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Q & A with Mia Nielsen, Director of Art Toronto

Canada’s Art Fair – it has a whole new meaning this year and we caught up with the woman in charge to find out more.

Mia Nielsen

Image courtesy of Mia Nielsen

This year, Art Toronto is going big – 10 days of art online and in-person, Vancouver to Halifax, global conversations big. Responding to the moment with typical artistic flair, this year’s model is a hybrid of in-person and online events, including a virtual opening night preview in support of the AGO (yay!), exhibitions, curated collections, online talks, tours and more, from galleries, artists and curators across the country. Leading all this excitement is Mia Nielsen, Director of Art Toronto. We caught up with her to find out more about the many surprises in store.   

AGO: When did you know that this year's art fair would be a hybrid of virtual and in-person events?
Nielsen: In April, we started exploring a new format for the fair this year, inspired by conversations with key gallerists and VIP collectors. For me, it wasn’t a hard decision. I’m a curator who has built a career of developing shows in unconventional spaces, so in many ways I welcomed the chance to think about the fair as an exhibition format, to drill down the essential needs of galleries, artists and audiences and consider how best to make those connections, and create opportunities within these interesting new parameters.

 AGO: By having a strong virtual component, this year's fair is able to welcome artists and galleries from across the country in a way it's never been able to. What has the response been like? 

Nielsen: Galleries and collectors alike have expressed so much enthusiasm for this hybrid model. I’m so fortunate to lead an organization with such a dedicated following from across the country. I think many appreciate that moving online will allow us to connect with new audiences at home and aboard. But for myself and others in the art community – I know that appreciating art in person, speaking to the gallerists and curators, feeling how an artwork occupies space, hearing feedback – these are essential elements to maintain. 

 AGO:  Tell us about the interviews you've been having with art world leaders, entitled What Art World Do You Want To Create? Have you seen any commonalities in their aspirations for a post-pandemic world? 

Nielsen: Part of what was so exciting about these conversations is the unique position each speaker is coming from – it was an incredibly enriching experience and I learned so much from all of them. I’ve spoken to Gaëtane Verna (Director of The Power Plant), Dori Tunstall (Dean at OCADU) Jayne Wilkinson (editor of Canadian Art), Camille Usher (Aboriginal Curatorial Collective) and several more. Dori spoke so eloquently about how supporting teachers can impact future generations, Camille spoke with such passion about care being a central tenant of curating, Jayne’s vision for a future where the art community has more financial stability and Gaëtane’s ongoing work to support diverse and under-represented artists. Canada is full of inspiring cultural leaders.

AGO:  Last year's (the fair’s 20th anniversary! and your first!) FOCUS was on Portugal. Will there be a similar international FOCUS this year? 

Nielsen: One of my goals has actually been to shift FOCUS programming away from a geographic location(s) to a broader conceptual conversation built on timely themes. Early in January, I was working closely with curator Emelie Chhangur to develop an exhibition entitled Call and Response that looks at how artists of the diaspora are referencing the art historical canon in their work, and how that in turn creates multiple views of art history and a future with many possibilities. We were so excited about this project and it will take shape this year as a ‘curated collection’.  This year’s hybrid format also lends itself to certain themes, and as a result, we’re developing FOCUS: Screen Time, featuring lens and screen-based works from Canadian and international exhibitors. For the first time, virtual attendees will enjoy an exhibition designed specifically for their computer screens.

Art Toronto 2020 runs October 29 through November 8. Stay tuned to the AGOinsider for more exciting updates from this year’s fair, and visit to book opening night preview tickets.

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