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Author explores implications of McMichael legislation
From Arts Business Exchange, Feb. 2003.
KLEINBURG, ONT. - In "One Premier's Obsession, The McMichael Legislation in Ontario" LL.M candidate Ken Cavalier explores the controversial assent of Bill 112 on the scope of the collection at the McMichael Canadian Collection, an art museum in Kleinburg, Ontario. This unusual skirmish over collection parameters at the government owned museum, prompted Cavalier to raise questions about the involvement of former Premier Mike Harris on the side of the McMichael's seed donors.
Cavalier's article, published in the International Journal of Cultural Property Vol. 11 (2002) No. 1 is available for purchase at http://www3.oup.co.uk/intjcp/ This rare investigation into the relationship of art, politics and the law in Canada exposes some unusual undercurrents: the support of an entire political party for the seed donors; the legal rights of donors to control the collection; unique powers of the Minister of Culture to veto board by-laws; and the future of artwork acquired by the McMichael which is now outside the mandate of the institution.
At the heart of the controversy, suggests Cavalier, is whether the McMichael Canadian Collection is an art museum of work by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries or a gallery of contemporary art. The assent of Bill 112 in November, 2000 reaffirmed the former, at least during the lifetimes of Robert and Signe McMichael who donated their 14 acre property, house and collection to the province of Ontario in 1965. Their agreement with the province circumscribes the collection which may be viewed as an aesthetic trademark, observes Cavalier.
Indeed, McMichael director Vince Varga does not hesitate to claim this branded image for the 36 year old museum.
"The McMichael is the quintessential Canadian experience, the spiritual home of the Group of Seven." According to Varga, the new legislation allows the institution to collect artworks by just 18 artists. Hundreds of now inappropriate artworks acquired under 1989 legislation are poised to be deaccessioned by the institution.
The museum is in a difficult legal position. Art acquired by donation and then deaccessioned after less than 10 years will have tax implications for which McMichael trustees may be liable. A remedy for this may be to hold the work until that period has elapsed at which time the art may be sold.
In spite of this very large dangling thread, Varga and McMichael board members have been moving on with business as usual. The institution was awarded $1.7 million in capital funding from the province in 2001. In 2000, the province gave an additional $2 million to the McMichael to make necessary improvements to the roof, windows and mechanical systems of the Gallery's buildings.