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Maltwood Gallery shift makes sense, retired director says

Martin Segger 1
Maltwood Gallery director Martin Segger stands at the Legacy Gallery in downtown Victoria. The Maltwood’s operations and staff will move into the Legacy this summer.

News of the demise of the University of Victoria’s Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery is premature, its outgoing director said.

“That’s crap,” recently retired gallery director Martin Segger said about news stories this month that said the gallery was being closed.

“This has been a five-year plan that includes all the things I’ve managed to help (the university) with to get to this point today.”

Although much of the Maltwood’s collection will head downtown to the university’s Legacy Gallery on Yates Street, its prints and drawings collection will be on display in a new library gallery on campus. The remainder will be kept in climate-controlled storage at a Gordon Head facility.

“(The gallery) will live on and will be better integrated into university life than it was,” Segger said. He discounted claims that he was pushed out of a job he’s held for 30 years and had one very simple reason for retiring: “I’m 64.”

Segger intends to do some curating and finish a book he’s been writing on the emergence of the modern art movement in Victoria.

He started with the gallery in the 1970s when it was located in Royal Oak, having been established with a donation by John and Katherine Maltwood. At the time it had about 1,200 works in its collection, but Segger built the collection up to 27,000 pieces.

He did so by cultivating relationships with collectors such as Victoria businessman Michael Williams, who donated not only works of art and the building that now houses the Legacy Gallery, but most of his $17 million estate to the university.

Segger has studied English literature, education and philosophy in Renaissance cultural studies. He served as a Victoria councillor from 1988 to 1993, with a focus on heritage conservation. He taught art history at UVic and has been active on national and international museum boards.

John McAvity, executive director of the Canadian Museums Association, met Segger in the 1970s while working at a New Brunswick museum. “He was clearly someone at that point who was going to go on to be someone important,” McAvity said.

Segger was ahead of his time, using video conferencing to teach students long before it became commonplace. He arranged cultural exchanges with Commonwealth countries and has worked with the CMA lobbying federal ministers for museum funding.

Museum consultant and former curator Catherine Cole worked with Segger on many projects over a 20-year span. Most recently they met in Singapore to attend an international museum conference. During some down time they took in a shadow puppet exhibit at a Singapore museum that Segger was excited to see.

“He’d forgotten his camera and I took a bunch of pictures for him … he’d always wanted to do an exhibit of shadow puppets,” Cole said. “He was just a month from retiring (but) he was still thinking of future projects and ideas.”

The move to the Legacy Gallery, which will include classroom and research space, was needed, Segger said. The prints and drawing gallery on campus will remain a teaching space, but a public space is important.

“As a downtown community emerges – as condos fill up and the use of the downtown changes – there’s an opportunity to be on the ground floor. Students will be able to engage with people, real people, coming in off the street.”