Confronting the void / #RIPPEICA

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Written by Becka Viau – Artist / Curator /  Program Director this town is small inc.

Last night I attended the final meeting of the Prince Edward Council of the Arts (PEICA). At the meeting the membership approved a motion to begin the process of dissolving the long serving artist lead institution.

It is a sad and historical day for the Arts and for artists on PEI.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the news about the PEICA here are some of the news stories you can check out – Sept 2015, Oct 2015, Aug 2016, Sept 2016.

Long story short. The only completely arms length, artist driven granting institution in Canada is being dissolved. PEI has lost its voice and accreditation from a provincial to a global scale…  and as artists we are left with a very big void.

It was brought to the attention of this town is small inc. that the in the discussion in the immediate had to be focused on handling the crisis of a flailing institution but, a very large and important discussion was being over looked:

What are the big picture impacts of the loss of the PEICA?

What are the implications to artists and to the Island’s cultural /social ecosystem?

Where do we go from here?

What will fill the void, and how can we ensure that artists remain at the centre of what ever governs the public investment in artistic expression?

SO, we decided to start the conversation and archive the voice of the artist and arts community on PEI in this moment of flux.

We welcome responses to the posts on this topic. We encourage you to post comments to presented perspectives, or to email us your thoughts: this.town.is.small@gmail.com

The discussion will be moderated for respectful argumentation.

Our hearts are with the Arts on PEI. #RIPPEICA

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Confronting the Void / Pan Wendt

Written by Pan Wendt – Curator (PE)

#RIPPEICA

This week I bumped into an old friend on the street, an artist who has been living in Montreal for around 15 years. He told me one of the reasons he left the Island was; he felt that artists here spent more time arguing with each other and fighting over scraps than they did making art. And he explicitly mentioned the PEI Council of the Arts, the divisive discussions that he witnessed at meetings that derailed what should have been a useful organization.

There’s so much history with the PEI Council of the Arts, often rancorous history: old conflicts, mistakes made, issues we can’t let go of, bricks and mortar, personal and ego struggles. It’s a relief, in a way, to be done with it.

But that would make it far too easy, especially for government, which has shown time and again that it would rather not have to contend with the messy realities that go with the expressions of artists, with the autonomy of artists. While at the same time government is all too keen to capitalize on artistic expression as evidence of its own benevolence and openness.

The end of the PEICA might be a relief. Maybe we can all start again. But let’s not be pawns in the game. The whole point of the PEICA was that artists play a central role in the assessment of their own contributions to society, that artists get credit for those contributions, despite the fact that such contributions might often be difficult, annoying, hard to measure, and even critical of the hands that feed.

It’s also artists who are best positioned to know what their needs are. The PEICA represented a political model – against the top-down application of bureaucratic imperatives – a model dedicated to democracy and independence, for better or worse, as the fundamental position of the artist in relation to society, and opposed to the utilitarian ideology that dominates so many discussions within and around the State.

I think it is the task of artists, at this time, to articulate this independence, through the creation of a new artistic collectivity. It must ultimately be a political entity, opposed to the commonplace notion of art as a commodity, in favour of art as a force, as a form of commentary, as an undertaking that is both more and less than labour or business, a way of thinking – directly or indirectly – what the next step might be.

Confronting the void / Nancy Cole

The $130,000 Kiss of Death

Written by Nancy Cole – Artist (PE)

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The Department of Culture’s withdrawal of funding and the subsequent dissolution of the PEI Council of Arts has left me reeling.  This is probably the biggest “What the Fuck” moment I have ever experienced.
The trend in arts support here seems to be towards funding of a human resources based culture economy. This leaves me with grave concerns regarding the commercialization and measurement of artistic excellence based on economic results. I fear we are heading in a direction of supporting and grant funding only to those whose work appeals to the myriad of tourists looking for a souvenir of their visit.  Although this is important, it is only one part of the Island’s cultural fabric.
“Currie said the arts are significant part of the Island economy, and the government has targeted it as an area for growth.”

Here is where some of us will get the target right up the arse.  Guess what, Mr. Currie, not all art has economic significance. Not all art is pleasing nor is it intended to be. Some artists are motivated to produce work that is about discourse.  Perhaps the most important art is experimental, esoteric and might not be appreciated at this point in time but it is a process that has unknown, untold significance.
The government says that the withdrawal of funding is due to the high administrative costs of the council. And to be fair, we, the members let things slip. But that money wasn’t being used solely for administration.  Advocacy and education was a key responsibility of the Council.   I benefited not only from grants but also from funded residencies and commissions while other artists were given exchange opportunities to other Maritime provinces. Plus having a Council that was member driven, not sector or government driven, meant each and every one of us had a voice and a mechanism to get feedback and encouragement to pursue excellence within our practices.
“Michelle’s mandate will be to be the voice of the sector even though she is paid inside government,” said Culture Minister Doug Currie.  This statement is a perfect oxymoron.  This voice will never advocate for us and political interference in the doling out of money is intrinsic in PEI culture.  Why would we feel exempt from the inevitable poking by a local MLA?  Additional, our voices are being taken over by an entity forced upon us, not chosen by us.  Voice appropriation without consultation.
My rudimentary mathematics indicates that $70,000 is being saved by the new, non-negotiable plan. If this money is being used to pay the salary of the new grant administrator then we truly have lost all our autonomy and our voice and gained nothing.

This isn’t a members chosen representative.  Who is going to push the boundaries and challenge us? And how transparent and accountable will the jury process be?
“Artists in the community will see we are being very respectful of that process,” said Currie. I have serious doubts that any artist will be cognizant of the process.
In order for us to climb out of this black hole and to once again feel pride and supported as a PEI artist we need core funding for artist run centres such as This Town is Small.  It is now the only safe zone for radical thinking and experimentation.  If Mr. Currie has any cojones, put that extra $70,000 into core funding. The current practice of specific project based funding is like running to the grocery store to get breakfast supplies, going home to prepare breakfast, then running to the grocery store to get lunch supplies, going home to prepare lunch and running to the grocery store to get dinner supplies and running home to prepare dinner and not knowing what is going to be on the table tomorrow.
Core funding.  What a dream, to have exhibition opportunities and spaces based on curatorial excellence that pays CARFAC rates.  No more death from exposure. It is time for the government to share responsibility for the dissemination and exhibition of the work funded by grants. What other profession has to compete,  be juried and often rejected for
the opportunity to show work for no fees. Not even the donations or free will
offerings are passed over to the artist.

Without the nurturing of excellence, we will continue to be underrepresented nationally and internationally.  We have an incredible resource of world class talent and we need the purse powers to recognize this and to give the artists the framework to step up and kick ass.

Would Island Artists Benefit From More Critical Writing, Including More Criticisms?

– a conversation between Christian and Pan – originally published 2010/11/07

Link to the original post – which includes the comments section: HERE

Written by Christian Ledwell

Prince Edward Island has a thriving arts community.  Unfortunately, much of the art that is released does not receive a substantial critical response.  I feel this is because reviewers are often not comfortable being negative when writing about art made on Prince Edward Island because they do not want to offend the artist.

A recent article in The Walrus mentions that Ernest Hemingway once read a review of his work called “The Dumb Ox” in a bookstore in Paris that made him so angry that he caused several thousands francs’ worth of water damage by punching a vase of tulips (showing himself to be, if not a dumb ox, at least a bull in a China shop).  While negative reviews aren’t normally taken so badly, they rarely create good will.  In the Island arts community, there is a strong likelihood that the reviewer and the artist know one another, and that no one will read the review as carefully as the artist.

For criticism to be effective, it needs to be an honest reflection of the reviewer’s experience of the artwork; the artist’s reaction shouldn’t be the primary concern.  But given Prince Edward Island’s small size, you have to watch what you say. This is true of any conversation held in public. Once while I was having lunch with my sister, she recommended a plumber, and one of the only other two people in the restaurant turned out to be the plumber’s daughter. Conversations on the internet are even more easily overheard, as social media allows anyone to broadcast her opinion and artists Google themselves to listen in on the discussions held about their work.

A trusted outside perspective from a good director, editor, or producer goes a long way to improve an artistic vision. Criticism also gives an outside perspective, but critics don’t have a trust relationship with an artist, they don’t give their criticism in private, and the artist cannot make changes based on their criticisms. One role a reviewer can play is to curate, sifting out what is exceptional.  But Prince Edward Island doesn’t need a Paris Review; Islanders hear about most exceptional art by word of mouth.  Regardless, after a group of people experiences art together, there is a natural instinct to talk about what they liked and didn’t like.  Criticism is a way to formalize that impulse to have a conversation about communally-experienced art.   Thoughtful private conversations almost always include criticisms, even for art that is exceptional. I don’t feel that this negativity is regularly and honestly expressed in writing on Prince Edward Island.

The Island arts community is fortunate to have The Buzz, which offers consistently good writing and comprehensive coverage of arts events across the province.  The Buzz is a vital part of why our arts community is thriving.  The Buzz writes very positively about art, and its inclusionary approach has a lot of benefits; it is especially helpful for new artists who want to promote their work.  I don’t think The Buzz needs to or should change.  But I wonder if Island artists could benefit from receiving more bad press alongside the good.

A band I play in sent out our first EP out to be reviewed by music blogs.  Indie music blogs are sent a high volume of records and so tend to only review music that they have something positive to say about.  Of the reviews our EP received, my preference was for the review in which the reviewer was openly negative about what he didn’t like.  While I stand by the material he dismisses, the songs he flagged as worthwhile are the ones that the band still plays in our live sets.  By being clear about what he doesn’t like, it lends credibility to the praise he does give.

Artists want their work to be taken seriously, but for criticism to go beyond being a pat on the back, it requires an environment in which critics are free to offer negative opinions alongside positive opinions.  Artists should be confident enough in their work that they can weather negative responses, and critics need to be confident enough in their opinions that they don’t pander in order to be polite.  Criticism about Island art written by Islanders might be an elusive goal, but I think it is still worth aiming for.  For instance, this weblog could be a good forum for artists to ask for critical feedback about their work. Until then, eavesdropping in restaurants is still a faithful standby for those looking for an objective opinion.

To Read Pan Wendt’s  Response Click …

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from the archives – Can a Museum be a Catalyst in a Community? – originally published 2010/10/26

Written By Becka Viau

When I first viewed this lecture by Curator Thelma Golden, I found my self lost in a conversation around race… However, as I watched for a second time I realized that for me this lecture is really asking the question: is an art gallery a place to ignite social change? Or even better, where can an Art gallery existso the community it serves can have conversations about difficult and changing social notions?

I instantly think of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown. Is this gallery providing Islanders, its community, the right amount of catalyst to ignite social discussion? I would argue yes, in the sense that they do exhibit Island Artists and when looking at the exhibitions installed right now it is obvious that 4 out of 5 exhibitions directly speak to island life and the conversations are accessible. Yet when I am confronted with the installation by Jayce Salloum I wonder how many from the Island community are having a real conversation with this work? Is this really an important question? Is the Salloum exhibition functioning on a National Level and not a local one? Does presenting artwork that is hard to access by the general public serving the mandate of the gallery?

Overall this lecture has made me reflect on the importance of national, local and international conversations sparked by art of all kinds, and the importance of public galleries to the presentation of these conversations.

To quote Thelma Golden,  “artists provide a space bigger than one that we could imagine to work through these images (ideas).” I challenge you, the reader to visit the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and find out what ideas you can get yourself into.

 

*link to the original posting – which includes the very awesome comments section – http://wp.me/pP9NA-6w

from the archives – Marriage of Artists – the process of collaboration – originally published 2010/10/18

Painting by – Stephen MacInnis

 

Written by Jane Ledwell

A number of weeks ago, The Guild was organizing an Arts Mixer and wanted to feature poems inspired by visual art and visual art inspired by poetry. Stephen B. MacInnis, my partner, is a painter, and I am a poet, so they asked if we wanted to contribute. We said yes and decided to create something together.

Stephen is currently working on a series of one thousand 12″x12″ works on paper, of which he has completed more than 600. These incorporate elements of painting, drawing, and collage. I asked him to select five or six partially completed works for me to look at and think about. Then, I let my mind drift, hoping it would find inspiration tucked away somewhere. Because I am NOT working on a series of 1,000 anything and am not prolific and have written little poetry since our daughter was born four years ago. You could say that two other collaborative projects I have undertaken with Stephen – our two children – have used up all my creative energy.

After looking at the handful of paintings, I managed to settle on, or fixate on a word, “affinity,” and to become curious enough about its dimensions that I knew it would be somewhere in my poem. I began to write images from observation and imagination, and I also began to list words that seemed to me to fit with “affinity.”

Next, I chose a painting-in-progress that included the collaged element of a skeletal hand. I wanted to reference this hand, but not too literally. I continued to work on the words and images of my poem and decided to provide Stephen with six words he could include in his painting, in whatever way he wanted. In my mind, the six words represented the five fingers of a hand and the hand itself. I committed to six words that satisfied me, and I gave them to Stephen.

Stephen stamped the words onto his canvas with rubber stamps. And then – after this unchangeable act – I decided that since I had chosen six words, I should try to write a sestina, a strictly formal poem in which six selected words feature at the end of the lines of six stanzas, in a predetermined order in each stanza. The six words then appear in a three-line stanza at the conclusion of the poem. I don’t usually write formal poems, let alone ones that require such a rigid structure and that amount to 39 lines. But I was intrigued by the challenge, and I set to work.

The biggest challenge was that the words I had chosen by reason of their rhythm and sound were not good words to use as the six key words for a sestina. If I had thought to write a sestina, I would have chosen more concrete, more simple words. The words I had chosen led to a poem with diction that is at best old-fashioned and at worst contorted. On the positive side, the poem is abstract in a way that reflects the artwork’s abstraction in surprising and satisfying ways, and more concrete terms would not have allowed this abstraction to emerge.

When I finished a draft of the poem, I suggested Stephen that his painting might need to have a hand traced on it somewhere. I didn’t specify whose hand or where. I also suggested that the words might need connections among them, but I didn’t specify which words or how they should be connected. Stephen worked these elements into his painting.

I finished the poem and he finished the painting, and we presented them at the Arts Mixer. We were glad that we had said yes to the opportunity to work together to create two pieces of art in two voices that nonetheless speak to each other in their creative process and their final forms.

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