The real issue here as we see it is not necessarily whether or not this art collection should be sold – it is really about the shockingly callous and secretive modus operandi of this so-called private foundation. The EMSB’s council of commissioners and the public it supposedly represents, was not consulted. It is unaware whether or not the foundation is respecting the 1980-81 PSBGM resolutions or the Deed of donation as the foundation is categorically refusing to make these documents public, the very public that has dished out over the years thousands of dollars to maintain this “all but secret treasure trove”. The foundation seems to be stuck in the past as it kept its consideration to sell the art collection “secret” just as its former elected commissioners kept school closure decisions secret when they were PSBGM officials, a practice that continued for a number years when these same officials were at the EMSB.
According to Angelo Komatsoulis, “curator” and one of the directors of the Cultural Heritage Foundation of the PSBGM, this non-profit body set up in 1980 “to look after the art works that had been donated to individual schools”, the foundation has “the legal right to maintain, enrich and sell the art”. Yet the former chairperson of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, Allan Butler, stated to the Montreal Gazette in an article published on Feb 8th, 2001, that the PSBGM’s art collection was transferred to a foundation specifically created “to keep the government of Quebec’s hot hands off the works”.
Under the section “related organization” of the EMSB’s Annual Report “the PSBGM Cultural heritage foundation has as its objective the preservation and maintenance of works of art from public donations. The School Board exercises significant influence over this organization by the fact that several commissioners and staff are also board members of the foundation”.
The foundation’s head office is located at the English Montreal School Board; its directors are current and former school board officials; insurance premiums for the art collection have always been paid with public money; the foundation has, to our knowledge, never made any attempts of any kind at fundraising to maintain & preserve its collection; foundation directors rarely meet but meet at least once a year at the EMSB Christmas party.
It should be noted that generally speaking art curators collect works of art, maintain collections, organize exhibitions and proper storage. They review and write grant proposals, attend events and meetings to bring awareness to the public about the collections under their care. They do not operate in a vacuum and under a veil of secrecy.
If the PSBGM/EMSB’s secret art collection of donated works and works acquired with public money is sold by this most secretive foundation, we hope that so called art curator Angelo Komatsoulis will at least respect the foundations by-laws that require and restrict scholarships to artistic and literary pursuits. Let’s hope that this bottom of the market sale is really for the greater good and not primarily about the mortality of its aging key directors, interested perhaps with naming scholarships after themselves. Komatsoulis claims that by selling this collection, “the public should have a chance to see the works” — strange comment coming from someone who along with others have done everything in their power to make sure that this “treasure trove” remained very secret and inaccessible to the public for over 32 years.