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With an incredible 40 years of volunteer service under her belt, Honorary Governor—and previously a Vice-Chair of the Board, as well as a co-founder (with the late Alice Hoskins, then Education Coordinator) of our Volunteer Committee—Elizabeth Ryan is the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s longest currently serving volunteer, and one of our most cherished supporters. Recently recognized at the Gallery’s Annual General Meeting in June for her service, Elizabeth is tireless in her everlasting championing and appreciation for the arts. She can be found volunteering at Teichert Gallery on a weekly basis, or pouring over the Gallery’s Journal magazine as Guest Editor, and is a constant presence at our events and exhibition openings.

We had a chance to sit down with her to learn more about her love of art, and why the Gallery is so important to her.

What’s your role as a volunteer?

It usually depends on the day of the week! My main volunteer commitment right now is on Thursdays at Teichert Gallery, where we rent and sell art to the public. We have a strong organization of volunteers and a skilled staff. Andrea Smith is our Manager. Every day is different: changing shows, meeting the public, showing and selling art, planning events.

I also help edit the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s Journal magazine, which gives me an opportunity to work with the staff, which I really enjoy.

I think my role as an Honorary Governor outside the Gallery is to be a “goodwill ambassador” – to tell people about the Gallery and to engage their interest.

Elizabeth Ryan speaks at the Gallery’s AGM in June 2016, where she received special recognition for 40 years of volunteer service

What role does art play in our everyday lives?

I think it enriches our lives, and there are so many different forms of art. Such as music—I can’t imagine a day without music. I can’t imagine a day without looking at something beautiful. I think life would be pretty bland without some sort of art.

People are busy. Why should they make the time to visit the Gallery?

Well, because it can calm their day, and make them just stop and take a breath. It will give them a chance to get off their phones, and have a quiet and interesting time that’s very refreshing. I’ve always thought we should put on a big campaign to get people in downtown offices or anyone tied to a desk to come to the Gallery throughout the day or on their breaks. They can just walk around; no one has to talk to them, no cellphones, no noise, and just have a very quiet time in a very peaceful place— and make that their routine.

Elizabeth Ryan poses with the Gallery’s Director of Development, Leslie Tinkham, at the Gallery’s Studio 54-themed gala in September 2015.

What does the Gallery offer to visitors and its members?

Members and visitors have the opportunity to join a guided tour in the afternoons to learn more about the exhibitions and to enjoy the experience of engaging with art. We have a very nice gift shop with lovely Nova Scotian pieces, and staffed by knowledgeable people. You can visit the new Pavia Café for lunch and then continue your visit around the Gallery.

Gallery openings for members are fun; you often have an opportunity to meet with the artists and learn about their work. The Gallery also organizes travel tours for groups both locally and internationally, including a travel guide and people who want to see and experience art in various countries.

Or as I’ve said, you can have a quiet visit, and experience something different from the rest of your day, whether it is your work day or a day to come to the Gallery and visit in a beautiful, interesting setting.

Because of the expertise of the curators and staff here at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, I see a continued growth in interest from the public in its exhibitions and programs. That’s no surprise. The programs have grown so much throughout the years.

What is your favourite piece on view in the Gallery?

There was a family, the Laufer family, who lived on the same street as I do—and they were from Austria. They left Austria late in the thirties and came here to Halifax. The late Dr. and Mrs. Laufer were both very philanthropic in the arts. They gave some very interesting pieces to the Gallery, especially during a time when we had an exhibition called An Expression of Faith: Sacred Art of Centuries Past, curated by Judy Dietz and last exhibited in 2007. One of the things they gave earlier, which is in the Gallery’s Permanent Collection, was a Roman bust called Head of the Emperor Augustus (Unknown, Head of the Emperor Augustus, c 27 BC-14 AD, marble, 29.0 x 22.5 x 24 cm), and that’s one of my favourite pieces. It’s just so peaceful and I like to imagine his history.

Be sure to visit Elizabeth at Teichert Gallery to view the regularly changing art, and to hear more about Teichert’s services and unique rental program. Elizabeth is also currently acting as editor for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s next Journal magazine, which will become available to members in the fall of 2016. 

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