Archive for January 2011
*** this article can be found in the Spring Edition 2011 of Visual Art News magazine which can be purchased here.
This Town is Small, Inc.
by Mireille Eagan
Bureaucracy is one side of a two-sided coin, John A. MacDonald on one side, and from the other side of reality, what voice of poetic aspiration calls? This is the curse of the artist-run space.
- AA Bronson, The Humiliation of the Bureaucrat
“Why have an artist-run centre? Because there isn’t one. There isn’t one here. It’s that simple,” states Becka Viau. “Basically, as soon as we get our ‘boots,’ we’ll start walking around. We have to be strategic in our presentation. So far we’ve incorporated, created a business plan, developed a balanced board. But, we need to learn business speak, need to be good at the game, or they’re not going to let us in easily.” She starts singing in a low voice while dancing: “and what do we haaave? The communitaaay. They’re our cape, and we are wearing the boots of our business plaaan.”
Becka is one of several artists, writers, and musicians that have come together under the moniker of this town is small, a collective that has made great strides toward bringing an artist-run centre to Prince Edward Island in only a year. Developing projects through collaboration between genres, this town is small has hosted several art and music events, runs a well-oiled blog with submissions of art and writing from the local community, and is now ready to begin creating sustainable partnerships with other local non-profits in the arts sector. However, their goal long term is a space– a physical space for exhibitions, musical performances, studios, education.
The lack of an artist-run space is poignantly felt on Prince Edward Island. The Confederation Centre Art Gallery is the only institution that pays artist fees for the exhibition of work. Although they regularly incorporate local artists into programming, the payment for a solo show barely dents an artist’s living expenses. In addition, the price and paperwork for getting one’s art off the island are often formidable. Lack of shows means one cannot readily apply for federal funds– a depressing circle. A properly funded artist-run centre would be in the position to provide artist fees, as well as provide an essential counterpoint of creative conversation with what the CCAG is able to offer.
Several attempts have been made on PEI to establish an artist-run centre, and each has had their particular difficulties. The first official centre, the Great George St. Gallery, closed down in the nineties despite an impressive history of exhibitions. With interest toward supporting their local artists, they increasingly operated like a commercial gallery and as a result lost their Canada Council funding. From 2000 to 2001, a social/drinking group of artists and writers called the Friday Artists ‘Round Town Somewhere (or FARTS) organised several shows in the Gallery at the Guild, received provincial money for programming, and were able to pay artist fees. However, with little sustainability in terms of staff, the group’s efforts dissipated.
In the past few years several new collectives have appeared. Peake Street Studios is a modest but vibrant project based in the home of Donnalee Downe, one that regularly shows group exhibitions with work by members (and who recently organised an inter-provincial art exchange with its members, Gallery Connexion, and Eastern Edge Gallery called Out of Purgatory). Other examples of organised art spaces include Ampersand (a coffee bar, t-shirt shop, exhibition space, and hang out for the younger creative crowd) and the recent addition of MUSEartspace. None of these locations can or could pay artist fees, instead offering a more commercial presentation.
For this town is small, it’s going to be a long haul, with delicate balance at every intersection. Artist-run centres in Canada are supported through government grants at federal, provincial, and municipal levels, but money is difficult to obtain currently. For most funding bodies, a collective must have completed about three years of programming where they pay artist fees– not easy.
Yet, without a physical location and almost no funds, this town is small has managed to work with other venues on various projects. The most recent, “Iris Mercurial: The Passage of Night” at the Alibi Lounge, saw a substantial group of local artists donate their various talents to produce an evening of living sculptures, poetry, and video. Future plans include Small Town Sessions, with the online presentation of eight informal performances by local musicians be recorded in alternative venues such as rooftops, churches and living rooms. After that, there’s talk of organising a festival.
It’s a remarkable string of successes, raising questions of practicality and the benefits of being light on one’s feet: does this town is small actually need a physical space? Even as most artist-run centres move into their second and third decade of operation, the “problem” of space is continual. Some centres own their premises, some benefit from controlled rents in buildings provided by their city or province. Many are constantly moving at the will of their city’s real estate market. In the Maritimes, Gallery Connexion has obtained a location after a year of transience, their long term space lost after a major flood. Khyber ICA engages in an ongoing struggle to save their location in downtown Halifax. Eyelevel has had to move regularly due to rental costs.
These difficulties are not new, and as a result the notion of decentralised activity has always been in play. Mail Art is just one example that has regularly dotted the artist-run landscape as a lightweight method of sharing work across provincial and national boundaries. It is also common to find artist collectives that move spaces as provided, such as The Upstairs Apartment Gallery in Halifax, who began by conducting exhibitions in a bachelor apartment. With the sale of their regular building, the collective no longer has a fixed location, and moves to whatever location is offered by volunteers.
As mighty as it is, the future of this town is small critically depends on its ability to work with “boots” and “cape,” business and community. A permanent location would allow the collective to stabilize their operations, to provide support to its local community through promotion and education. However, its eventual form rests inextricably with that same local community. This has been the case with every artistic endeavour throughout the history of grassroots initiatives, because really, every town is small.
Mireille Eagan is a freelance curator and writer based in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
For more information on This Town is Small, please visit thistownissmall.wordpress.com
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written by Becka Viau
Charlottetown was alive with music and celebration on Saturday January 22nd at the annual Music PEI Awards Gala. Although I am not a musician, I am an artist and when award time rounds the corner I generally find myself in many conversations about the importance of an awards program to the career development of Artists. A lot of people understand awards as measurements of talent, when most often awards are actually presented for hard work, lots of work and the ability to work efficiently within the industry.
Talent is subjective, and learned. Sure some people seem to have a “natural” ability to grasp technical skill, or maybe have “an ear” or “an eye” for tone and composition, but I would still argue that in order for natural ability to become successful in the industry not only does it have to be nurtured and believed in but it also has to be educated and conformed into the working world of the industry.
It is true that Awards augment artists’ funding applications, and a conference like Music PEI week can provide opportunity for selected artists to sell to delegates from across the country, but mostly Awards create prestige. … and if the actual function of the award is perceived by the public as a measure of talent not an acknowledgment of industry success … I wonder what is the function of all this prestige?
I guess that is the question… what do awards do? Especially in a small place, besides develop the perception of a prestigious scene within the community and ignite some competition amongst local artists? How do the awards affect you? As an artist? As a patron? As the audience? As an Islander?
I ask these questions not because I don’t believe in awards.. as an artist I do enjoy and benefit from the development of the arts scene in Charlottetown. We do have a pretty cool place with a lot of hardworking artists and I definitely don’t mind if the rest of the country knows it. I am just curious.
A great read about the concepts of awards, prestige and industry: The Economy of Prestige, by James F. English. Click here for a book preview.
TO HELP FUND AND SUPPORT THIS FILM PLEASE CLICK HERE!
written by Amanda Dawn Christie
I am very grateful to be this year’s Filmmaker in Residence at the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative. They are giving me $4000 in cash and $11000 in gear rental toward this film project. I am still $5000 short, so I am working on closing that gap now through some fundraising initiatives. We shoot the film on January 29th, and the Moncton Fire Department is being incredibly supportive. Then I will be in Halifax almost every weekend, editing the film between February 11 and April 1. On weekends when I am editing in Halifax, the public will be welcome to come in and watch me work and ask questions about the process. Another aspect of my residency is public talks. I will give a few works in progress talks where I will show rough edits of the film in progress and talk about the process. One of these will happen in Moncton, and two will happen in Halifax. Finally, the film will premiere at the Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival which is put on in April, by the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative. There will be two versions of the film. One will be intended to loop as an installation in visual art galleries, while the other will have a title and tail credits to play in a linear fashion in cinemas.
My art practice includes both experimental film and live performance. When working on my MFA at SFU, I focused on exploring the links between the human body and the projected image: live performance with film and video projections, as well as the role of the human body in film and video. I was also particularly interested in analog and mechanical machines and their relationship to the human body and the bodily senses. As such, I use my own body in all of my films — I never work with actors. I see this as an extension of my performance practice. Historically, video art has had a longstanding connection with performance and body art, and yet I have not worked with video yet — only with film (primarily 16mm). Historically, mainstream film is more associated narrative and celebrity — the body of the actress or the other, rather than of the director or the writer. I use film rather than video because I love working with the materiality of the celluloid material (hand-processing, optical printing, and so on). As a result many of my films have been very materialist and structural in nature — without standard plot or story lines. Many of my films have no body at all in them — but when there is a body, it is my own. As a result, I see this new film that I am working on, also as an extension of my performance practice.
In this new film, “Off Route 2″ I will be hanging upside down from a harness in an upside down car. The idea is that it is the moment after an accident but before the rescue when time slows down. I am interested in a deeper look at trauma and the often-anticlimactic aftermath of personal tragedy. As I hang injured and suspended from her seatbelt in the upside down car, I observe beautiful wildlife in the landscape around me, cheerful music continues to play on the car stereo, and the tragic situation seems at once disconnected from and yet interwoven with the beauty surrounding me.
In terms of performance, the mere act of creating this film will be quite physically challenging. I will only be able to hang upside down for 30 minutes at a time in order not to cause long term damage from circulation loss. The film shoot will take all day, so firemen will be present to take me in and out of that position over and over again throughout the day. The fire department is also lending me a harness to hang from rather than using the actual seatbelt. We will be installing special hardware to connect the harness to. It will also be very cold, and my torso will not be dressed in winter clothes. I will also be covered with special effects make up and will therefore not be able to touch anything when getting in and out of position. It will take 3-4 people to get me into that inverted position. We will all have to go in and out of the passenger side of the car, because we can’t disturb the snow on the driver’s side of the car for continuity reasons. So imagine 4-5 people in an upside down car, entering and exiting from the passenger side. The fire department will cut off the passenger side of the car and stabilize it to make it a bit more easy. Even so, this will be an intense day of physical exertion and endurance.
In terms of the subject matter, I am interested in the quiet middle moments. So many films follow the aristotelian story arc of beginning, middle, and end. I personally do not feel that we experience life with beginnings and endings. It’s all middle. I like to make films that are only about the middle. So for this one, it is about that moment after the crash and before the rescue. There are no major climactic events. It’s that slow peaceful waiting period, while a happy song continues to play on the car stereo and sun glistens on the snow.
Deadline for indicating your intent to submit is midnight, February 18th and further details, submission guidelines (regarding poem form, etc.) and deadlines will be available by Feb 20th 2011
groups, collectives and collaborations are encouraged to participate.
Island Poems: A collaborative art project involving Prince Edward Island poets and artists from many disciplines will be mounted at The Gallery @ The Guild during poetry month this April. The interdisciplinary project marks the first time Peake Street Studios and this town is small inc. have joined forces. Working with The Writers’ Guild of Prince Edward Island, the show will involve the interpretation, by individual artists or artist collaboration (we are interested in hearing from small groups of artists interested in working together), of new works of poetry created specifically for this show.
Poets interested in submitting a poem are asked to inform email@example.com of their intent to submit. Artists interested in participating in the art challenge are asked to contact either Peake Street Studios at firstname.lastname@example.org, or this town is small at email@example.com.
Deadline for indicating your intent to submit is midnight, February 18th and further details, submission guidelines (regarding poem form, etc.) and deadlines will be available following the deadline.
a short film by Millefiore Clarkes
“Minutes before boarding the plane to Toronto my boyfriend handed me the challenge of documenting my six-day journey. This is the result.Inspired directly from my current video art idol and well-known Vimeo star; Matthew Brown vimeo.com/matthewbrown”
Shot on a Rebel T2i in full HD. Edited and colour treated on Final Cut.
Soundtrack by Roger Carter.