Tough mentor, critical curator fondly remembered

Kamloops Art Gallery hosted a tearful and moving occasion last week, a celebration of the life of Annette Hurtig, the late curator, arts administrator and writer.

Hurtig, 65, died Feb. 16 after a lengthy struggle with cancer. She worked as curator in Kamloops in 2009-2010 - when she made a wide circle of friends here - yet her association as guest and adjunct curator with the gallery dates back 25 years to when it was in the basement of Kamloops Museum.

"Her contributions to art in Canada and farther afield were exemplary, as was her dedication, vision and compassion for sharing knowledge," said Jann Bailey, KAG's executive director. "She mounted dozens of exhibitions and mentored many young curators."

One of those is Charo Neville, who succeeded Hurtig at KAG when the elder curator had to step aside to deal with her health. Neville grew up virtually next door to Hurtig on Hornby Island near Comox.

Hurtig's daughter was like a sister to the young curator. For a period, the elder Hurtig taught Neville at the Hornby elementary school.

"Annette was never an easy person," Neville said. "She was tough. She was critical and constantly challenging the status quo."

Hurtig (a niece of Canadian politician and publisher Mel Hurtig) earned an M.A. at the University of Saskatchewan before trying her hand at farming in Nova Scotia. It was then, in 1977, she moved to Hornby with her young daughter and embarked on a 25-year career in the fine-arts field.

Gary Pearson, a Kelowna artist who worked with Hurtig on several of his exhibitions, once asked her why she shunned the commercial side. She'd sold three of his works at a nonprofit gallery.

"No, it's not for me," Hurtig replied. "She was very curatorially motivated; she didn't want the showmanship," Pearson said.

Friends admired her gift for conversation, critical mind and feminism, her love of nature and her passion for justice and art, Bailey said.

"All of our lives were enriched," said Trish Keegan, KAG registrar and a close friend. As a curator, Hurtig positioned the artist as the uppermost consideration in her work. "We were all learning from her … she instilled in all of us an integrity and respect for artists."

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