Former Vancouver Art Gallery head Kathleen Bartels joins Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Art as executive director and CEO

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      The Vancouver Art Gallery's former director of 18 years has moved eastward.

      Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Art has announced the appointment of Kathleen Bartels as its new executive director and CEO, starting April 14.

      Bartels had been leading the VAG in its move to a 300,000-square-foot purpose-built landmark, raising about $85 million in its capital campaign, before suddenly stepping down and not renewing her contract last May to "pursue other professional and personal interests". The new facility is scheduled to open in 2023.

      Bartels was the longest serving director in the gallery’s history.

      Formerly located on hip Queen West, MOCA moved into a 55,000-square-foot home in a heritage industrial space in T.O.'s new Lower Junction 'hood in 2018. It used to be known as the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (or MOCCA). Like all other museums and galleries in the country, it's temporarily shut down due to COVID-19 measures.

      Kathleen Bartels left the Vancouver Art Gallery last May.


      “Kathleen’s experience taking successful regional organizations and putting them on the world stage to enjoy both the profile and subsequent funding benefits, uniquely positions her to identify key strategic opportunities for MOCA and guide us into our next phase of development,” Brad Keast, chair of MOCA's board of directors, said in a press statement today. “We are especially thankful that she is joining us now, as arts organizations across the world face the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kathleen has led an organization through 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, and other tumultuous times, and we are grateful to have her guidance and wealth of experience available to us as we navigate this new reality.”

      The institution had been led by former MOCA CEO Heidi Reitmaier, who left after only one year at MOCA, moving into a role as deputy director and chief of public programming and learning at the Art Gallery of Ontario early in 2019. Since then November Paynter and Rachel Hilton had shared the leadership role.

      Bartels, who had established the VAG’s Institute of Asian Art in 2014 and had worked to grow the VAG's collection by more than 60 percent, had stayed on as a special advisor to the facility's interim director, former chief curator and associate director Daina Augaitis.

      Prior to taking the helm of the VAG, Bartels was assistant director at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles for more than a decade. 

      In today's press statement, Bartels said: “I’m honoured and excited to be joining such a strong staff and Board whose exemplary commitment to contemporary art, community engagement, and institutional collaborations is to be applauded. MOCA is poised to be recognized as a world-renowned contemporary art museum, as well as a cornerstone in Toronto and Canada. While I recognize that these are challenging times, I am committed to leading the institution’s growth and long-term impact in the years to come, with my first and foremost priority being the well-being of MOCA staff and patrons.”