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New executive director calls Wexner Center for the Arts opportunity ‘the dream’

Gaëtane Verna’s interest in the arts began in her childhood.

“I come from a family where my parents thought that a good education required that you did some art,” said the new executive director of the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University. “So, everybody played a musical instrument. I did ballet. I did some theater. There was a notion that a well-rounded education included the arts.”

This early exposure to the arts world would lead to a lifelong career as a champion of creativity.

Verna began her work at the Wexner Center in November. Before moving to Columbus, she lived in Toronto, spending 10 years as director and artistic director of the city’s Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. Verna was also executive director and chief curator of the Musée d’art de Joliette, one of the largest art museums in Quebec, from 2006 to 2012. Previously, she was curator of the Foreman Art Gallery at Bishop’s University in Quebec, another university art center.

Working on a university campus, Verna said, is “the dream.” A research institution like Ohio State allows for a different kind of experience for artists.

“A center like the Wexner Center for the Arts, like many other [university-affiliated art institutions], has played a role galvanizing people, in being thought-provoking institutions. They are places of experimentation, places that nurture our future artists. It’s learning, it’s teaching, it’s experimenting.”

In addition, the size of Ohio State creates opportunities for the Wexner Center, Verna said.

“The reputation of Ohio State,” she said, “the fact that the Wexner Center is based in a university of 60,000 students – to me, that’s 60,000 minds that you can speak to, open their minds to the world of artists and entice to be lifelong learners through the work of artists.”

In 2022, the Wexner Center announced free gallery admission to better provide community access to its exhibitions. Verna believes accessibility to the arts is crucial.

“We want everyone to feel that artists are speaking to them, regardless of who they are,” she said. “We provide an opportunity for someone to walk in, see something, and then their heart stops.”

Verna is the fourth person to lead the institution. Being part of Ohio State and its robust arts and culture scene is something that excites Verna.

“The thing that’s beautiful is that we’re really at the center of it,” she said. “We can build bridges with each of these departments and that’s what the university wants to do.

“I think it’s very bold and smart of the university to focus on art as a catalyst for community, city building and as a real touchpoint that can ground people,” she added.

The Ohio State community continues to impress Verna. The passion she finds in her colleagues, both in and outside the Wexner Center, is remarkable, she said.

“It feels that everyone is at their top of their game and really invested in the job at hand,” she said. “They are interested in being at The Ohio State University. This is the feeling that I get from my new colleagues. Everybody has their eyes twinkling and being really excited about being here. That’s really encouraging.  

“There are people even on my team that have been here for 28 years and they’re still really passionate about the work they do. For me, that is an important factor: the passion that people can have for a place, a city, work that they do.”

As for another Ohio State passion, Verna looks forward to attending a Buckeye football game. She admits to not being as familiar with the American version of the sport as she is with soccer, hockey and volleyball. But recognizing what matters to a community is important, she said.

“If this university, if this city, their heart beats hard for their football team, then I need to pay attention to this because that’s part of building this community in the same way that I want the arts to be something important,” she said. “I’ll cheer. I’ll learn.”

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