Paul Butler likes 2013 so far. First the MFA student celebrated his 40th birthday and then was named the new curator of contemporary art for the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), Canada’s oldest civic art gallery and one of its top ones. The announcement sent quite a ripple through the Canadian arts scene last week and triggered a deluge of congratulatory messages.
“The response was very flattering and overwhelming and humbling,” says Butler, who was in class when the first message came in via text.
As the WAG curator, his focus will be on building a strong collection of contemporary art. He also sees the gallery as a community centre, in which contemporary art can be made more accessible to a broader public.
Butler may be in his first year of the master’s of fine arts program, specializing in painting and drawing, but he has years of experience as a multidisciplinary artist, curator, gallery director and board member. Focused on community and collaboration, he was the founder of a website that helped artists trade amongst themselves. His projects include The Collage Party, a touring experimental studio open to the public that travelled Europe and North America, and Reverse Pedagogy, an experimental art school that has been to Italy and Northern Ireland. He was also the director of The Other Gallery, a nomadic commercial gallery.
Butler’s work has been featured in myriad exhibitions and can be found in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Art Bank in Ottawa and his new employer. He’s received grants from, among numerous others, the Canada Council for the Arts.
With that background, why did he decide last year to return to school? “I was feeling a little anxious about my future,” he says. “I also wanted to teach, and it’s a requirement to have an MFA to teach.” He chose Concordia’s program because it is well respected. Also, living in Montreal was on his bucket list.
Butler wasn’t looking for the job. The Winnipeg native was home for the holidays and a casual meeting with WAG’s director eventually led to the offer. The job doesn’t officially begin until May 1, which gives him time to finish his first year in the MFA program. He’s working with the department to explore options that would enable him to finish his degree.
“Having this recognition and belief and support right now is great,” Butler says. “At the same time, I have work to do.”
• Paul Butler Appointed WAG's New Curator of Contemporary Art
• Paul Butler’s website