Matthew Ryan Smith
In what way did your experience at The Department of Visual Arts at Western impact you & your career path?
My time in the department impacted me in many ways, probably too many to list here. In addition to my academic training, I was able to hone and develop my teaching and communication skills by leading several courses as an instructor. To date, I’ve taught at Western, OCAD, the Haliburton School of the Arts, and, currently, in the Department of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. I also had the opportunity to curate exhibitions at University College and the McIntosh Gallery. Under the supervision of Professor Patrick Mahon, McIntosh Gallery curator Catherine Elliot Shaw, and my advisor Dr. Sarah Bassnett translates into exhibitions I’ve curated at Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant, and elsewhere. I wrote a number of articles and essays that were published in academic journals and magazines. Research and writing remains elemental to my current academic and curatorial practice. Yet, perhaps most importantly, I made friends, contacts, and relationships that I maintain to this day, and which have led to professional opportunities in curating, writing, and so on. I was a Ph.D. student in the department for four years. It was the most important thing in my life, and will always remain an important part of who I am.
How have you been contributing to your community following your experience at Western?
Following my time at Western, I have been involved in the community programs and initiatives in several ways. I was part of a charity figure skating team called The Ice Men, which raised funds for breast cancer research at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. In terms of art and culture, I am a member of the collections committee at the Woodstock Art Gallery, a member of the advisory board of First American Art Magazine, and reside on the editorial board of the Yearbook of Moving Image Studies (YoMIS). I try to attend as many openings and events as I can. I also conduct quite a number of studio visits, and have been participated in studio crits at several art schools. I’ve also delivered a number of lectures on visual art and my career as a curator to grade schools, professional organizations, and universities. Of my fondest memories is the time I spoke to students at Gibbons Park Montessori School about my early life as a competitive figure skater and how it translated into my career as a cultural worker. Speaking about art and artists to children and youth renews my passion for teaching and community engagement. As a curator, I’m interested in staging exhibitions that create lasting and meaningful dialogues with audiences. Curating is intricately linked to community.
Can you think back and share a memorable moment from your time here at Visual Arts?
That’s a difficult question. I have quite a few memorable moments from my time in the department: my first class, submitting my first paper, delivering my first lecture, chatting with my advisor Sarah, staging my first exhibition, hanging out in the studios, submitting my dissertation, and so on and so forth. I don’t want to avoid the question, so I will say that having my grandmothers and my grandfather travel to London to attend my convocation is something I will never forget. They were, and still very much are, a significant influence.
What was the most important thing you learned during your time here?
I’m going to break my own rule here, I don’t think I can answer this question; namely, because I was learning important and influential ideas every day.
What is something you are passionate about? What are you working on right now?
I think I’m passionate about many things, but most, if not all, are related to art and culture in some way. I’m passionate about art, I’m passionate about artists, and I’m passionate about presenting compelling and meaningful exhibitions to communities. I consume as much music as I can; I read as much as I can; I watch films as much as I can. I would say that I have a deep interest in the health and value of art and culture for individuals and communities in Canada and beyond. I intend for my curated exhibitions, classes, and writings to reflect this idea. For example, I’m currently working on Andil Gosine’s exhibition “Coolie, Coolie Viens Pour Curry, Le Curry Est Tout Fini!”, which opens at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant in March, 2017. Andil’s exhibition features objects and performances that interrogate the relationship between indentured labourers from South Asia and their descendants. As a descendent of indentured labourers and as a migrant, the work speaks to the ways that his relationships and personal life is impacted by the colonization of the Global South. Andil’s work is extraordinary, and has taken on new meanings in these times. I also edit two art-related publications and maintain my own critical writing practice. That being said, my cat Bristol receives a lot of my attention, too.
Why do you think a career in the Visual Arts is important / valuable?
A career in the arts is important because it strengthens the bonds of community.
What would your hopes be for the next 50 years of Visual Arts at Western?
The department continues to maintain an excellent reputation in arts education. I have no “hope” for it, per se, because it’s already in very capable hands.