John Hampton. Photograph by Don Hall.
John Hampton, a 2014 graduate of the Daniels Faculty's Master of Visual Studies program, has just been appointed executive director and CEO of the Mackenzie Art Gallery, the oldest public art gallery in Saskatchewan. In the process, he has become the first Indigenous person ever to land a job as chief executive of a major public art institution in Canada.
He is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, a Native American nation based in southern Oklahoma. "'First Indigenous CEO' is a strange title for me to wear," he says. "Although I grew up in Regina and I've been adopted into this community, I am still a guest here. I look forward to a future where Indigenous voices are leading the cultural dialogue in our own territories and are active participants in the broader art world."
Hampton thinks the benefits of demographic change at the top of the Canadian art world go far beyond diversity. "When the vision and leadership of your cultural institutions have no input from the voices or the cultures that have been here since time immemorial, that's more than a blind spot," he says.
In his time at the MacKenzie, Hampton has already implemented a number of initiatives designed to broaden the gallery's horizons. He helped create a partnership with Mitacs and the University of Regina to offer internships in Indigenous and new curatorial practices, restructured the gallery's Indigenous Advisory Circle, and appointed the gallery's first elder in residence.
He intends to use his new influence to push for more inclusion at the MacKenzie. The gallery is currently in the process of performing a demographic audit of its collections, and is also reexamining its artist payment policies and hiring practices from an equity perspective.
"The MacKenzie has a long history of championing Indigenous art, and the collection reflects that," Hampton says. "But the story of Saskatchewan is more than just settlers and Indigenous people. There are many communities with their own vibrant cultures, artistic practices, and world views. We can't tell the story of Saskatchewan art just through a settler and Indigenous lens."
Hampton is still deeply involved with the University of Toronto art community. He remains an adjunct curator at the University of Toronto Art Museum. Starting in 2022, the MacKenzie and the Art Museum will be co-presenting an exhibition on the history, mythology, and impact of the concept of a "white race."
Now, reflecting on his time as a student in the Daniels Faculty MVS program, Hampton says the learning experience was foundational to his career in the Canadian art world. "When I came to U of T is when I really started connecting with the broader art community," he says. "The MVS Curatorial Studies program is unique in this country."