Montreal artist Manuel Mathieu was thrilled when he learned that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts wanted to acquire one of his paintings.
"I was stunned," he told CBC's Let's Go. "It's a picture of my grandmother in her garden, so its a very symbolic image for me. I was very happy that she found her place at the museum."
But along with the elation, he was surprised to discover he was actually the first Haitian-Canadian to ever have their work acquired by the museum.
He immediately felt that something had to be done to pave the way for more diverse and emerging Canadian artists to get their work displayed alongside his.
That's why Mathieu created a fund to help diversify the artwork in the museum's collection.
He named it after his grandmother, Marie-Solange Apollon, an immigrant who brought her family to Montreal and worked hard to build a new life.
"She was, she still is, the heart of our family," he said.
Apollon died of cancer in 2016, but naming the fund after her will help keep her memory alive, said Mathieu.
"They can forget about me, but they can't forget about my grandmother, because they will have to say her name every time a new artist is acquired," he said. "By doing that I'm making sure that her story is told."
According to the museum, the fund is the first of its kind, "devoted solely to the acquisition of works by emerging Quebec and Canadian artists who are underrepresented in the Museum's collection."
This means eligible works must meet the following requirements:
- Not represented or only minimally represented in the museum's collection;
- Living and ideally aged 45 or less;
- Works of art executed since the year 2000;
- Parity of representation of male and female artists;
- Living in Quebec.
Mathieu contributed some of his own money and partnered with other donors who shared his vision of seeing more diverse representation on the walls of the gallery.
He said he's still looking for other donors to join the fund and ensure it keeps going for years to come.
"If the museum is meant to be the collective memory of our societies, then I would like to open the doors, and have more people decide what's happening in there," he said.
The fund was created in 2018 and officially announced in December 2019 after it paid for the acquisition of its first piece, a multimedia piece by Iranian artist Leila Zelli.