Melanie Townsend (1968 - 2018)
Melanie Townsend was born and raised in Windsor, Ontario. She graduated from the University of Western Ontario and continued her education at the University of Windsor, obtaining an M.A. in History. While pursuing her undergraduate studies, she had the opportunity to work as a Collections Assistant at the Museum Windsor, (formerly the Windsor Community Museum). Five years later, she joined the Art Gallery of Windsor as its Curatorial Assistant/Coordinator and went on to be a Curator at the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff, Alberta. There, she became well-known within the national and international arts communities. In 2001, she partnered with the Plug Institute of Contemporary Art in Winnipeg for the 49th Venice Biennale, which showcased the works of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Throughout her career, Townsend was an avid supporter of both the arts and her arts colleagues. She mentored emerging professionals, and university student interns, in each of her workplaces, encouraging them through her example of hard work, creativity, and a sense of humour. From early on, in Banff, she worked alongside indigenous curators, recognizing the need to collaborate with First Nations artists, colleagues, and students.
Melanie returned to southwestern Ontario in 2004 to Museum London as Curator of Contemporary Art. The following year she became Head of Exhibitions and Collections. She held this position for 14 years where she developed popular and highly creative exhibitions that supported local history. Some of her best known exhibitions, at Museum London, include: Garry Neill Kennedy: Superstar Shadow (2006); Wyn Geleynse: A Man Trying to Explain Pictures (2006); Gardens of a Colonial Present: Ron Benner (2008); Jamelie Hassan: At the Far Edge of Words (2009); Kim Adams: One for the Road (2013); Kim Ondaatje (2013); and Colette Urban: Incognito (2014). She won several OAAG Awards, including Exhibition of the Year prizes, in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2015. Melanie Townsend wrote and edited widely within the field of museology and curatorial studies. She also led staff to develop award-winning exhibition catalogues that researched and celebrated the work of Jamelie Hassan, Jack Chambers, Jane Buyers, James Lahey, and many others.
In 2013, Townsend, as editor, contributed a lively and informative foreword and introduction to the Embassy Cultural House catalogue and exhibit at Museum London, which was curated by her former colleague and mentor, Dr. Bob McKaskell. Her engaging style and warmth, as well as her love for local history, was evident in this project for Museum London.
Sadly, Melanie Townsend passed away in December 2018, survived by her husband, Troy, and son Declan. To honour her passion and dedication to curatorial scholarship, her husband set up an award to assist students who demonstrate exceptional dedication to the fields of curation and museum studies.