FIFTEEN YEARS LATER
by Edwin Janzen
On the eve of ARCA’s fifteenth anniversary, we cracked open some boxes and took a little journey backward through time to the organization’s founding—notes, emails, and meeting minutes. A decade-and-a-half later, what we found looked both familiar and different from the ARCA of today.
One similarity was a broad diversity of opinion regarding what a national organization ought to spend its time doing. Minutes of these early meetings sometimes read like wish lists, with representatives calling for, variously, advocacy for ARCs to the Canada Council and the federal government; professional development and training for ARC staff; peer-to-peer mentoring; national conferences focused on promoting best practices (like building board expertise and ensuring better working conditions); and more. These organization-building efforts were entirely artist-led and stemmed from many earlier meetings and conversations in the ARC community. However, officers from the Canada Council were sometimes invited to attend (and often did). Throughout, Council officers were quite clear in their position that ARCA’s first priority should be advocacy: building official recognition for ARCs with the government, especially the Heritage minister (then Liza Frulla, in Paul Martin’s Liberal government). This could be achieved, said Council rep François Lachapelle—then head of the Visual Arts section—by documenting the regional associations’ activities and building up a “curriculum” by asking “for numbers at all levels” in order to assemble better knowledge about ARCs in the form of an information database.
Another concern was governance structure. Participants were eager to avoid the problems experienced by ANNPAC, an earlier national-level arts advocacy organization. While ANNPAC’s annual conference and its magazine, Parallelogramme, were generally saluted, the organization as a whole was seen as too centrist and its advocacy efforts inconsistent and too Ontario/Quebec-centric.
Seeking a structure that might obviate these problems, insight into possible models was gleaned from the Independent Media Arts Alliance (IMAA), which had recently held similar discussions of its own. An IMAA document outlined some possible structures:
- Roaming board: no national office, no permanent staff, board meetings of regional reps in different cities, employees contracted by task.
- Nomadic office: HQ located in a region for a finite period, contracted employees responsible to a board of regional reps, conference organized in and by that region.
- Wheel structure: no national office, regions are “spokes” of organization, each of which is assigned a different administrative function. The Canada Craft Federation (1972–96) had such a structure and was described as being plagued by a “somewhat feudal” system wherein presidents held executive power.
- Centralized structure: one head office, permanent staff, board consisting of regional representatives.
Some representatives expressed concern that a centralized structure would result in that typically Canadian problem of a “national” organization that basically represents Ontario and Quebec. To the contrary, one Canada Council rep cautioned against too much emphasis on regional disparity, stating that “excellence arises from deliberation of the assessment criteria and context—including regional—is taken into consideration.” Most importantly, regional associations were not in favour of transfers of decision-making authority from the regional to the national level.
Equally, it was agreed that, in addition to federal-level advocacy on funding policy and other issues, an annual national conference and national-level communications should be viewed as necessities. Also in favour of a national outlook, it was pointed out by a representative from FADO Performance Art Centre (Toronto) that not all ARC concerns are regionally based.
Nonetheless, representatives were united in a desire to strengthen the regional associations (and one representative noted that regions often benefit from discussions of national requirements). It was agreed that a national organization would need to be able to consider and accommodate many kinds of differences: regional, small-large, short-term/long-term, etc.
Another kind of difference pertained to issues of equity and cultural diversity—a lack of attention to which was cited as one reason for the breakup of ANNPAC. Representatives urged that diversity should be made a long-term objective, and that the resulting organization should identify processes that have created barriers and how they could be removed. It was also stated that “national, regional, and group organizations must promote a non-biased situation regarding race, gender, and sexuality.”
In the course of these discussions, representatives from Indigenous centres noted that they spoke more as consultants than as representatives of Indigenous peoples, as Indigenous communities were numerous and diverse, and located across the country. Likewise, while one third of ARCs in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are Indigenous, nonetheless Indigenous centres are not limited by region. According to a representative from Urban Shaman, in Winnipeg, there was interest, in the Indigenous arts community, in developing national body that could represent all Indigenous cultural orgs. This would be crucial for national representation. It should be noted that Indigenous centres did not unanimously support having an Aboriginal Caucus, as some feared it could lead to the ghettoizing of Indigenous voices and concerns.
In the end, at a meeting held at Video In, in Vancouver, attended by delegates from dozens of ARCs across the country, seven representatives—from six regional associations and the Aboriginal Caucus—voted by consensus “to form a national association led by a governing council comprised of seven (7) representatives who will consult and develop the new national association of artist-run centres.” This national council would be responsible for communicating with ARCs and representing their goals and aspirations in forming the organization’s mandate. Also, the new organization was mandated to “begin immediately to pursue advocacy goals” and with “increasing the breadth and thoroughness of its representation, of identities, disciplines and concerns.”
A first Canada Council grant of $30,000 was received on August 25, 2004, for the purpose of formalizing the new national association, as well as hiring consultants to assist the Alberta and Atlantic ARCs in creating their own regional associations. A provisional coordinator, Daniel Roy, was hired to prepare and translate the organization’s bylaws. By late spring in 2005, all regions had their own associations and ARCA’s incorporation documents had been submitted to Corporations Canada. For the time being, it was decided not to pursue charitable status.
Some of the nuts-and-bolts considerations of creating the new organization may seem familiar to anyone who’s hung around the ARC world for more than a few years. Government support was always appreciated and everyone generally seemed, much as they do today, to appreciate the Canada Council system—but these are also accompanied by government rules and priorities. For example, ARCA would be required to subsist on project grants for three years before being eligible for pluriannual funding. It would also be expected to raise fifty percent of its funding independently within two or three years of its founding. What happened instead, of course, was that the smaller regional associations were unable, and the larger ones unready, to support ARCA financially. Thus, ARCA’s dependence on the Council for funding has heretofore been absolute—until recently, that is, with the New Funding Model, which limits Council funding to 60 percent of ARCA’s budget and thus requires the kind of “creative administration” referred to by Lachapelle in these documents. Most ARC personnel will find familiar this shift, on the part of the government, toward independent revenue, and probably not in positive terms: ARCs know all too well the onerous and often counterproductive burden it places on Council-funded centres.
Further, the reps from the Council said that their role supporting ARCA’s work would involve:
- Providing opportunities for communication and information sharing
- Continued support within existing programs
- Encouraging Canada-wide projects within the framework of regional organizations
- Continued commitment of supplemental funds for professionalization
By professionalization, Council reps were referring to: better wages and benefits for staff, improved working conditions, venue security, professional exhibition-space standards, public visibility, and better dissemination materials. Some, however, expressed concerns about a focus on professionalization. While many of these measures seemed positive, ARC representatives questioned how the Council could ask centres to professionalize when ARCs simply did not enjoy funding anywhere near comparable to other sectors, such as museums.
Some ARC representatives felt that professionalization was shorthand for an increasingly corporate model, and that it represented “a political game used to get more money from the government.” Some expressed the view that ARCs simply aren’t about putting “more bums in seats,” but ought rather to dedicate themselves to research and development—new practices, new media, and experimental approaches—and that it was crucial that the Council understood this (since few would otherwise). It was noted that Canada’s ARC system had already demonstrated its relevance—for example, its international-scale impact on photo and video practices.
There was also some dissatisfaction with the Council cutting support for publication. One Council representative, however, pointed to the problem of publications ending up not distributed but simply being boxed up and sitting in storage (another problem familiar to many ARC veterans), and encouraged ARCs to debate the issue of publications seriously.
One situation, finally, that has certainly improved since those days is record-keeping. In the ARC sphere, the effective recording of minutes—and the stewardship of records and archives in a more general sense—can present surprising challenges and is rarely given the same emphasis as a centre’s other functions. Some of these ARCA records were not altogether clear and left gaps in the reader’s imagination as to what exactly had transpired. In one amusing instance, the date of ARCA’s founding meeting was given in the meeting minutes as “04.01.04,” which could equally mean January 4, 2004, or April 1, 2004—the difference between ARCA being founded on April Fool’s Day, or not. In truth, the real date was neither of those: it was March 1. (The French version did get it right, however!) Well, in an organization devoted to new practices and experimental approaches, even one that operates within the parameters of a state bureaucracy, maybe the need to keep an open mind and a positive outlook in the face of ambivalence is simply a cost of doing business.
About the author
Born in Winnipeg, Edwin Janzen is a visual artist, writer, and editor living and working in Montreal. He served, from 2008 to 2016, on the board of directors of articule, including terms as president and treasurer, and on oodles of committees. Edwin is the author of a very fine document about how and why to keep proper meeting minutes, which ARCA members may enjoy for free by emailing him at email@example.com. He is currently working on an admittedly obsessive fan writing project focused on The Wire, HBO’s classic critical drama on the neoliberal American city.
FROM NOW UNTIL MAY 2020, ARCA will use its 15th anniversary to take stock of our history with a series of brief incursions into the archive. We hope these brief flashbacks will highlight the motivations for creating a pan-canadian association and the ongoing need for cohesion in defending the interests of artist-run centres in Canada.
May 5, 2020 is the fifteenth anniversary of the official constitution of ARCCC-CCCAA (a.k.a. ARCA). To mark this event, ARCA has hired archivist Lucie Bureau to help the team sift through the organization’s historical archives. In the process, we’ve been revisiting files from as far back as 2003 that document the discussions, research, and concerns that led to ARCA’s foundation. Although several players in the artist-run centre community at that time took part in discussions held at national conferences such as Convergence (2002), Tiré à Part (2003), and INFest (2004), it was the leadership of steering committee members Jewel Goodwyn, Bastien Gilbert, Cindy Baker, Jonathan Middleton, and Steve Loft that led to the foundation of our pan-Canadian association. The minutes of those meetings, including some held with the Canada Council for the Arts and the Arts Policy branch of the Department of Canadian Heritage, or with other cultural workers, reveal that many of our concerns of that time remain relevant today: equity, autonomy of regional associations, representation of identity and disciplinary caucuses, job insecurity, working conditions, and governance. But what stands out most in accounts of these discussions is an ardent desire to avoid replicating the centralized structure that led to the dissolution of ANNPAC in 1992, and also the consolidation of regional groups in the absence of a pan-Canadian association. This led to an exploration of existing associations within the milieu, such as the Canadian Craft Federation (CCF) and the Independent Media Arts Alliance (IMAA), and resulted in the proposal of two structural models: 1) a decentralized coalition, or Co-ARC-lition; and 2) a nomadic structure, or rotating office model. These options were presented and debated in plenary discussions on March 1, 2004, as part of INFest in Vancouver. This constitutive meeting resulted in the adoption of a motion proposed by Kay Higgins (PAARC), and seconded by Bastien Gilbert (RCAAQ), which nonetheless required ten amendments and two rounds of voting before being ratified.
AS REPRESENTATIVE OF ARTIST-RUN CENTRES, WE AGREE TO FORM A NATIONAL ASSOCIATION LED BY A GOVERNING COUNCIL COMPRISED OF SEVEN (7) REPRESENTATIVES WHO WILL CONSULT AND DEVELOP THE NEW NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF ARTIST-RUN CENTRES WHICH WILL BE KNOWN AS ARTIST-RUN CENTRES AND COLLECTIVES CONFERENCE / CONFÉRENCE DES CENTRES ET COLLECTIFS D’ARTISTES AUTOGÉRÉS (sic) (ARCCC/CCCAA).
- THAT, THESE REPRESENTATIVES ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR COMMUNICATIONS WITH ARTIST-RUN CENTRES AND FOR REPRESENTING THE GOALS AND ASPIRATIONS OF THE CENTRES;
- THAT, REPRESENTATIVES WILL BE CHARGED WITH ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MANDATE FOR THE (ARCCC/CCCAA);
- THAT, REPRESENTATIVES ON THE GOVERNING COUNCIL WILL BE CHARGED WITH THE RESPONSIBILITY TO REPORT TO ARTIST-RUN CENTRES THROUGH REGIONAL ASSOCIATIONS WITH THE ORGANIZATIONAL PLAN OF THE (ARCCC/CCCAA) BY SEPTEMBER 30, 2004 FOR RATIFICATION BY REGIONAL ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-REGIONAL CAUCUSES OF ARTIST-RUN CENTRES;
- THAT, THE GOVERNING COUNCIL WILL CONSIST, INITIALLY, OF SEVEN (7) MEMBERS: [Maritimes (caucus); Québec (RCAAQ); Ontario (ARCCO); Manitoba/Saskatchewan (PARCA); Alberta (caucus); British Columbia (PAARC); Aboriginal contingent (caucus)];
- THAT, (ARCCC/CCCAA) WILL BEGIN IMMEDIATELY TO PURSUE ADVOCACY GOALS;
- THAT, THE GOVERNING COUNCIL WILL BE CHARGED WITH INCREASING THE BREADTH AND THOROUGHNESS OF ITS REPRESENTATION, OF IDENTITIES, DISCIPLINES AND CONCERNS.