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Board Members

Board Member - Jesse Wente

Jesse Wente

Chair
Toronto, Ontario

Jesse Wente is an Anishinaabe writer, broadcaster, speaker and arts leader. Born and raised in Toronto, his family hails from Chicago and the Serpent River First Nation. Jesse is best known for his 24 years as a columnist for CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, and he spent 11 years with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)—the last seven as the director of film programmes at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. 

An outspoken advocate for Indigenous rights and First Nations, Métis and Inuit art, he has spoken at the International Forum of Indigenous Peoples, Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the Canadian Arts Summit and numerous universities and colleges. In 2017, Jesse Wente was named the inaugural recipient of the Reelworld Film Festival’s Reel Activist Award. He was named the first Executive Director of the Indigenous Screen Office in February 2018, and received the Association of Ontario Health Centres Media Award for 2018. He has served on the boards of directors of the Toronto Arts Council, the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Festival, the Native Earth Performing Arts, and the Canada Council for the Arts.  

Jesse Wente was appointed Chair of the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts for a five-year term effective July 28, 2020, to July 27, 2025. 

Photo: Ian Thorpe

Board Member - Jennifer Dorner

Jennifer Dorner

Montréal, Quebec

Jennifer Dorner is the Executive Producer of POP Montreal and has led arts organizations since completing her MFA at the University of Western Ontario in 2001. From 2014 to 2019, she was the Director of the Faculty of Fine Arts Gallery at Concordia University, where she was also the Manager of the Office of Community Engagement.

She was the National Director of the Independent Media Arts Alliance from 2005 to 2013, and has also served on the steering committee of the Canadian Arts Coalition.

Jennifer Dorner was appointed to the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts for a four-year term effective June 6, 2017, to June 5, 2021. Her term was renewed for two years effective August 4, 2021 to August 3, 2023.

Photo: Ian Thorpe

Board Member - Cheryl Hickman

Cheryl Hickman

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

Cheryl Hickman is the General and Artistic Director of Opera on the Avalon, which she founded in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, in 2009. A highly regarded and critically acclaimed soprano, she has worked with several opera companies such as the New York City Opera, the Florida Grand Opera, the Vancouver Opera, the Calgary Opera and the Canadian Opera Company.

Cheryl Hickman has received many awards and prizes, namely from the George London Foundation, the Metropolitan Opera and the Sullivan Foundation. She was named one of Atlantic Business Magazine’s top 50 CEOs in both 2018 and 2020.

A graduate of the Juilliard School and University of Toronto, she sits on the City of St. John’s Arts Advisory Committee. She is also an advisor for Business & Arts NL and is Honorary Patron of the Atlantic Boy Choir.

Cheryl Hickman’s term as a member of the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts was renewed for four years effective May 21, 2021 to May 20, 2025. 

Photo: Ian Thorpe

Ben Nind

Ben Nind

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Ben Nind is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada’s English Acting Program. He has written, produced, directed and performed original works throughout the Circumpolar North for over 25 years. He is the founder of Stuck in a Snowbank Theatre and former Artistic and Executive Director of the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre.

He served recently as Co-Chair of the Northwest Territories (NWT) Arts Council and has been actively involved with northern artistic and cultural initiatives including the NWT Minister of Education, Culture and Employment’s Special Committee on Arts and Culture, and the Arctic Winter Games Cultural Program. He has been honoured as an individual member of the NWT Minister’s Cultural Circle.

Ben Nind is currently the Executive Director of the Giant Mine Oversight Board. Ben Nind’s term as a member of the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts was renewed for four years effective May 11, 2021 to May 10, 2025.

Photo: Pat Kane

Karl Schwonik

Karl Schwonik

Calgary, Alberta

Albertan Karl Schwonik has had an extensive career in the arts, education and entrepreneurial sectors. In 2008, he founded the Wetaskiwin Jazz Society (WJS), a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing education to rural Alberta. While he served as President and Artistic Director, the WJS’s programs reached nearly 20,000 rural students and collaborated with stakeholders ranging from local small businesses to international banks and multinational energy companies.

Karl has served on a plethora of boards, including appointments to the Government of Alberta’s Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards and Foundation and Travel Alberta. In addition to teaching and working at several prominent post-secondary institutions, Karl has completed studies in music, business and arts leadership at Cambridge University, the University of Toronto, McGill University and the University of Calgary.

Karl has also received numerous awards and honours, including a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award, a Queen’s Jubilee Award, and grants from both the Canada Council for the Arts and SSHRC. He was also named one of Calgary’s top 40 under 40 by Avenue Magazine.

Karl Schwonik was appointed to the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts for a four-year term effective June 14, 2018, to June 13, 2022.

Photo: Martin Lipman

Kim Spencer-Nairn

Kim Spencer-Nairn

Vancouver, British Columbia

Kim Spencer-Nairn is a chartered professional accountant with expertise in arts entrepreneurship and management. Born in Montréal and raised in Vancouver, she spent four years studying with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Professional Division before pursuing a career in finance. She worked for KPMG and Ernst & Young providing audit, accounting and taxation services to music and film clients.

Kim is the founder and Board Chair of the Capture Photography Festival in Vancouver and serves on the Board of the Audain Art Museum. She is very engaged with the arts communities in Vancouver and across British Columbia as an arts patron and advocate. She has held volunteer committee and fundraising roles with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Museum of Anthropology and the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, and she holds a master’s degree in Arts and Cultural Enterprise from Central Saint Martins in London, England.

Kim Spencer-Nairn was appointed to the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts for a four-year term effective October 30, 2018 to October 29, 2022.

Photo: Martin Lipman

Portrait of Gaëtane Verna on a white background with black butterflies

Gaëtane Verna

Toronto, Ontario

Gaëtane Verna is the Director and Artistic Director of the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto, a role she has held since 2012. She is also the Chair of the Toronto Arts Council Equity Steering Committee and serves on the Advisory Committee of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, and on the Advisory Board of the Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery at NSACAD University. She is a board member of TV5 Québec Canada and was recently appointed to the board of the Sobey Art Foundation.

Gaëtane Verna has extensive experience in the arts, notably in arts administration and as a curator organizing exhibitions of artists from Canada and around the world. She was the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Musée d’art de Joliette in Lanaudière, Quebec, a role she held for six years. From 1998 to 2006, she was the curator of the Foreman Art Gallery at Bishop’s University. At the same time, she also taught in the Art History departments at both Bishop’s University and the Université du Québec à Montréal. 

Gaëtane Verna holds an International Diploma in Heritage Administration and Conservation from the Institut national du patrimoine in Paris, France. She holds a DEA and a Master’s in Art History from the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne and a Bachelor of Commerce from Concordia University. She was presented with the insignia as a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres [Order of Arts and Letters] from the Cultural Service of the Embassy of France in Canada in 2018.

Gaëtane Verna was appointed to the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts for a four-year term effective September 30, 2020, to September 29, 2024.

Photo: Michael Graydon