State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Vive la revolution!

Perhaps it was the meteor but these last two weeks have been full of artists getting all hopped up on goofed balls. It started benignly enough with a good friend asking for me to attend a local arts council meeting. She was concerned that the council wasn’t helping artists enough and wanted people with exhibition records and you know, actual careers in the arts to show up.

The meeting was an experience in small town petty rage. Beginning with us being treated like children (“put a check beside the subject you want discussed!”) and then on to such forward thinking ideas like, “lets create a mural downtown like a paint by number and have the public fill in the colour!”, finally finishing off with a triumphant judgment placed upon my partner and I for not having the business savvy to be comfortable and rich like the retired teachers everyone else seemed to be. Ahh it is good to be alive in these recessionary and wage gap times eh?

I shook the experience off as I am want to do. I’m made of some pretty resilient stuff and you would be too if you spent twenty years of your life being judged. Artists need the skin of reptiles.

The next day I was pulled into a Facebook thread regarding the event Culture Days. Apparently I am not the only artist who finds their mandate of not paying artists offensive. The eloquent discussion of how such a huge, national and well funded event can have the audacity to promote art for free was something to behold. Check it out for yourself here:

https://www.facebook.com/CultureDays.Fetedelaculture/posts/449095351828642?comment_id=3796595

It made me beam with pride to hear several artists take issue with what I think is a marketing whitewash by our federal government to make it look as though they care about art.

The thread spawned a lot of social media discussion and left me realizing that the time had come for artists to make a stink about how we are treated. And it didn’t stop there. Last Thursday an article on the Huff Post was circulating around the internet regarding donating art. The writer dispelled the notion that donating your art to a charity helps your career in the long term. In fact if donating art has done anything it has depressed the value of contemporary art and has made artist’s attempts at making a living that much harder. Again, lots of comments and discussion by all sorts of artists. And once again, everyone is eloquent and very smart on these matters.

Louise Michel, inspiration,the red virgin, communard, anarchist, Hugo protege, fearless, hero.

I began this blog with a mandate to discuss issues that affect working artists. When I say working artists I mean artists who actually make most of their income through making art. I know that to survive a lot of artists have jobs but generally that means teaching and part time supplements. Those who have tenure at a university, full time high school teaching jobs and commercial jobs that entail them going to an office every day are not who I am talking about. I’m talking about me. I left university and became a full time artist with only part time jobs here and there over the last twenty years. I have never contributed to CPP and would not ever qualify for employment insurance. I am as off the grid as you can get. I saw my work as a vocation; most see it as just naive and dumb. But as I mentioned I have crocodile skin.

Lately however I have begun to realize that perhaps I am not alone and this blog is not in a vacuum. Blogs are like anything, you have to have a really good reason to do it. These past two weeks have made me realize that not only do I do this blog cuz I love it but now I think it is contributing to a larger, important discussion. I had dozens of hits when a friend reposted my blog from the fall regarding why I would never participate in Culture Days. This is a small thing but I believe most great ideas, revolutions and movements start small. Never having had the ambition of one day performing at the Super Bowl, I am very pleased with the quality of small and that the beginning of something can seem small.

Bucky, nuf said.
Bucky, nuf said.

Everthing begins somewhere. Design visionary Buckminster Fuller held his three year old child in his arms as it died from malnutrition and a host of ailments. He was young and very poor and unable to feed his family properly. He then devoted his life to creating things that help humanity. The geodesic dome was in fact a shape that he felt would help poor people have the ability to heat inexpensively. Next week I open an exhibit at the Art Gallery of Northumberland and I am dedicating my exhibit to him. Bucky was someone who saw need and tried to do something about it through his creativity and artistry. I’m never going to design a building or a city but I can write about injustice toward my community, I can stand up to naysayers with dignity and challenge those who think that art isn’t important enough to pay for.

Please visit art-leaks.org, Critical Mass Art and Atomic Centre all groups who feel strongly about artists getting paid for their work.
Art Gallery of Northumberland, opening March 16, come by!
Buckminster Fuller Institute
Louise Michel pic from DisciplineandAnarchy.com

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6 thoughts on “State of the Arts”

  1. Great blog – I am going to repost … we need to have a coffee, tea or a wine one day. Lately I haven’t felt as alone reading your blog and trout in plaid’s. Thanks. Good luck with the show.

  2. Bam – Victoria, you are a blessed voice in the wilderness. You are calling the emperor out for having no clothes. Thanks for doing such a good job of putting this in perspective.

    1. Annie,

      Thank you so much. I see you as such a support in all this and a kindred spirit! I received a lovely email from Christy Haldane, who feels less overwhelmed by life because of you and I. Isn’t that awesome. Having impact is all I want…. well and paying my bills. LOL

  3. Thought-provoking blog post, Victoria. Thanks for putting it out there. Thanks, too, for mentioning Critical Mass. As a new not-for profit arts organization, the issue of paying CARFAC mandated exhibition fees was one of our first discussion points as we hammered out our “vision statement”. Of course, for a new group, finding the money to pay artists is very difficult, not the least because of the need to educate our donors, and dare I say it, some of the artists themselves. Realistically, I know we won’t always succeed in finding the $$ for appropriate exhibition fees, especially in the beginning, but it’s an important goal that we are working toward. It pains me to see well-established organizations who do not share this goal, and it pains me even more when artists don’t think through the ramifications (for themselves personally, for their fellow artists, and for their gallerists) of selling themselves short.

    As a curator and art dealer, I much prefer to work with artists who have a strong sense of the value of their work…why would I want to invest my time and energy working with an artist who did not? Among other things, it’s an indicator that the artist is likely to be responsible and professional across the board, and therefor a joy to work with.

    1. So happy to hear that you believe artists need to value what they do and their work. I couldn’t agree more. I hope I can bring even more attention to what you guys are doing.

      Thanks,

      Victoria

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