National Gallery of Canada Foundation fêtes Marc Mayer with classy farewell dinner

Gala includes the announcement of $3 million in gifts supporting national gallery's outreach efforts

Thank goodness for pictures, because no amount of words could paint just how beautiful the farewell dinner was for Marc Mayer, outgoing director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada.

The gala evening was hosted Wednesday by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation to celebrate Mayer’s 10 productive years at the helm. The dinner also helped to raise $3 million in support of the gallery’s national and international outreach efforts.

The guest list read like a who’s who of Canadians. Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson was there. So were Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella and her former colleague Beverley McLachlin, who retired as chief justice a year ago.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his wife, Nancy McCain, attended, as did former prime minister Joe Clark and his wife, Maureen McTeer, and former B.C. premier and diplomat Gordon Campbell.

As well, galagoers included former tech executives Jozef Straus (wearing his trademark black beret), and Zita Cobb, who has successfully put the small Newfoundland community of Fogo Island on the map through her Shorefast Foundation. Also spotted were Rob Sobey, chair of the Sobey Art Foundation; prominent Toronto theatre producer David Mirvish; French Ambassador Kareen RispalBruce Heyman, former U.S ambassador to Canada, with his wife, Vicki; and National Arts Centre president and CEO Christopher Deacon.

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Outgoing director Marc Mayer, seen with distinguished patron Jean Teron, at a farewell dinner organized in his honour by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation, on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Beverley McLaughlin, Vicki Heyman, Frank McArdle and Adrienne Clarkson at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Zita Cobb with Thomas d'Aquino, chair of the board for the National Gallery of Canada Foundation, at its Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, held Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Nancy McCain, chair of The Arts Access Fund, with her husband, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Philanthropist Jim Fleck, chair of the board of trustees of the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum, with Karen Colby-Stothart, CEO of the National Gallery of Canada Foundation, at its farewell dinner for Marc Mayer. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Christopher Deacon, president and CEO of the National Arts Centre, with Adrian Burns, chair of the NAC's board of trustees, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Maureen McTeer with National Gallery of Canada senior curator Katerina Atanassova and Joe Clark, former prime minister of Canada and former leader of the Progressive Conservative party, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Greg Kane, counsel at Dentons LLP, with Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella and Michael Adams, a board member with the National Gallery of Canada Foundation, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Rob Sobey with Harriet Walker, former chair of the board of trustees at the National Gallery of Canada, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Vicki Heyman with National Gallery of Canada senior curator Josée Drouin-Brisebois and Bruce Heyman, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, from 2014 to 2017, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The evening began with a reception in the contemporary galleries before continuing into the Scotiabank Great Hall for a dinner that was sprinkled with tributes to Mayer by Thomas d’Aquino, chair of the National Gallery of Canada Foundation board; Françoise Lyon, chair of the National Gallery of Canada board of trustees; the gallery's former board chair, Michael Audain, who is also a distinguished patron of the gallery; and Karen Colby-Stothart, CEO of the National Gallery of Canada Foundation.

Capping off the evening was a powerful performance by young cellist Bryan Cheng, accompanied by his sister, classical pianist Silvie Cheng. They played one of Mayer’s favourites, Haydn's Adagio, which, explained Mayer, perfectly captured how he was feeling: bittersweet.

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Bryan Cheng and his sister Silvie Cheng, of the Cheng² Duo, perform at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Some 170 guests attended the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Mayer, 62, was first appointed director and chief executive of the National Gallery in 2008. He is stepping step down once his second term wraps up in January.

The time has gone by so fast, he mused in his remarks, which he mostly dedicated to thanking the many individuals with whom he’s worked during his time at the gallery.

“For those who are a little bit older than me, does it ever slow down?” asked Mayer, drawing knowing chuckles from the room. “Because, it just has gotten faster and faster and faster. You don’t even notice and then — the next thing you know — you’re gone."

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Guest of honour Marc Mayer delivered an emotional speech, referring to his job as director of the National Gallery of Canada, as "the greatest honour of my life" at his farewell dinner held in the gallery's Scotiabank Great Hall on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The room heard how Mayer grew up in Sudbury but that his mother’s favourite sister lived in Hull. They visited her often and he became familiar with the National Gallery. “This is the place where I fell in love with art as I grew older,” he said, speaking in both official languages.

“I thought I had a good sense, and that’s why I applied for the job,” said Mayer, whose 33-year-long career has taken him to art museums and galleries in New York, Paris, Toronto and Montreal. “It’s a hell of an honour, the National Gallery of Canada.

“Do you know that while doing the job I realized I had no idea how important this institution is ... This is one of our key cultural and intellectual centres. I didn’t really understand that until I actually was responsible for making sure that it stayed that way. The role that we play in the world; we represent Canada on the world stage.

“All of you who have been so generous to this institution, so generous to me, who have helped me love my fate: be vigilante. Keep an eye out for my old beauty,” he said with emotion.

Mayer ended his remarks by telling everyone that he's leaving his position as director with the view that it's been "the greatest honour of my life".

The room immediately responded with a lengthy standing ovation.

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Outgoing director Marc Mayer, seen with National Gallery of Canada board of trustees chair Françoise Lyon, at the farewell dinner held in his honour on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Mirvish Productions founder David Mirvish with National Gallery of Canada trustee Paul Baay, president and CEO of oil and gas producer Touchstone Exploration, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Gordon Campbell, with his wife, Joumana Campbell, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Guests heard how Mayer played an important role in building a national collection of art from across Canada and around the world, and in keep the collection accessible to, and appreciated by, as many people as possible. Part of his legacy will be the historic re-imagining of the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary, and the enhancement of the newly-restored Canada Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which provides global exposure for Canadian artists.

D’Aquino thanked Mayer for leading with vision and passion. “Shepherding the fortunes of Canada’s leading visual arts museum, a global centre of excellence respected around the world, is no small task,” he said. “Deciding on acquisitions, working closely with the curators and donors, building bridges to other institutions and stakeholders, and being the voice of the gallery in Canada and abroad, carry with them significant challenges.

“Marc has responded admirably to these challenges, all the while vigorously defending the gallery’s professionalism and independence.”

Colby-Stothart expressed her admiration and appreciation for an arts leader who's shown passion, intellect, charisma and curiosity. She described Mayer as a man who's always reading, who watches every film, who follows politics, travels everywhere to see every exhibit, and who debates and deliberates.

“And he takes risks. This risk-taking aspect, both intellectually and managerially, I think is one of the most interesting parts of his leadership style,” said Colby-Stothart.

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From left, French Ambassador Kareen Rispal with Susan Peterson d'Aquino at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Foundation on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Gala patrons Jozef Straus and his wife, Vera, with Thomas d'Aquino, long-time head of the board for the National Gallery of Canada Foundation, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer held at the gallery on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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National Gallery of Canada Foundation board member John Mierins, owner of Carling Motors Group, with his wife, Keltie, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer held at the gallery on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Peter Froislie with Karen Colby-Stothart, Mark Fell, head of global ultra high net worth services with RBC, and Jayne Watson, CEO of the National Arts Centre Foundation, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer held at the gallery on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Meg Beckel, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature, with her husband, Gordon Harwood, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, outgoing director of the National Gallery of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Irene Boychuk alongside prominent Vancouver businessman Hassan Khosrowshahi and his wife, Nezhat, and retired Manulife Financial president and CEO Donald Guloien, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, outgoing director of the National Gallery of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Susan Glass, vice chair of the board of trustees at the National Arts Centre, with her husband, Arni Thorsteinson, at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, outgoing director of the National Gallery of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Jim Fleck with Business for the Arts CEO Nichole Anderson Bergeron, Judith Mills and Russell Mills at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, outgoing director of the National Gallery of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Accomplished musicians Bryan Cheng and Silvie Cheng at the Farewell Gala for Marc Mayer, outgoing director of the National Gallery of Canada. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca