Interview with Mia Nielsen / Art Toronto

Mia Nielsen, the new director of Art Toronto. Photo: Phil Anderson

Interview with Mia Nielsen (MN) the new director of Art Toronto (artTO) on the occasion of the fair’s 20th anniversary by Phil Anderson (PA)

PA: First of all, congratulations on being chosen to become director of Art Toronto as it goes into its 20th year. How do you feel the fair has evolved over the years since its beginning in 2000?

MN: 20 years ago, the fair opened with 60 (mostly) local galleries, since then it’s doubled in size to 120 exhibitors (including institutions and arts publications) from across Canada as well as Europe, US and South America. In addition, we’ve developed special projects including speaking events from international artists and curators, collection visits around town and new this year, a program of large-scale art works in the lobby, open to the public. 

Installation view of Art Toronto, 2019. Photo: Phil Anderson

PA: Are there any changes you would like to see in the fair perhaps not this year but maybe next year?

MN: Oh yes, there are a number of ways I’d like to evolve the fair, for instance, I hope to present more public art in the future. We’re in conversation with some new exhibition partners, but it’s too early to give away details, you’ll have to stay tuned!

PA: Of the 100 galleries participating there seem to be only about a dozen or so from outside of Canada, apart from Focus: Portugal. Why has there not been more international presence at the fair?

Francie Hester of Susan Eley Fine Art, London, UK. Photo Phil Anderson

MN: What makes ArtTO so special is that it allows visitors to immediately immerse themselves in the Canadian art scene. Very few fairs allow for that national snapshot. We welcome a handful of International galleries and it’s great to have some international context, but this fair presents collectors and those curious about art to see the best of what is made in Canada. Considering how well Canadian artists do on the international stage, it’s really a treat to be able to take in so much of that work in one place.


Shary Boyle, Red Rope. Patel Gallery, Toronto. Photo Phil Anderson

PA: Does the fair attract many notable collectors? What kind of efforts are made to cater to them?

MN: Yes, notable collectors come to the fair from across the country, this year there’s a great group from Western Canada and it was wonderful to see them here, acquiring works from galleries based in other regions of the country. Through our VIP program we offer collection tours and talks that are tailored to seasoned collectors, but of course, we welcome collectors who are just starting out too.

Collectors’ Preview, Art Toronto, 2018. Courtesy of Art Toronto

PA: How does having the Toronto Biennial impact Art Toronto 2019 in terms of its international presence? Or does it at all?

MN: The Biennial is an exciting addition to visual culture in Toronto and we’re so lucky to have such an extraordinary program run concurrently to the fair. It’s attracting a lot of attention from the international art scene and we’ve seen more curators from other parts of the word timing their visit so they can take in the fair and the Biennial at the same time.

Harbourfront site of the Toronto Biennial. Courtesy of Toronto Biennial

PA: How do you feel the 12 years of working at the Drake of Art and Culture has helped prepare you for this position?

MN: At the Drake my programming was geared towards presenting world-class visual art to wide and diverse audiences, I’m happy to build on those ideas here at the fair. Some of my favourite days at the Drake had me touring a museum director from half-way around the world and then speaking to guests about the collection who had never been to a museum before. ArtTO has similar diversity in the audience. Also, I programmed so many events from performances to magazine launches, talks and panel discussions, I look forward to building out more of those events in the future for the fair.

PA: Is there any particular part of this year’s fair that excites you?

MN: The public art program is really exciting, the generosity from the galleries that supported that program blew me away.

Jeremy Holmes, INFINITE, 2019, presented the artist and Galerie Isabelle Lesmeister. Photo: Phil Anderson

PA: How are selections made for the Focus series annually?

MN: We work with different curators on the Focus section, this year João Ribas did an incredible job to bring together so many fantastic Portuguese galleries.

Focus: Portugal curator João Ribas. Courtesy of Art Toronto

Rita Ferreira, Queria morrer anonimamente no deserto, 2017. Photo: Francisco Ferreira. Courtesy of the artist and 3+1 Arte Contemporânea

PA: There are over 25 Toronto galleries participating in this year’s fair so they must feel its importance to the artists they represent. Have any Toronto artists participating in Art Toronto received international attention as a result of their works having been collected at the fair?

MN: Over the years, participating in fairs has become increasing important for galleries everywhere. Even for local galleries, ArtTo presents important opportunities to connect with new audiences, many of whom live and work in the city. Seeing so many galleries in one place is a great way for guests to discover new (and sometimes new to them) galleries close to home – whether they are seasoned collectors or just here to appreciate the work on exhibition. Not only collectors, it’s a great way for curators, museum directors and the media to discover new artists. That leads to all kinds of opportunities to exhibit in new places, or be discovered by new audiences through media coverage. It’s different for each artist, but showing at Art Toronto is definitely an important platform for Canadian artists.

Tobin Gibson of Unit 17, Vancouver. Photo: Phil Anderson

PA: What do you think needs to happen to make Art Toronto grow in the future?

MN: I have so many concepts in development to grow the fair; you’ll just have to come back next year to see those plans start to unfold.

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