The Power Plant, a leading contemporary art space on Toronto’s waterfront, has lost nearly its entire board of directors, with 24 out of 27 of its members resigning en masse earlier this week. The members who resigned have done so due to objections to the institution’s management by an affiliated nonprofit organization, the Harbourfront Centre, and have called for the institution to be held “accountable.”
The news, which was first reported by the Art Newspaper, comes less than a month after the Power Plant’s director and artistic director, Gaëtane Verna, departed to lead the Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University. Verna had been director at the Power Plant for ten years.
In a resignation letter that has circulated on social media, 15 board members, including the Indigenous artist Maria Hupfield (Anishinaabe-kwe of Wasauksing First Nation) and actor Richard Lee, detailed their claims, specifically against the Harbourfront Centre, a separate nonprofit that appoints around half of the Power Plant’s board and manages the site of the contemporary art space’s current location.
The letter reads, “Due to Harbourfront’s actions and our current impasse, we have concluded we can no longer fulfill our commitments and duties owed to the Power Plant’s stakeholders, including government stakeholders, funders, artists, the arts community at large and individual supporters of the Power Plant. The independent directors of the Power Plant have no choice but to resign because of the actions taken by Harbourfront.”
According to the letter by the resigning board members, on June 2, shortly after the Power Plant hosted its 35th-anniversary gala, the Harbourfront Centre sought to terminate 12 of the Power Plant’s board members “and replace them with its own slate of directors from its own board or staff. This decision was made without consulting the Power Plant, nor was any compelling rationale provided.”
Those 12 board members included six women and five people who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color, according to the letter. The letter adds that the Harbourfront Centre subsequently took legal action against the Power Plant, which had a budget of around CAD$3.3 million in 2021, according to its most recent annual report.
After the publication of this article, a spokesperson for the Power Plant confirmed in a statement to ARTnews that the Harbourfront Centre had informed board members in June that “it would be exercising its right to replace a number of Directors on The Power Plant’s Board.” The statement continued, “This change in governance of the institution does not impact The Power Plant’s programming, daily operations or employee positions, and the gallery maintains its full curatorial independence. The Power Plant team continues to operate as usual during this time and are committed to advancing our mission in presenting thought-provoking exhibitions and public programs for all communities.”
In a statement sent to ARTnews, Marah Braye, the Harbourfront Centre’s CEO and one of the only remaining members of the Power Plant’s board, called the allegations by former board members “not correct” and that “governance and operational concerns that were not being addressed” have been ongoing for over a year, specifically with its most recent board chair.
Her statement added, “In fact, these changes were made to ensure the appropriate governance structure to support The Power Plant’s director and address any operational needs. There were governance and operational concerns that were not being addressed by The Power Plant Board. Despite repeated communications over the last year that were presented to the Chair of the Board, they continued to not be addressed. We therefore had to exercise our rights to ensure good governance.”
In a statement sent to ARTnews after the publication of this article, Lee, one of the board members, refuted Braye’s statement: “The Power Plant was fully meeting and addressing all of its obligations, including the governance and operational concerns expressed. We were enjoying the highest level of success before Harbourfront took these actions.”
Braye also took issue with the claims that the Harbourfront Centre installs directors on the Power Plant’s board, writing, “A number of Harbourfront Centre directors have been proposed to be added on an interim basis only to support while the search for new board members continues. We are firmly focused on seeking new and independent Board candidates for The Power Plant who represent the diversity, skill set and experience that has been at the heart of our mission for almost 50 years.”
On the page of the Power Plant’s website reserved for listing the board of directors, a statement reads, “The Power Plant thanks the Board of Directors for their unwavering support over the years and is proud to be associated with such leaders of our community.”
In their letter, the resigning board members further called on “the City of Toronto, Heritage Canada and all the Power Plant funders and community to rein in Harbourfront Centre and hold it accountable for its actions.”
Updated, September 24, 5:20 p.m.: This article has been updated to include statements sent to ARTnews after publication by Richard Lee and the Power Plant.