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The national art museum CEO

Jean-François Bélisle, BFA 04, MA 07
November 6, 2023
By Sandra Evoughlian

A man with grey hair smiles in front of a light grey background. He is wearing a navy blue sweater over a collared shirt.

As the National Gallery of Canada’s new director and CEO, Jean-François Bélisle wants to build networks between people and cultural institutions across the country. 

Throughout his career, he’s created opportunities for new audiences to engage with contemporary art. This included stints as executive director and chief curator of the Musée d’art de Joliette, co-founder and executive director of Arsenal Contemporary Art, and executive director of the Association des galleries d’art contemporain where he launched the Papier Art Fair (now called Plural).

“I think the future of art in Canada is a brilliant one,” says Bélisle. “I always thought Canadian artists were underrepresented in the international scene for the quality of art that was being produced here. Hopefully, with this new position, I can help that a little bit.”

Going beyond

“The proudest moments in my career happened when the whole team took risks — when we tried something that wasn’t done before and there was a strong likelihood that we would fail. Often, these risks were the most rewarding when we went outside the regular sandbox of a museum and took on a societal role that museums don't always have in their DNA. You learn a lot in the process of going one step beyond your comfort zone.”

Making art accessible 

“I get so much from art, and I want the same for other people. The regular museum-going public already knows how great and life-changing art can be. I love building projects for them, but I'm almost more excited about talking to a non-art public and trying to convince them of how fantastic art is.”

The art of social change

“Interesting realizations occur when different ideas and points of view come together — when there is a shock of opinions or perspectives. As a society, we can grow from that shock. Art is one way through which this can happen, but unlike arenas such as politics or social media, art is a bit of a haven.”

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