U of R Alum John G. Hampton BA’09 steers the MacKenzie Art Gallery into 2021

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: January 26, 2021 8:00 a.m.

University of Regina Alum John G. Hampton BA’09 makes headlines as the first Indigenous Executive Director and CEO of a public art gallery in Canada.
University of Regina Alum John G. Hampton BA’09 makes headlines as the first Indigenous Executive Director and CEO of a public art gallery in Canada. Photo: U of R Photography; Artist credit: Shellie Zhang, It’s Complicated, 2019, holographic metalized polyester vinyl, 61 x 426.7 cm, courtesy of the artist.

This month, University of Regina alum John G. Hampton BA’09 took over the helm of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, making headlines as the first Indigenous Executive Director and CEO of a public art gallery in Canada. Recently, the University of Regina had a chance to speak with John about his new permanent appointment (previously, John was Interim Executive Director of the MacKenzie), his experience as a visual arts student at the U of R, and the role he sees art and education playing in decolonization. 

How did it feel when you first found out that you are now the Executive Director and CEO of the MacKenzie Art Gallery?

JGH: It was incredibly exciting and humbling. My mind was rushing with possibilities, and I was thinking about the responsibility that comes with the position as well, which I take quite seriously. I grew up in Regina, but I’m also still a guest on this territory. My nation, the Chickasaw Nation, is in southern and southeastern United States, and I’ve been grateful for members of the local community who have accepted and welcomed me into this territory. 

How did your education at the U of R prepare you for your career?

JGH: My first class - Intermedia Art 200 with Lee Henderson - really decided my direction. It was a beautiful program led by Rachelle Viader Knowles. It has influenced some of the multi-media and cross-disciplinary portions of the visual arts program and MAP (Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance) as it exists today. The Curatorial Studies course I took with Carmen Robertson and the Cultural Studies courses I took with Randall Rogers were hugely influential in my understanding of the function art plays in its larger cultural context. Looking back, those courses really instigated my shift towards curatorial work and eventually led me into arts administration. 

How would you like to see the relationship between the U of R and the MacKenzie develop?

JGH: As a cultural institution, one of our roles is to be active participants in civil discourse and in trying to provide new knowledges and experiences into the world for people to process. That’s a mission that we share with the University across all the disciplines there. We really benefit from the type of dialogues and thought that’s coming out of the University and from finding ways that students and faculty can come participate in that with us - for which we’re all the richer. 

John G. Hampton, a member of the
Chickasaw Nation, reflects on his
education at the U of R and the
path ahead for Indigenous students.
Photo: Don Hall

What stirs your soul in a piece of art?

JGH: For me, there is a lot of art that stirs my spirit, but I have a particular personal interest in digital art, in conceptual art, and in art that looks at the largest social questions that we’re facing in the moment. And that, for me, is very influenced through my education at the University of Regina. 

Is there a particular installation right now at the MacKenzie that you’re drawn to?

JGH: Luckily I’m drawn to all of the works in the gallery right now. There’s something beautiful in each of them. There’s a work by Shellie Zhang - part of the Human Capital exhibit - called It’s Complicated. It’s a holographic vinyl text piece that says ‘diasporahaha’. That’s a merging of ‘diaspora’ and ‘haha’. It encompasses complex questions of distance, exclusion, and inclusion. And it resonates with me personally as a member of the Chickasaw diaspora, from what we’re trying to do as an institution, and also just for processing what is going on in the world right now. 

What role do you see art playing in decolonization?

JGH: I think that art, and culture more broadly, is a really effective tool for communicating things that are too complex for words. Cultural work and art helps us understand each other and the systems that are so prevalent that you can’t see them. They’re like air. Art can help us to see the air that surrounds us, to see the colonial structures in which we operate and all of the other elements that we take for granted, which is a form of awareness necessary for those wishing to decolonize. 

What advice would you give to Indigenous students who are working towards a career in the arts?

JGH: I think the most important piece of advice for Indigenous students is really to be true to yourself and to do what will make your ancestors proud. As Indigenous people operating on this land, there’s a lot of external pressures and definitions placed on who we are and who we’re supposed to be. That weight can be crushing. But when we are truthful to ourselves, when we can feel good about our role as future ancestors and what remains for those who come after us, then that will always be a recipe for success. That’s where the future of art will lie; that’s where the healing, not only of ourselves but of the institutions that we enter, can happen.