An Open Letter to the National Gallery of Canada, Regarding the Matter of Jordan Peterson

To Marc Mayer and the staff at the National Gallery of Canada;

When I first heard that the National Gallery would be hosting a forum entitled “Exploring the Psychology of Creativity”, I was excited to attend; it seemed that two of my interests here coincided, as I am an artist and arts professional and I am fascinated by the field of cognitive science. However, once I understood that the speaker was Jordan Peterson, who I know best as the “U of T prof who refuses to use genderless pronouns,” I was shocked and devastated.

I have spent many hours at the National Gallery of Canada admiring artwork, doing research in its beautiful library, discussing artwork with colleagues and my own students, relaxing in the cafeteria, and perhaps most importantly, working as a curatorial intern under Contemporary curators for my Honours degree practicum. I prize the National Gallery as a space that celebrates creativity, uniqueness, diversity, and progressiveness. I value the Gallery as a safe space where works created by a diverse Canada can be seen; this includes but is not limited to works by LGBTQ2S+, First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Black, and Muslim Canadians. I count on the Gallery to expand my own and others’ viewpoints, and to never make any members of my community feel unsafe. Perhaps that was a naïve expectation.

Many may argue that Peterson’s right to “free speech” is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically Section 2b. Indeed, his right to say what he wishes may be protected — but he is certainly not guaranteed a National, Government-funded forum, let alone one at an institution that claims to represent a progressive and diverse Canada. To quote a friend speaking on this topic — “I am SURE that the National Gallery could find someone else with expertise in this field who doesn’t actively use their platform as an academic to attack the trans community and denigrate social justice organizations doing anti-racist work.”

The fact that one of Canada’s most prized institutions, in my home city, is providing a forum for a man whose hateful speech hurts myself, those I love, and my community, is deeply, deeply disheartening. The gallery’s decision to host this man is tacit endorsement of Peterson’s disdain for marginalized groups. Many friends and colleagues have expressed outrage, dismay, and heartache at the fact that the National Gallery is hosting such a person. I have heard nothing from the Gallery itself on this topic — they do not seem to have established a conversation with community leaders and members. For the National Gallery to ignore local and national communities’ concerns and go ahead with this event is simply shameful.

I look forward to a respectful, open dialogue with the National Gallery of Canada that explains their viewpoints in selecting this person to lead a discussion on anything to do with the Arts in Canada. I sincerely hope that an alternative voice can be selected to speak on this topic, one that reflects Canada in its best light.

Respectfully,

Olivia Johnston
Photo-based artist
B.A. Honours Art History, graduated with High Honours, Carleton University