MacDonald died Tuesday at age 32, having been diagnosed with cancer last year.
A Nova Scotia native, MacDonald came to St. John’s in 2008 with a fine arts degree to work at Eastern Edge Gallery.
She threw herself into the local arts scene, friends say, with the goal of promoting it, and, to that end, left for Toronto to earn a master’s degree in criticism and curation, with a specialization in rural art and community. She returned first to Pictou, N.S., and then came back to Eastern Edge in 2012 as executive director, a position she held for three years.
“Mary shaped the gallery with a heart that included everyone, reinforced the arts community and extended our reach far beyond,” artist Philippa Jones, friend and current executive director of the gallery, wrote to Eastern Edge’s membership in an email. “While at Eastern Edge, Mary worked to gain recognition for Newfoundland art, making local artists part of the national conversation. She accomplished this not just through exhibitions, but by seeking connections, making correlations and introductions between artists, successfully campaigning for the Canada Council to visit the province, and nominating Newfoundland and Labrador artists for awards and opportunities.”
MacDonald left her role at the gallery, Jones says, to spend less time on arts administration and more time on curation and writing.
“Every time I went to an arts event, Mary would be there,” Jones says. “Mary’s support was relentless. She made things happen. Mary was the first person I went to for advice because she treasured the legacy of knowledge she cultivated at Eastern Edge and within the arts community as a whole.”
MacDonald was also a co-founder of Girls Rock NL, a non-profit organization offering free summer camps for girls interested in playing music and forming bands. This year’s Girls Rock NL camp will have its final showcase Friday night at The Lantern in St. John’s, starting at 6 p.m.
MacDonald’s sister, Anna Kate Newman, posted the news of her death on Facebook Wednesday.
“Mary has been released,” Newman wrote. “Yesterday morning her beautiful and wondrous soul was catapulted into the intergalactic, as a friend’s letter beautifully said. She is free from pain now and probably curating something larger for us all.
“Her 32 years were brief, but boy were they big and beautiful.”
A celebration of MacDonald’s life is being planned for the fall.