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Updated: National Gallery gets $10M gift to launch ‘unprecedented’ photography institute by Peter Simpson – The Big Beat

The biggest corporate donation the National Gallery of Canada has ever received, and the biggest gift that Scotiabank has ever given, will establish “one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of photographs and related materials.”

Scotiabank’s $10-million gift, announced Friday during a news conference in Ottawa, will support the new Canadian Photography Institute, which will be among “the very deepest, most comprehensive and broadly useful public collections of photographs in the world,” said National Gallery director Marc Mayer. The

gallery’s existing collection of 200,000-odd photographs and negatives will be bolstered by thousands of images, equipment and ephemera donated by David Thomson, the chairman of Thomson Reuters Corporation and a renowned collector of art. Thomson has donated 12,000 objects in the past year alone, and his earlier donations to the gallery are valued at more than $40 million.

The latest Thomson and Scotiabank gifts are “unprecedented,” and the institute will be “revolutionary,” said a plainly chuffed Mayer during an event in the gallery’s Great Hall — that soaring atrium that has now been renamed as the Scotiabank Great Hall, with the title in silver letters on a high wall overlooking the space.

The institute, which will occupy a yet-to-be-revealed physical space in the gallery to open in late 2016, will also be “fully digitized” and “accessible to audiences around the world,” said a news release.

“This is probably the premiere photographic collection in the world,” added Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter. “It’s the largest single gift we’ve ever done in our 183-year-history and we’re very proud to do it.”

The gift is so significant that its announcement attracted what had been, under the Harper Conservative government, the rarest of birds at the gallery — the cabinet minister responsible for federal arts funding. It may be years since such a political creature dared to set foot in a place that is perceived by some as elitist, but on Friday there was Liberal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, cheering the event with no apparent concern about how the optics will play in the provinces.

“It’s not the last time you’ll see one,” Joly promised, when informed of the gallery’s long drought of Heritage ministers on site. “It’s important to foster new relationships with the arts world, including the national institutions, and including artists.”

Joly had no new federal money for the gallery on Friday, but she praised the bank for its example to the private and corporate sectors.

“Scotiabank not only gave an amazing amount of money to the museum,” she said, “but they made sure to . . . show a clear signal to other companies, other great economic leaders, to make sure to give back, in order ultimately to redistribute wealth in a better way, and also to make sure we support our art and our artists.”

National Gallery Foundation chair Thomas d’Aquino called the donations “far-sighted philanthropy at its best.”

Mayer said in an interview that the changing nature of photography, and our relationship with it, makes the need for the institute urgent. It will expand upon the gallery’s existing collection of photographs — much of that absorbed from the now-defunct Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography.

The new collection will look beyond Canada, Mayer said, with images and objects from around the world, and from the first days of photography in the early to mid 19th century, to the digital works of today.

The collection will also mark a fundamental shift and include not only art photography, but also photojournalism, documentary photography, and even vernacular photography — those images of daily life taken by amateurs or other unknowns. Conceivably, someone’s holiday snapshot could end up in the Canadian Photography Institute.

“All of it informs our knowledge of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re headed,” Mayer said.

“For us to expand our reach in photography, where we can be deeply knowledgable about every aspect of picture culture that is so beautifully represented by photography, is revolutionary, I think, in the context of an art museum,” he said.

One key part of it all will be the Matthew R. Isenberg Collection of 15,000 American daguerreotypes, cameras and other early objects, donated by Thomson. Thomson’s purchase of the collection in 2012, through his Archive of Modern Conflict, was hailed as “the most significant sale of photography material in 50 years,” the gallery says.

Karen Colby-Stothart, CEO of the NGC Foundation, said Thomson’s gifts allows the gallery to build the collection to a scale “that’s really unprecedented for us.”

Colby-Stothart also said that Scotiabank’s donation, to be paid out over 10 years, “will allow us to really invest in our team. It’s going to allow us to do some infrastructure changes, to do some dedicated galleries, to expand our programs.”

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