When the weight of the world feels like it's a bit too much, Stuart Keeler finds solace in art.
For the Senior Art Curator at TD, art is not only a way to understand the world around us, but it also helps us make sense of the times in which we live.
These days, on his personal news feeds, Keeler is bombarded with stories about our changing climate, injustice, and other existential challenges, which he often finds difficult to digest and comprehend.
Art, he says, can help; it can be a means of education. By engaging with art, we can begin to interpret our world—and specific issues—in new ways.
"I celebrate and look to the voices of artists who can help lead us to see, feel and interpret the world and the impact of this moment in time," he says.
Since 2017, Keeler and his team have been building a corporate collection aligned to the four drivers of the TD Ready Commitment (i.e. Financial Security, Better Health, Connected Communities and Vibrant Planet), with a focus on showcasing the stories of underrepresented artists and bringing issues of diaspora, race, gender and identity to the forefront.
"We not only aim to make a social impact, but we also aim to open up a dialogue about what is happening in this particular moment in time," Keeler says.
"It's important for us to have an art collection that reflects our communities and the issues we are facing as a society."
As an extension to this mission, the TD Art Collection aims to acquire and exhibit works publicly to spark conversations, inspire ideas and hopefully bring awareness to important issues that are top of mind for many, including climate change.
That's why, Keeler explains, the TD Art Collection is a "working" collection.
Capturing a moment in time
The TD Art Collection dates back to 1963 with the building of the two original TD Towers – the Bank's corporate headquarters in downtown Toronto – which were designed by the celebrated modern architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Art was a key component of the project from the start. Mies Van der Rohe encouraged the Bank's senior executives to build a collection of international significance, with works by Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. However, then CEO and Chairman Allen Lambert took the bold stance that the Bank would only collect work by Canadian artists—representative of every region of the country. As TD expanded its footprint into the United States, the collection grew to include American artists.
Keeler and his team now grow the collection in keeping with many of the four drivers of the TD Ready Commitment – the Bank's global corporate citizenship platform – doing their best to identify works that reflect regional voices. Keeler explains that the TD Art team's mandate is to "amplify diverse voices and to bring from margin to centre the artists that are often not being reflected in many museums and corporate collections."
That includes art created by Women, Black, Indigenous, Pan-Asian, Latinx, LGBTQ2+ people, as well as seniors and artists with disabilities.
For most of the past 60 years, the collection has focused on museum-level works, and today the Collection has more than 6,000 pieces – which include paintings, sculptures, drawings, photography and prints, among other media – across more than 1,000 unique locations in Canada and the United States, including in TD branches, stores, and call centres.
In 1965 the Bank began collecting Indigenous art with a focus on the Inuit from the Canadian Arctic. In 1986 the TD Gallery of Inuit Art was opened to the public and in 2019, the Bank realized that to have inclusive and socially thoughtful approach, the name and collecting strategy required an thoughtful and equitable approach. The gallery became the "TD Gallery of Indigenous Art” with the goal of creating a collecting stream that reflected the Indigenous communities and traditional territories.
Now, as the TD Art Collection expands its focus, the existing mandate will still be central, but the team is also adding an additional layer.
"We're asking ourselves, 'how do we look at a work of art at TD so that we can showcase it in such a way that it could possibly help our clients and colleagues better understand some of these complex issues?'" Keeler says.
Since the dawn of time, Keeler notes, artists have used their work to tell stories. Now, as customers and colleagues spend time in TD spaces, Keeler hopes the TD Art Collection can be a catalyst to help people think and talk about complex ecological and environmental events. He believes art can play a crucial educational role as we confront these issues.
The curatorial approach
One way the TD Art team is hoping to create conversations is by exhibiting works in unique ways. For instance, Keeler and his team might position a landscape painting curated by a Group of Seven painter in relationship with a photograph by Canadian Edward Burtynsky, whose beautiful, photographic works depict how humans have irrevocably changed the planet.
Or perhaps his team will put an Emily Carr painting of a forest beside a piece by an artist that depicts what's happening to forested lands at this moment in time.
"If you want to view the pieces solely as striking a note of beauty, you can," Keeler says.
"But through the way we choose to exhibit them, we are striving to also provide viewers with an underlying curatorial message to that composition and exhibition of them, for example – an artwork can open a conversation on pollution, resource extraction, colonial impact and nature loss."
Many of the pieces are considered contemporary art, a term that refers to artwork from right now, or the recent past. Keeler knows that for many, contemporary art can be puzzling since it often doesn't conform to traditional conceptions of art. (Think: art made from found or recycled materials, art that isn't considered beautiful in the conventional sense, or multimedia art works.)
"In this way, curators can use artistic works as a tool to help others see contemporary issues, problems or ideas," he said.
"Art cannot solve the problems of the world, however it is a means in which to see ourselves and others in this moment we share. It's not important whether we like the work; what's important is the fact that it provokes a conversation. That means that the artist and the work is performing as expected. Art can serve to help visualize climate change and offer a moment of reflection"
One contemporary piece that sparks conversations about water and water conservation is Rebecca Belmore's Nibi. This multimedia work is displayed on a screen at a TD branch at Queen and Bay—right in the heart of downtown Toronto.
(Learn more title:Eng:Fr:Blurb:SocialEng:Fr:about Belmore and Nibi on TD Stories here.)
"I explore themes such as a water, cultural freedom, homelessness, and violence against Indigenous men, women and communities," Belmore told TD Stories in 2018.
"For this specific piece, I was thinking about how water is a precious resource for all of us and I wanted to draw attention to this."
For Keeler, the impact of the art comes from how a viewer may interact with it in a customer-facing space, such as in a TD branch. Engaging with art where you might least expect it can offer a moment to visualize a particular ecological or social issue we face.
As the TD Art Collection grows and evolves, Keeler believes it will reflect ongoing environmental and social conversations that are happening in society, in the hopes of facilitating productive dialogue among colleagues and customers.
“I am one who believes that art can change how people think,” Keeler says. “Art can change dialogues and how people perceive themselves in the world.”
To learn more about the TD Art Collection and how it is focused on helping amplify diverse voices and create conversations, visit the TD Ready Commitment to read the most recent issue of the TD Corporate Citizenship quarterly newsletter.