The National Gallery of Canada’s interim chief operating officer and human resources director is being paid annual fees potentially worth up to a third more than its next chief executive and director.
Outside consultant Tania Lafrenière is currently juggling the two leadership positions, being paid as much as $306,150 annually under interim director Angela Cassie, while also maintaining her own consultancy firm.
By comparison, the last chief executive of the gallery, Sasha Suda, was hired at a salary range up to $210,800 in 2019. A job listing for a replacement chief executive and direction position was posted last fall with a salary range of $204,200 to $240,200. The salary range for the human resources director is $105,000–$149,000 and the range for the chief operating officer is $149,000–$212,000. The news was first reported by the Globe and Mail.
Suda brought in Lafrenière as vice president of people, culture and belonging in January 2021 with an internal announcement that did not note it was a contract consulting position. Under Lafrenière’s management of the HR department, there were four major layoffs of senior positions in the fall that have made the future of the museum uncertain. These included chief curator Kitty Scott and Greg Hill, whose position as chair and senior curator of Indigenous art had been deemed surplus. Hill had worked at the national museum for 22 years and staged two major surveys of Indigenous contemporary art.
The other two layoffs were head of conservation Stephen Gritt and communications director Denise Siele. A memo from Cassie said a restructuring was the reason for the departures, but Hill said he was let go for a much clearer reason.
“I want to put this out there before it is spun into meaningless platitudes,” he wrote on Instagram. “The truth is, I’m being fired because I don’t agree with and am deeply disturbed by the colonial and anti-Indigenous ways the Department of Indigenous Ways and Decolonization is being run.”
Prior to Lafrenière being named the museum’s vice president of people, culture and belonging in January 2021, she signed a consulting contract in October 2020 to provide 88 days of work for $96,800. Consultants are often hired for short-term projects and $1,100 per day is considered a modest fee by experts. However, Lafrenière’s contracts were extended for several months. The contract signed last March was for a two-year period and included the COO responsibilities after the retirement of David Loye in August 2021.
The news of Lafrenière’s compensation comes less than eight months after it was announced Suda would leave her position as chief executive at the National Gallery of Canada to become director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She was only three years into a five-year-term, and was in the middle of launching an ambitious strategic plan for the museum. It included commitments to Indigenous knowledge, better community connections, exhibits like the international survey of Indigenous contemporary art “Àbadakone,” but also a stream of staff leaving.
The National Gallery of Canada operates at arm’s length from the Canadian government, but receives annual federal funding and is a member of the Department of Canadian Heritage. Its financial statements are also government documents subject to access to information requests.
There is ongoing concern from members of the Canadian art community that the gallery’s annual funding could be negatively affected by the November layoffs and the uncertainty regarding its current operations. In December, the Canadian Minister of Heritage Pablo Rodriguez wrote to the National Gallery’s board to express his “deep concern” over the departures of the four senior staff.
Lafrenière did not respond to a request for comment. On Friday, National Gallery of Canada spokesperson Douglas Chow defended Lafrenière’s compensation, totaling $512,762 in consulting fees since 2020–21, in a written statement to ARTnews. Chow called her “a transitional leader with a particular skillset” required to help the museum with “necessary changes as part of a major HR transformation.”
“Her fees are in line with the scope and breadth of the significant HR transformation at the Gallery, and with market rates for services of this calibre,” Chow wrote.
Chow cited the signing of a four-year collective agreement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, a decrease in the number of union grievances, and the recruitment of 118 new hires. While the search for a full-time HR director is taking place, Chow noted that Lafrenière “will be part of the process of recruiting and mentoring successful candidates to ensure a successful onboarding and transition.”
If you have tips or additional information about the current situation at the National Gallery of Canada, you can email the author of this article at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also on Signal and Whatsapp.