Honorary doctorate for alumna Jenny Harper

19 November 2018

New Zealand art writer, academic, curator, art gallery director and University of Canterbury alumna Jenny Harper will receive an Honorary Doctorate from her alma mater at the December graduation ceremony for the College of Arts.

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    New Zealand art writer, academic, curator, art gallery director and University of Canterbury alumna Jenny Harper will receive an Honorary Doctorate from her alma mater at the December graduation ceremony for the College of Arts.

New Zealand art writer, academic, curator, art gallery director and University of Canterbury alumna Jenny Harper will receive an Honorary Doctorate from her alma mater at the December graduation ceremony for the College of Arts.

University of Canterbury Chancellor Dr John Wood has praised Ms Harper for her highly respected and influential contribution to the art world.

“Jenny Harper has been operating at the highest echelons of the visual arts and museum sectors in Australasia for four decades. From the very beginning of her art gallery career she made a name for deeply perceptive, critically important and popular exhibitions,” Dr Wood says.

“Ms Harper is an academic and museum professional who has left an indelible mark on the New Zealand cultural and artistic landscape and whose legacy will continue well into the future.  She is a graduate of the University of Canterbury who we are proud to be identified with and who richly deserves the award of Doctor of Letters (honoris causa).”

Born in Geraldine, Ms Harper began her working life in nursing. But it was while studying part-time for her Bachelor of Arts that she discovered her academic calling. In 1977 Ms Harper gained a Master of Arts (in Religious Studies) at the University of Canterbury, receiving 1st class honours for her thesis ‘The Relationship between Iconography and Mythology with Reference to the Hindu God, Siva’. She left New Zealand for England where she attained a Master of Philosophy (in Art History) from the prestigious Courtauld Institute at the University of London in 1982.

Ms Harper completed a Diploma in Museum Studies at Sydney University in 1983 and began her curatorial life working in Australia. Returning to the National Art Gallery in Wellington as senior curator in the later 1980s, she was also part of the Institutional Planning Team for the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. In 1990 Ms Harper became director of the National Art Gallery. 

She took on the role of establishing Art History as a separate academic discipline at Victoria University of Wellington in 1995; she led the fundraising effort for and establishment of the Adam Art Gallery there in 1998. She then became inaugural head of the School of Art, History, Classics and Religious Studies. After more than a decade at Victoria, Ms Harper returned to Christchurch to take up the challenge of running and revitalising the then recently opened Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

Ms Harper had the honour of being the commissioner for New Zealand’s official presentations at the Venice Biennales of 2009, 2011 and 2013. Her high standing in the visual arts community was previously recognised by the University of Canterbury in 2006 when she became an Adjunct Professor for the Ilam School of Fine Arts, and more widely in 2011 when she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the arts.

With the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, Ms Harper faced the greatest leadership challenge of her career. The impact of this disaster on her organisation was huge. The Gallery became the city’s civil defence headquarters, and the building was closed for five years to complete earthquake-strengthening needed to ensure its future.  Staff roles and budget expenditure had to be reassessed, and the services the Gallery could provide were severely curtailed.

“It is a tribute to Ms Harper that she excelled in the face of this adversity.  The Gallery completely rethought how it could operate, setting about offering more than 100 ‘Outer Spaces’ projects in various locations – as well as emphasising major collection and archiving projects, providing critical and scholarly material online and in printed form, and offering new levels of access to the city’s collections,” Dr Wood says.  “The Gallery’s re-opening in December 2016 was a community triumph.”

University of Canterbury December Graduation Ceremonies

Four UC graduation ceremonies will be held in Christchurch’s Horncastle Arena as follows:

Wednesday 19 December          

10am     College of Arts, College of Engineering

2pm       College of Business & Law

Friday 21 December

10am     College of Science

2pm       College of Education, Health, and Human Development

For further information please contact:

Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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