Erin McDonald

Top 40 Under 40 2017

Photography Aaron Pedersen

Age: 36

Job Title: Manager, Art Collections, Alberta Foundation for the Arts

Why She’s Top 40: She’s changing the cultural landscape in Edmonton by supporting and cultivating local art

Since 2014, the art collection that Erin McDonald manages for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (AFA) has been at the forefront of her thoughts, from utilizing it, to learning about it, to showing it off to the community.

The collection itself is the biggest provincial art bank in the country, with roughly 9,000 pieces that aim to capture the historical depth of visual art in Alberta. McDonald says that, unlike European art, you don’t necessarily need to know “artspeak” to really appreciate the merits of the work.

“This is a community collection; it’s meant for the people of Alberta and it’s a very tangible connection,” she says.

McDonald moved to Alberta 12 years ago to complete an internship for her museum management and curatorship program. After working a few different jobs related to her field, she was finally offered her current role, which she says is her dream job.

Her daily work is centred on making sure the collection is available to the community and being used to the best extent. In order to do this, she oversees several different programs including the public art commission program, which funds organizations to commission original works by Albertan artists. The travelling exhibition program (TREX) is also a key function of the collection, allowing rural and underprivileged communities to have access to Albertan fine arts.

“For some, a TREX program is the first experience they have with fine art, and ultimately influences future artistic practice,” she says.

Alongside her work with the AFA, McDonald has also just finished her tenure as chair of the Edmonton Historical Board, where she continues to sit as a member. The board advocates for heritage buildings across the city to be preserved or documented for future generations. Five new public art installations are commissioned for Capital Boulevard and various pieces from the collection will make their way into the new Royal Alberta Museum when it opens.

“I think these next few years for the city are just so exciting,” McDonald says.

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