East of There, June 2013 – Follow up

ARCA participated in the East of There meeting held from June 20-23 in Saint John, NB, an event organized to coincide with the annual assemblies of the Association of Artist-Run Centres from the Atlantic (AARCA) and Atlantic Provinces Art Galleries Association (APAGA). ARCA’s participation included organizing a small scale, yet national forum on current writing and independent publishing practices in ARCs as well as partnering with Artexte to offer the gathered community, a workshop on the new e-artexte online document repository. ARCA also held its biannual face-to-face board meeting.

How can ARCA, as a National Arts Service Organisation (NASO), honour its national scope even as it acts locally, or in one region for the expressed purpose of drawing attention to issues that ultimately concern the entire network of artist-run centres, and by extension, the visual arts globally? When asked for feedback on the event, Jonathan Middleton, PAARC representative at ARCA mentions how fruitful it is to experience different iterations of “us”. It shows that we are able to do things according to continuously refreshed models, and explore different configurations of the artist-run community, in spite of geographical borders, administrative structures and other constraints.

Experimenting an expanded Visual Arts gathering through the lens of “regionalism”

By bringing together different associations, interests, individuals and exploring possibilities on a smaller scale, collaborating this way can point to new forms of relations. At that scale, can one better examine how the different layers connect and interrelate? –
The Jack Weldon Humphrey Forum organized by the Sheilah Hugh Mackay Foundation featured a survey on the “regional” art ecosystem with informative presentations by curators and directors of the region’s provincial museums, university and municipal galleries and artist-run centres. The most surprising revelation, however, was how deeply connected the museums are with the local artist-run centres, by hosting ARC produced temporary exhibitions and by organising exhibitions of local or regional emerging artists first exhibited by artist-run centres.

Later the same day, during the panel on National perspectives on regionalism, Kegan McFadden’s “My Winnipeg”, a heartfelt depiction of the ugly duckling city, was a high point in the day as was Leopold Foulem’s testimonial on the stigma of being considered a ceramist from Caraquet by artists and a Montréal artist by ceramists. The panel also featured Amish Morrel, editor of C Magazine and myself. After the presentations, the speakers responded to questions by Michael Landry, editor of Salon, a weekly arts insert published in the Saint John Telegraph. With funders’ increased emphasis on developing national and international markets it’s good to be reminded how local and regional initiatives connect to the wider economy.

A much appreciated visit: Sylvie Gilbert, new Head of VA at the Canada Council attends East of There

The Canada Council’s head of the Visual Arts section, Sylvie Gilbert arrived in time for the biennial Strath Butler Award ceremony held on the Friday evening, in the presence of the New Brunswick Lt. Governor General. The little known 25,000$ prize was awarded to artist Susan Vida Judah. During Ms. Gilbert’s presentation, the following day, she again repeated that Council is undergoing operating program reviews in an attempt to stay relevant to the changes in the field and to shifts in the economy. Her impersonation of Edythe Goodridge, a former Head of VA at The Canada Council was effective at providing some comic relief in what can be tense moments when the community is not hearing good news. Invited to attend the ARCA board meeting on the last day, Gilbert made it increasingly apparent that Council cannot meet the total, and reasonable ask of ARCs who, in the last evaluation (2011), reached 11M$ for an available budget of 8M$. Previous increases to Council have only resulted in 1M$ trickling down to ARCs.

Making space for writing and publishing

The following day’s writing and publishing forum organized and led by ARCA, and facilitated by Robin Metcalfe, Director and Curator of St. Mary’s University Gallery in Halifax, provided an embodied overview of writing across the network, for the benefit of the local community, and arts councils officers in attendance, including François Dion of the Canada Council, who’s interest in texts, documents and publishing is well known. Notes were taken by scribe Eryn Foster so that the collected knowledge could subsequently be shared both with members and funders. Read a summary here (PDF).

Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture

The unexpected visit by Trevor Holder, Minister of Tourism, Heritage and of Culture of New Brunswick during the forum (he was invited to attend the “regional” forum held the previous day) hopefully provided a grassroots perspective on the visual arts especially since the cultural policy of NB is currently under review. Advocacy efforts by provincial arts board and associations have gone to increasing the profile of the visual arts considered to have received very little attention from the provincial government in the last ten years.

Provinces and municipalities can do WAY better

Only nine artist run centres out of 19 located in the Atlantic region receive operating funding from the Canada Council, averaging 39 000$ yearly. Provincial and municipal governments invest less in the arts than other provincial governments (ref. Burgess report), Nova Scotia receiving the least amount of public funding from all levels of government. According to the Association of Artist Run Centres from the Atlantic’s (AARCA) December, 2012 regional report, newly elected Halifax Mayor Mike Savage promised, during his victory speech, developing a municipal Halifax (HRM) Arts Council. Outgoing AARCA representative on the ARCA board, Michael McCormack believes that with more funding available to arts organisations, there could easily be two more artist-run centres in Halifax. The All-of-Us-Society located in Antigonish has yet to receive any support from the province, and, Saint John artist-run centre Third Space no longer receives the $10,000 it used to get from the province (ref. Chris Lloyd). Local and provincial support is critical for organisations that would like to one day access federal support.

East of There as catalyst

What did East of There catalyse? How will it unfold in the next weeks, months, years? How can ARCA contribute to the advocacy efforts in the Atlantic? Or any other region for that matter? Kathryn McCarroll of the Sheilah Hugh Mackay Foundation in a follow up meeting simply asks: What one step can be taken to foster one thing forward? Focusing on one achievable goal is a strategy that can employ coordinated tactics to maintain the current Atlantic momentum. Is it entirely coincidental that the next Canadian Public Arts Funders (CPAF) network meeting is taking place in Fredericton this October and that they will be presenting a recently commissioned study on the Changing visual arts landscape as part of their professional development agenda?

East of There constituted a very rich and unique temporary community for the exploration of the not-for-profit visual arts, through the lens of the Atlantic provinces’ gathered artistic community: a “regional”, integrated and more intimate model to continue exploring the nation-wide and increasingly globalized network of visual arts culture.