By Jerelyn Craden
On Saturday, March 12, more than 30 people representing the wide range of arts and culture in the Highlands, including Fleming College, Haliburton School of Art and Design students and faculty, Arts Council Haliburton Highlands, and members of the Haliburton County Community Co-operative gathered to show support for the Agnes Jamieson Gallery.
The group had planned to show up for the official opening and talk by exhibiting landscape artist, Alex Jack. Instead, they were greeted by a piece of paper tacked to the gallery’s front door that read: “Artist Talk with Alex Jack scheduled for March 12 has been cancelled.”
The cancellation, which they said wasn’t widely-publicized, comes on the heels of the sudden and unexplained departure of gallery curator Laurie Carmount last month. Minden Hills community services director Craig Belfry confirmed to the Times at that time that Carmount is no longer employed with the township but would not further comment on whether Carmount left voluntarily or if she was fired.
At that time, Belfry told the Times, “the municipality will now begin the process to recruit staff, and we are looking forward to an excellent summer season. The Minden Hills Cultural Centre is a valued integral part of the community, and we are confident in the future of the centre, and all of its potential.”
A group discussion at the gallery on Saturday about the situation was led by Tammy Rea, arts and culture contributor in the Highlands and former member of the Cultural Centre advisory board.
“There is concern among the community that with the abrupt leaving of Laurie Carmount, the gallery might be in harm’s way,” she said.
According to Rea, for many years Carmount’s work and commitment to honouring the vision of founder, Agnes Jamieson, raised the AJG’s status to that of recommender gallery with access to notable travelling art exhibits. With no curator in place and no plans announced yet by the township for the future, those who were present shared their concerns.
“Each year, a certain amount of funding is allocated to the Agnes Jamieson Gallery,” said Jim Blake, president of the community co-operative. “Artists can come and apply for funding to help with the cost of putting shows together – framing, transportation, and marketing. You have to be at a certain status to be able to work with the Ontario Arts Council and be a recommender gallery. The problem now is, suddenly Laurie Carmount is gone.”
Barrie Martin, owner and experience broker of Yours Outdoors spoke to the importance of the gallery from the lens of tourism.
“The AJG is a major attraction for Minden,” he said. “I’ve used it a number of times as a stop for some of my tours. There’s one bus tour that brings rainy day trips up from Toronto.”
Martin said the last tour in Minden included a catered lunch for a group of 24 at Molly’s Bistro Bakery, which is located next to the gallery.
“They’ve been wanting to do it again,” said Martin. “They contacted Molly’s and filled a busload of 50 people and had made arrangements for Molly to cater again. The co-ordinator … reached out to the cultural centre and, of course, it wasn’t available. So, Molly’s loses out on a group of 50 people for lunch and the cultural centre loses as well, because Laurie Carmount is gone.”
At the heart of the AJG are the artists and their work. Rose Pearson, local artist and teacher, was scheduled to exhibit her new work on April 5, following the Alex Jack exhibition. When she heard that Carmount was no longer with the gallery and given no explanation why, she panicked. She said she was told her show scheduled for April would not take place.
Pearson said she was not only concerned about her own exhibit, but all of the artists who were scheduled to present at the AJG in 2022. Her admiration for Carmount as curator as well as the opportunity of the gallery for artists, including local students, was palpable.
The group also shared concerns about the gallery’s Andre Lapiné collection, which is the largest in Canada, the status of the AJG as a recommender gallery, upcoming shows, hiring of the next curator, and the overall vision and commitment to the cultural centre.