Gallery curator aims to explore the world, share stories

June 1, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 11
Aaron Epp | Senior Writer
‘It’s always been about making space to listen,’ says Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk, director at MHC Gallery. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk approaches art through the lens of storytelling.

“My journey as an artist and a curator has always been linked to exploring the world and sharing stories with others,” she says. “I approach everything with a questioning and a searching for the story, and hoping those stories bring people together.”

Since April 2022, Hodges-Kolisnyk has served as director of the Mennonite Heritage Centre (MHC) Gallery at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg. She is the gallery’s second-ever director, following the retirement of founder Ray Dirks in July 2021.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Hodges-Kolisnyk brings a diverse skillset to her role.

In addition to pursuing her own photographic art practice, the 41-year-old has worked for the Winnipeg Art Council giving free walking and biking tours of public art. She was also a photography instructor and workshop leader at Willis College (formerly PrairieView School of Photography) for 13 years.

Hodges-Kolisnyk holds a master’s degree in cultural studies with a specialization in curatorial practices, and a communications degree with a minor in art history.

She was drawn to photography at a young age. She recalls wanting to go outside and take photos one foggy night when she was around 10 years old. Her father set her up with an old Canon and gave her a brief tutorial and off she went.

When the pictures returned from the developer a few days later, she was pleased to find that a number of them had turned out.

“That’s the first memory I have of being excited about photography and playing with the camera,” she says.

The MHC Gallery was founded under Mennonite Church Canada in 1998 with two primary goals: to offer Anabaptist artists and artists with roots in Mennonite communities opportunities to exhibit their art in an institution of the church; and to offer artists of all faith and spiritual traditions a place where they can exhibit their work freely and without interference or agenda from the gallery.

MC Canada transferred ownership of the gallery to CMU in 2017. While rooted in the Christian tradition, the gallery is open to all artists and communities, regardless of ethnic or faith background. It aims to promote trust, respect, understanding and acceptance.

It’s a vision that resonates with Hodges-Kolisnyk, who attends St. Benedict’s Table, an Anglican church.

“I think at the gallery and as a curator and in my art as well, it’s always been about making space to listen to everyone [and] to hear other people’s stories, whether we have the same viewpoints or not,” says the married mother of three. “That’s really what attracted me to the gallery—it had this reputation of working with artists of all faiths or no faith, and making this a place where we can make space for each other’s stories and listen to each other.”

Hodges-Kolisnyk stood out when the gallery was hiring a new director because of her many strengths, along with her commitment to both the church and the visual arts community, says Sue Sorensen, an English professor at CMU who sits on the gallery’s advisory committee.

“She’s sort of stunningly competent in all sorts of areas,” Sorensen says, naming Hodges-Kolisnyk’s strong planning and organizational capabilities, her calm demeanour and her “beautiful artistic eye.” “I’m just basically impressed overall by her … There’s a real kindness in the way she approaches people and allows them to approach her.”

The MHC Gallery is currently displaying work by Rhonda Spivak, a Jewish artist from Winnipeg. In the summer, Hodges-Kolisnyk will mount exhibits featuring quilts by Textile and Fibre Artists Manitoba and landscape paintings and drawings by John Blosser, emeritus art professor at Goshen College in Indiana.

The gallery’s fall exhibit will focus on settler-Indigenous relations in Paraguay’s Chaco region, with work by Paraguayan-born Winnipegger Miriam Rudolph and a collective of Indigenous Chaco artists. The final exhibit of the year will explore gendered identity, featuring the work of the Drawn Together artist collective and Tom Lovatt.

The gallery just wrapped up its call for proposals for 2024, which garnered a record number of applications, and Hodges-Kolisnyk and the advisory committee are making plans to commemorate the gallery’s 25th anniversary.

“I hope people will feel welcome to come to the gallery and I hope we continue to feature exhibits that break down lingering misconceptions about art,” Hodges-Kolisnyk says, “especially in divisive times when we need to explore each other’s ideas.” 


Six questions for Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk

Canadian Mennonite: How does your faith play into your art practice?
Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk: I feel like my art is a gift that God has given me to pause a moment in time or to have a different lens on the world… It’s a blessing to be able to have my camera with me and enjoy the world around me, but also find ways to express that joy and that interest and maybe sometimes share it with others.

CM: What is a public work of art in Winnipeg that you recommend people check out?
SHK: The BLUE rapid transit line, which is kind of a cheater answer because it’s a few works of art. It’s a great, amazing run, walk [or] bike—whatever you fancy—and the narrative between the pieces brings together so many voices. It also shares unique perspectives of Winnipeg’s and Manitoba’s history in a fascinating and visual way.

CM: Who is your favourite artist?
SHK: [American photographer] Sally Mann. There’s not a topic that’s off limits, and she also makes art about her home and about her family.

CM: What is your favourite camera?
SHK: Whatever camera I have on me.

CM: What is one tip you have for aspiring photographers?
SHK: Get closer.

CM: What tips do you have for art makers in general?
SHK: Stay curious. Keep going. Keep making.

‘It’s always been about making space to listen,’ says Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk, director at MHC Gallery. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

Kinetic by Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk

Two photographic works by Hodges-Kolisnyk: Prairie Dance (left) and Fairies. (Artwork by Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk)

Share this page: Twitter Instagram

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.