By Laura Trethewey
On my last stop of the trip, autumn arrives in the form of a cold wind ripping through Saskatoon’s streets. I head to the Mendel Art Gallery, not for the art per se, but for the coffee (I’m told its cafe, Museo, serves the best espresso in town). While the rest of the city is quiet this Sunday afternoon, visitors jam into the gallery to see three new exhibitions. I flag down a curatorial assistant, who introduces me to Troy Gronsdahl, alone in the basement, away from the crowds, where he plans the popular programming of the Saskatoon’s best arts institution.
For those unfamiliar with how museum programming works, could you explain your job?
I handle a range of programs, write interpretative texts, help with the website and develop new media. I manage our drop-in DIY art space called StudioXPRESS. People can work with professional art materials and the activities are designed to dig deeper into the themes of the exhibitions. I also spearheaded and launched a podcast that’s sort of like Mendel Radio. I interview artists or curators and play music by Saskatchewan artists. Museums are constantly going through self-critical analysis: What are we doing? How can we do it better? Are we reaching our audience? Are we responsible to our community?
How did you become a jack-of-all-trades Saskatoon’s art scene?
One of the great, but also most challenging, parts of working in the arts is that is is chronically understaffed. You learn a lot of different jobs and take on many roles.
As an artist and musician, I’ve always worked on DIY projects. I run an indie hip-hop label, Clothes Horse Records and an online record shop which used to have a bricks-and-mortar shop. It was a vanity venture that ended in… [laughs] personal failure. I’ve also had about five years of gallery experience before the Mendel, doing arts communication and a website, installing shows, running an arts placement program, working with artists, organizing talks. I’ve picked up a lot of skills along the way.
You’re definitely immersed.
My pet peeve is when art organizations hire from outside the community. Art jobs are rare and competitive, so it creates a fracture. They’ll parachute someone in from Toronto with a more illustrious professional background and that person doesn’t know anybody here or the needs of the community. They don’t have the sensitivity that comes from being a part of a place. So, yeah, I’m glad they picked me. U
Laura Trethewey is riding the train from Toronto to Vancouver and meeting regular Canadians along the way for our Job Training series. Every city she stops in she’ll ask one regular person about what they do for a living. Unlimited is posting the conversations on our interactive map.