After graduating from Museum Studies in the spring of 2019, Erica Chi has already launched her career as an art administrator at the TD Bank Corporate Art Collection, one of Canada’s largest corporate collections.” Started in 1962, the collection includes works by Canadian artists like Lawren Harris and Jean-Paul Riopelle. The TD Gallery of Inuit Art has been open since 1982 at the TD South Tower in downtown Toronto.
As an art administrator, Chi works under a senior curator on a variety of tasks, from giving tours to working with partner organizations on exhibits (the current Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition on Brian Jungen includes a piece from the TD Art Collection) to managing art moves across the Enterprise.
Unlike a public gallery where five to 10 percent of the art is on display with the majority in storage, Chi says a corporate collection intentionally inverts that ratio. “Having art in your work environment or in client-facing areas, it becomes a conversation point and can help build relationships. It both enhances the setting and your experience of going to work,” she says.
Chi credits her Museum Studies internship with the University of Toronto Art Centre with providing the hands-on collections experience that helped her land her current role. Another highlight of her studies was the opening of her capstone exhibition project in May 2019. She and her classmates curated an exhibition project (students can also do a written thesis) in partnership with the Ontario Jewish Archives highlighting 20 historic businesses across Toronto’s Kensington Market in May 2019 for Jewish heritage month. Called Storefront Stories, the project, which opened during Jewish Heritage Month, featured posters hung in storefronts, a documentary website with the stories of members of the Kensington Market Jewish community and their descendants, and a launch that engaged visitors in historical walking tours of the area.
“It had that local history element, but it also focused on the contemporary, interesting and esoteric nature of the neighborhood today,” says Chi. “It was a beautiful coming-together moment and it was really cool to highlight those stories.”
It was a reminder too of how her serious pursuit of Museum Studies began with an epiphany moment at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While she’d been a regular museum-goer growing up in Ottawa and then an art history major as an undergraduate at the University of Guelph, it was seeing the 2015 Met exhibit “China Through the Looking Glass” that made Chi realize there could be a place for her in the industry.
“I am Canadian, but my roots are Chinese, my father’s Chinese. While I was there in that exhibit, I connected with the culture that was my own, but unfamiliar in a way,” says Chi. “It was so wonderfully curated with the music and the fashion and the pictures, that I felt this sense of community and belonging, almost kinship. It made me realize I love museums. I love art.”
As a recent graduate, Chi has fresh advice for current and prospective students in the program: get involved. She got to know faculty, staff and fellow students by working at the faculty library, and also immersed herself in the wider community by going to art shows and openings. “It’s so important to get out there and be active in the museum or cultural heritage sector,” says Chi.
As for the future, Chi’s just happy to be working in her field for now. “I’m constantly learning in this role because it’s so fresh,” she says. “I can only imagine what’s to come.”
Artwork: Jeneen Frei Njootli, Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, Chandra Melting Tallow, Tania Willard, Coney Island Baby, mural painted with the assistance of Caitlin Taguibao. Installation view at Gallery TPW. Documentation: Toni Hafkenscheid.