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BEHIND THE SCENES: Closed for safety reasons, no reopening date for Sudbury gallery's Heidi Ulrichsen takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on's Heidi Ulrichsen, whose story 'Closed for safety reasons, no reopening date for Sudbury gallery' was published on Oct. 13.

Here is the original story if you need to catch up:

Since the Art Gallery of Sudbury announced its temporary closure Oct. 12 due to safety issues with its historic Bell Mansion home, the gallery has received a number of kind community offers to relocate its programming, said the gallery’s director/curator.

Demetra Christakos said at this point, the gallery staff don’t know how long they’re going to be out of the building, although they should learn more next week.

“We have had a number of kind offers presented to us, and we just have to look for the right match for the right program,” she said.

The Art Gallery of Sudbury team is exploring options for temporarily relocating weeknight and weekend art education programs and hopes to provide an update soon, said a statement issued by the gallery.

Unfortunately, the current Terry Graff: Avian Cyborgs and Daphne Odjig National Day for Truth and Reconciliation exhibits will not be able to be relocated, Christakos confirmed.

They must be maintained in certain environmental conditions and have adequate security in place, she said. 

“It's a high priority for us to have them returned to public access as soon as possible, if possible,” Christakos said.

The gallery employs five full-time staff and a number of part-time workers. Christakos said it is premature to speak about any possible job implications of the closure.

AGS explained in its written statement that on Oct. 6, Laurentian University — which owns the Bell Mansion building housing the gallery — shared a letter of recommendation from their engineering consultants recommending limiting access to the building.

The engineering firm was hired by Laurentian to inspect the safety of the Bell Mansion building. The letter stated it was necessary to limit access to specific areas of the building, out of an abundance of caution due to observed conditions.

The gallery immediately complied with the letter of recommendation and has been closed since that time. Laurentian University has erected barriers around the specific areas and has hired experts to further investigate the state of the building.

Christakos referred specific questions about the state of the building to Laurentian University. 

“Laurentian University owns the building,” said Christakos. “They have always been in the lead for any capital repairs, and they've been acting with alacrity on this issue.”

The curator did, however, say the safety issues prevent access to the staircase along the south-facing wall. That staircase gives access to the bathrooms and to the administration area. 

“The areas of concern are along the south-facing wall,” she said. “There’s a fire exit there. And also the west-facing chimney.”

There is a “long list of issues with the Bell Mansion that require attention,” she said. “We’ve been working through each one of them that presents itself, as does the university.”

Christakos said there was “no incident that provoked” the closure, which was based upon an inspection. At the same time, the exhibitions and the art collections remain “safe and secure,” she said.

“The other areas — the galleries, the gift shop boutique, the collection, storage spaces, the studio spaces, there's no issue with that,” Christakos said.

She said she is not complaining about the circumstances with which the gallery has been presented. Christakos said the 1907 Bell Mansion structure is a “beautiful building” that has “served us very well” for many years, but that it “deserves attention.” reached out to Laurentian University on the issue, and the university confirmed that structural issues were observed with the chimney on the west side and the exterior south stone wall. 

The university’s facilities department does not currently have a date predicting when the report of the engineering firm will be provided and they also do not have an estimate for reopening. 

"The Art Gallery of Sudbury and the Bell Mansion are important fixtures of the Greater Sudbury community and they are also important to Laurentian,” said Laurentian University interim president Sheila Embleton, in an emailed quote provided by LU.

“We have been in close communication with the leadership at the Art Gallery and we will continue to work closely with them. We have hired an engineering firm to evaluate the structural repairs and to understand what will be required in order to safely re-open the building. 

“We are also evaluating options to temporarily house the Art Gallery on campus if it could be viable. We do not anticipate this closure having an impact on our current agreement with the Art Gallery."

The agreement between Laurentian and the art gallery Embleton is presumably referring to was reached in June 2022, during LU’s insolvency.

The Art Gallery of Sudbury is permitted to continue to occupy the Bell Mansion until no later than May 30, 2025, at which time Laurentian can sell the building.

“The short term is, right now, we’re closed,” Christakos said. “We don’t know what the medium or the long-term implications are (regarding the safety issues with the Bell Mansion). We had planned to be in that location until May 30, 2025. So the medium-term would be the next 18 months. We are working on that right now.” 

The art gallery is supposed to be moving into the yet-to-be-built downtown library/art gallery, which currently is proposed for relocation to Tom Davies Square complex, with a possible grand opening at the end of 2026.

Christakos said gallery staff have been working “very productively” with city staff on the current iteration of the cultural hub. She said the gallery would be located at 199 Larch St.

“We have been working on a daily basis at a high level, seeing how feasible it is for our operations to be located there, and we are mindful of council's timeline,” she said. “It’s going well right now. It’s not a ‘no’ for us, that’s for sure.”

Heidi Ulrichsen is’s assistant editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.