAG.
Holmes said she’s been following the NAG for years and that it has a reputation for being innovative and community-minded.
“I know that there’s a great exhibition program there and also there’s lots of ties to the local community and to the indigenous community as well, which is all important to me,” she said. “I think not every art gallery should be the same. Each art gallery needs to respond to their community and work with the community and grow with the community.”
Holmes was born in England but raised in Whitby, Ont. As a youth she made art “all the time,” leading her to pursue a degree in fine arts at Queen’s University and a masters in museum studies at the University of Toronto.
“I always knew I was going to do something with art,” she said.
When she moved to P.G. 20 years ago to serve as the gallery’s inaugural education programmer the building was still under construction. Holmes said she got to develop the gallery’s programming from scratch and build a team around her vision. She said it’s “bittersweet” to be leaving the TRG after two decades, but “it’ll be nice to have some new ideas come into the organization.”
“A lot has happened in that time, along with me having two children and growing a family, so it’s been a big part of my life, the gallery, and Prince George as well, so it will be hard to leave,” she said.
Before becoming executive director, Holmes served as the director of public programs. She said one of her proudest accomplishments is establishing the gallery’s MakerLab, an education and workshop space meant to “connect the community with creativity and not just art.”
“Sometimes people think, ‘I’m never going to be a painter or a drawer,’ or, ‘These exhibitions aren’t for me,’ and so it was a way to have everybody embrace what they might be doing creatively…” she said. “We were trying to teach skills and share ideas and also get people who were making things in their houses, kitchen tables, in their wood shops and bringing them together to share ideas and building a community.”
Holmes said moving to Nanaimo will bring her closer to her parents who live in Qualicum Beach. And while she said her familiarity with the Harbour City is limited to that of a summer tourist, Holmes is excited for her and her husband and teenage sons to “find our place” in Nanaimo.
Holmes expects the first few months of her directorship will be spent familiarizing herself with the gallery and getting a sense of what the NAG staff and board are working on, their priorities and their plans for the future.
“I know eventually the board would like to grow the gallery and that’s exciting, I think, for everyone, but I think there’s a lot of listening and learning that needs to take place,” she said. “For me, engaging with the community is my priority. I want people to recognize that Nanaimo Art Gallery is their art gallery and feel a connection to that.”