Story by Sara Sadeghi Aval, Photo by Meaghan Eley

The Thunder Bay Art Gallery’s Pittwewetam: Making is Medicine is the 2021 recipient of the Exhibit of the Year award (budget under $20,000) at the Galleries Ontario 44th Annual Awards ceremony.  Piitwewetam, curated by sisters Jean and Leanne Marshall, is a culmination of Indigenous art by the Gustafson family, centred on healing, ceremony, and honouring a loved one during a time of grief.  In its media release, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery called the exhibition “an offering from the Gustafson family to us,” and the Marshall sisters’ curatorial process as being completed “with power, trust, and grace.”

“Speaking on behalf of the staff and my sister who co-curated with me, we’re all thrilled,” said Leanne Marshall. “We didn’t know we were nominated. A lot of these things happen in Toronto, and to be recognized at that level here in the north was surprising. There’s so much energy in that exhibit, and the Gustafson story is such an important one to share with everyone. I’m hoping this will shift how gallery spaces are used when working with Indigenous artists. The art gallery has always been open to working and learning with us.”

To Live In Balance by Justine and Ryan Gustafson (2016) 33×16”, pine, black ash, sinew, melton wool, leather, seed beads (Photo credit: Christian Chapman)

Although the awards typically consist of ten categories, this year’s awards were narrowed down to exhibitions, public programs, and lifetime achievement. The winners were chosen by notable individuals in the arts and announced virtually on November 29, 2021.

The Galleries Ontario Awards celebrate excellence in the province’s public art gallery sector. Sponsored by 20+ galleries, businesses and art institutions, the awards are juried each year and open to the public and headed by the Ontario Association of Art Galleries. For over 40 years, the awards have been one of a kind in the juried sphere. 

The full exhibition will be on a multi-location tour in Canada starting in 2022-2023. 

Details about the exhibit are available in the story by Jolene Banning.