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WAG Welcomes Riva Symko as Head of Collections & Exhibitions and Julia Lafreniere as Manager of Indigenous Initiatives

Symko & Lafreniere join the WAG management team in the lead-up to the opening of the WAG Inuit Art Centre

Winnipeg, Manitoba, December 5, 2019: The Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) is thrilled to welcome Riva Symko as Head of Collections & Exhibitions and Curator of Canadian Art, as well as Julia Lafreniere as Manager of Indigenous Initiatives. They will enter into their roles at the WAG on January 6, 2020 and December 9, 2019 respectively.

At the WAG, Dr. Symko will develop the curatorial vision and exhibitions program, as well as oversee the Gallery’s celebrated collection of Canadian art. In addition, she will continue to curate exhibitions in her areas of expertise.

Julia Lafreniere will assume a leadership role in Indigenization at the WAG, involving First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities. She will work to build capacity for Indigenous programs, partnerships, and overall outreach.
Lafreniere’s position is supported in part by the Canada Council for the Arts through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), under which the Council is providing funding for three years via its Creating Knowing and Sharing, The Arts and Cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples program.

About Symko:
● Symko’s experience includes over 15 years in academic, curatorial, and arts administration positions.
● Most recently, Symko served as Assistant Professor of Art History, and Curator & Director, Kimura Gallery and ARC Gallery at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
● Previously, Symko taught at the University of Lethbridge, Memorial University, and Queen’s University.
● She holds a PhD in Art History from Queen’s University, with specializations in modern and contemporary art, Canadian Art (historical and contemporary), Indigenous art, decolonizing and feminist art and curatorial practices, and theories of appropriation and copyright, a Masters in Visual Culture from the University Western Ontario, and a B.A. in Art and Design from the University of Alberta.
● She has published critical writings on art with MOMUS, Luma Quarterly, SNAPline, Latitude 53 Artist-Run Centre, the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, and the Union Gallery.
● In addition to research, writing, and teaching, Symko has maintained an active career as an arts administrator and curator with institutions such as the University of Alberta Museums, [ x]curated curatorial collective, Nuit Blanche Edmonton, Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, and ArtLab Gallery.
● She served as an executive board member of the non-profit Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre in Kingston, Ontario for five years.

About Lafreniere:
• Lafreniere is Metis from Treaty 4 Territory and has 17 years of experience in relationship and capacity-building in Indigenous communities, including marketing and research positions.
• Most recently, Lafreniere served as Market Research Analyst at APTN since 2012, and also held a Communications Specialist position with the broadcaster from 2006 to 2008.
• She holds an Advanced BA in Indigenous Studies & Psychology from the University of Manitoba, and began work on a Masters of Arts in English & Cultural Studies from the University of Winnipeg.
• She has worked with many different Indigenous stakeholders including Chiefs and Grand Chiefs, not-for-profits, student groups, community grassroots groups, the private sector, and governments.
• She wrote a weekly column on Indigenous urban issues for Uptown Magazine, and produced and hosted a daily hour-long radio show on community issues at Streetz1047.
• Lafreniere is an executive board member of aceartinc., a community researcher with the University of Winnipeg, and has community journalism experience.


“I am inspired by Riva Symko’s curatorial vision for the next phase in the development of the WAG’s collections and exhibitions program, and its expanding role in the community. With her impressive curatorial and academic record with several arts and academic institutions across North America, she will be a valuable asset to the WAG’s leadership and the Winnipeg arts community.

Julia Lafreniere brings several years of on-the-ground experience with Manitoba’s Indigenous communities to her role at the WAG, and we look forward to furthering Indigenization with her on board. At this pivotal time, her relationships across multiple community sectors will extend our reach, as we look forward to the opening of the WAG Inuit Art Centre in 2020.”
—Dr. Stephen Borys, Director & CEO, Winnipeg Art Gallery

“I am very excited to be joining the Winnipeg Art Gallery team, and to embark on this new professional challenge as we get set to open the compelling new Inuit Art Centre! With one of the most established and extensive collections in the country, the WAG is a key institution representing art created across the country and beyond. It is my honour and privilege to serve the communities that entrust us with this collection, and to continue to develop exhibition programming that facilitates meaningful research and dialogue on contemporary issues.”
—Riva Symko, Head of Collections & Exhibitions and Curator of Canadian Art, Winnipeg Art Gallery

“I am very pleased to be a part of the historical transformation happening at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I look forward to contributing to the development and execution of Indigenous programming, as well as continuing my work within the Indigenous community in Winnipeg.”
—Julia Lafreniere, Manager of Indigenous Initiatives, Winnipeg Art Gallery

Associated Links
Winnipeg Art Gallery
WAG Inuit Art Centre
Canada Council for the Arts – Creating Knowing and Sharing, The Arts and Cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples program

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For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Amy Rebecca Harrison
Engagement Supervisor
Winnipeg Art Gallery

Amber O’Reilly
Engagement Officer
Winnipeg Art Gallery

The Winnipeg Art Gallery is a cultural advocate using art to connect, inspire, and inform. Playing a dynamic role in the community, we are a place for learning, dialogue, and enjoyment through art. The WAG holds in trust the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art on earth. To celebrate the art and to honour the Inuit, the WAG is building the Inuit Art Centre, the first of its kind in the world. Opening in 2020, the Centre will bridge Canada’s North and South through exhibitions, research, education, and art making. To learn more visit


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