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04.01.22 – Professor Barbara Fischer of Visual Studies receives 2022 President’s Impact Award

The Daniels Faculty’s Barbara Fischer, associate professor (teaching stream) in the Master of Visual Studies program in Curatorial Studies, has been awarded a 2022 President’s Impact Award.

Given out annually, the awards recognize and celebrate University of Toronto faculty members whose research has led to significant impact beyond academia.

Prof. Fischer, who is also the executive director and chief curator of the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, has been cited for her “exceptional contributions to curatorial theory, history and practice, enabling Canadian and international audiences to better understand and learn from contemporary art and artists.”

“I am so honoured to be a recipient of this award,” Prof. Fischer said this week. “It really belongs to the many who are part of the curatorial endeavour: my many amazing colleagues inside the Art Museum, and inside and out of the University, who I’ve had the pleasure to work with and learn from, and who have shaped this unique field of inquiry, research and form of knowledge-sharing; the students whose curiosity and spirited questioning matters ever more, and inspires me; and above all the artists who continue to challenge, guide and exact better from this ever-evolving field of curatorial work.”

Having joined the University in 1999, Prof. Fischer was initially the curator of the Blackwood Gallery at UTM before moving on to her roles at the Daniels Faculty and at the Art Museum at U of T. Outside of the University, she has twice curated Canada’s contribution to the Venice Biennale (in 2009 and most recently as part of a curatorial team in 2019) and overseen such major art exhibitions as the 2003 retrospective of Toronto collective General Idea (which travelled to 18 venues worldwide) and the 2017 project with Cree artist Kent Monkman entitled Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience (which looked at Canada’s history through the lens of Indigenous resilience and attracted massive crowds across the country).

“She stands out among the many impressive Daniels faculty members for how her research – on curatorial practice, and on conceptual, projection-based, counter-historical, feminist and Indigenous art – has made a difference to local and global audiences,” Dean Juan Du wrote of Prof. Fischer in her nomination letter for the President’s Impact Award. “Uniquely, her research is hybridized with curatorial practice, and each exhibition she has organized has integrated her findings with visual and spatial forms of presentation. She ‘makes knowledge visible.’”

Elizabeth Smith, formerly the executive director of curatorial affairs at the Art Gallery of Ontario and currently the executive director of the Frankenthaler Foundation in New York, was quoted in the same letter as saying: “Fischer has buil[t] knowledge of Canadian art in an international context, with consequential import to art history and understanding of cultural relevance of the visual arts… whilst sustaining and garnering a wide-ranging popular audience.”

As a recipient of the President's Impact Award, Prof. Fischer will receive an open grant in the amount of $10,000 per year for five years, for a total of $50,000, to be used toward her research and impact activities. She will also be designated by the University as a member of the President’s Impact Academy for a minimum five-year period, at the end of which she can elect to continue her participation in the Academy.

The President’s Impact Academy meets regularly to discuss matters relevant to research impact and to offer advice to the vice-president, Research and Innovation and Strategic Initiatives. Members also function as advocates for sustained excellence in research and innovation impact within and outside U of T.

“Professionally, I have to digest this a little more,” Prof. Fischer said when asked how she might make use of the award funds. “I am very excited about being able to strengthen the MVS Curatorial Studies stream through an annual Curatorial Collaboratory Initiative set up between the Art Museum and the academic programs with which we have ongoing relations, with focused workshops and exchanges between local and international curatorial and artist voices. I also hope to expand the library of books on exhibition and curatorial history, theory and practice, and to make it accessible of course.

“And then,” she added, “there are a couple of research projects that I am working on for which this support will go a long way and that I hope to be able to share in exhibition form, but they still need incubation time.”

Banner image: Photo by Gelek Badheytsang