Art Party : Art Money

As a fly-on-the-wall volunteer at the Canadian Art Gallery Hop Gala on September 24th, 2009 I was astounded at the capacity of the Canadian Art team. Thinking that arts magazines in Canada are operated by a sparse few individuals, it's remarkable to see an event with 600 people in attendance with an open bar, dozens of works for auction (live and silent), a banquet dinner by a celebrity chef at a chic venue (Kool Haus...maybe not generally chic, but very chic-looking for this event), with a large roster of volunteers, servers and professional art packagers. My own perception of the Canadian art scene is that it doesn't necessarily have much sway in the larger scheme of things and that it is composed of many small and struggling organizations; but this Canadian Art event doesn't give that impression. At any rate, the Gala is the magazine's annual fundraiser: leaving the impression that it can pull off a fancy and exciting display without the funding boost.

This year the Gala and the Hop mark the 25th anniversary of Canadian Art Magazine with the theme of "Promise," looking positively to the future. There was a panel discussion (really a succession of individual presentations) on the morning of September 26th as part of the Hop. Moderated by Canadian Art editor, Richard Rhodes, it included Emily Vey Duke (with the other half of the artistic duo, Cooper Battersby, sitting in the audience), Adad Hannah (artist) and David Moos (Curator of Contemporary Art, AGO). Each contributor briefly addressed their own practices, followed by a short and impromptu discussion between Rhodes and Moos concerning Moos' opinion on what is currently required by the general arts community for its continued success.

This question from Rhodes was premised on the "Promise" theme, as he established in his introductory blurb, describing the survival of artists in relation to the current economic crisis. He quoted statistics to demonstrate how artists have a history of existing within the bottom of the scale of economic earning power concluding that the stock market crash essentially didn't affect them, and somehow, miraculously (and paradoxically) helped them flourish. Confused? Me too. The romantic ideal of the struggling artist, fighting against economic oppression and a lack of proper recognition by the general, capitalist public can only be fueled by the crash of the stock market! Is this coming from an assumption that the economic crisis would have potentially forced artists to stop the whole art-making gig and 'get a real job', and that the persistence of art practice is only a testament to the passion and success of Art? Not sure. But I certainly don't think the arts community has been positively affected by recent budget cuts due to tight monetary issues in big-business, industry and government. Rhodes doesn't want to factor money into artistic accomplishment and production, instead focusing on individual production and content, which is fair. I'd say that's a comfy stance to take as someone with a steady job in the arts community...but it makes me personally uneasy.

In answer to Rhodes question as to what the Canadian art community needs to succeed into the future, Moos responded with "What, besides more money?"

Here we go again.

The Canadian Art Hop Gala was a demonstration of money and the power of social exchange within the arts community. From asking questions to fellow team members throughout the night, I learned that the auctioned works had been selected through a juried process and then donated by the artist. This, I assume, means that the artists do not make money, but they get a certain recognition/clout for being part of an illustrious event and for being selected by a distinguished jury- and in turn, the circle of rich patrons. The art up for auction really was an excellent survey of Canadian artists with a mix of both thoroughly established and more emerging artists including BGL, Katie Bethune-Leamen, Edward Burtynsky, Geoffrey Farmer, Jen Hutton, Kim Moody, Graeme Patterson, and Michael Snow among many others. Expecting to see a large mix of curators and other arts professionals that I had previously met or seen in the exhibition-opening-circuit, I was surprised to be in a crowded room of complete strangers, elaborately dressed and increasingly sloshed (naturally lubricated to spend some cash): these are not the people who necessarily attend openings along the grotty Queen West strip, but instead the ones who buy, collect, promote and make art move as commodity...or maybe just want something for their foyer above the umbrella stand.

So where does the money lie in the arts community? It's not in the other arts magazines contributing to the contemporary Canadian art dialogue, namely passionate, under-staffed and resource stretched organizations like FUSE Magazine or C Magazine for example, who are much more focused on developing critical dialogue within the current Canadian art community, but continue to struggle to stay afloat. The money is also not to be found within the romantic ideal of the struggling artistic genius forging new paths, for one's lack of money can only feed the creative genius, right?...and yet money still seems so intrinsic to making art move--from artist--to gallery--to auction--to exhibition.


Toronto Arts Council - More Money on the Pile or Down the Pit?

Image: Installation of Gerald Ferguson's piece, "1,000,000 Canadian Pennies" (1979, Collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia ) at the University of Saskatchewan in the Fall 2007 [http://www.usask.ca/communications/ocn/07-sept-21/index.php].

I recently met with William Huffman, Associate Director; Visual & Media Arts Officer; and Literary Officer at the Toronto Arts Council, to learn more about the council, about how it operates in the larger scheme of the Toronto arts community. Of course, this is also under the auspice of my own career, learning more about who is involved, how they operate as arts advocates, and what kind of programmes they support through grants to support the arts community.

The Toronto Arts Council has its hands in many organizations, and those many organizations have their hands in the TAC's pot in return. You may have seen the TAC listed in the roster of sponsors for almost every exhibition or event attended in Toronto. The organization is broken into different sections: the governing board (which includes city counselors), the different discipline councils (theatre, dance, visual and media arts, literary, music, community arts) which make decisions on which groups and organizations are awarded grants, and the several juries which are responsible for determining individual artists' grants. The TAC was developed out of the Toronto City Council and, although autonomous, still relies on the support of the City for year to year operations. There remains an internal cultural support body within City Council that is responsible for the huge-big-budget-big stars events like Nuit Blanche and the Toronto International Film Festival.

The operational model at TAC is similar to the model that many artist-run centres continue to practice, since those sitting on the discipline councils have had prior careers within those disciplines, either practicing artists, musicians/composers, theatre directors etc. Historically, ARCs have been developed and operated by people who are also practicing artists. This is still the situation in certain institutions, but in many cases the directors/curators in ARCs now have backgrounds in business, administration or academic degrees in art history or curatorial and museum studies. These adaptations formed naturally since many artist-initiated organizations just don't last very long (and sometimes aren't intended to)--the space is lost, the funding is drained, there are creative conflicts of interest etc.-- only because artists aren't necessarily trained in business management.

From my meeting with Mr. Huffman, it was confirmed (not at all unexpectedly) that the survival of the arts community is still shaky and more uncertain than you would hope. Organizations like TAC have annual meetings with City Council to defend their importance within the Toronto arts community under threats of closure. The situation sits as a microcosm of the Harper/Conservative government's relationship with the national arts community, with the belief that "ordinary Canadians" don't care about the arts, with recent dismal cuts: the canceling of the PromArt programme; the official axing of the National Portrait Gallery; significant cuts to arts funding in British Colombia (http://www.straight.com/article-257341/artscuts-casualties-piling); and the dissolve of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (and the list goes on).

With continued confidence and strong, active advocacy, the arts community can expect to stay afloat, as it always has, adapting to cuts and creating new organizations and opportunities. There may be a new way to reverse the opinion, cited by Huffman, among governmental officials who consider funding for the the arts "like throwing money into a bottomless pit." ouch.


Gallery TPW - Round Two

Back in May 2009 I applied for a Gallery Assistant position at Gallery TPW, but like many other employment opportunities made available in smaller galleries and artist-run centres, the position was created through the generous funding of Young Canada Works and therefore had stipulations on who was eligible. There are two streams of the programme: one for current students returning to school after the internship and one for recent graduates (within 24 months).

From my recent job searching, I have found that the majority of these entry-level/internship/contract/ short-term positions are created for students currently completing a degree. These funded placements are a way of providing opportunities for students to beef up their experience in combination with their education. I've participated in these programmes (Young Canada Works and Canada Council) on a couple of occasions at Eyelevel (Halifax) and Artspeak (Vancouver). Turns out that I cannot take advantage of the funded internships through Young Canada Works more than once, which makes sense because there are plenty of other students looking for a chance to work in a gallery over the summer months. But this also means that I'm not eligible for the majority of positions in galleries that would continue to help me build my career. Since operating costs take care of the permanent positions at smaller galleries, which are few--sometimes only one permanent staff member responsible for running a space--there is little room for staff growth (and only slightly more when these brief opportunities are made available).

When the majority of opportunities are being provided exclusively for students (underqualified workers) it only emphasises an imbalance between the 'training' and 'working' worlds. As universities allow more students into degree programmes, causing overcrowding and subsequent understaffing (not to mention increased tuition) there is a push for the production of qualified (on paper) individuals during the education process; the system of 'churning 'em out'. As a student, there is a plethora of internships (usually unpaid), networks and communities, and the luxury of having the collateral of being attached to a large institution like a university. Once you have graduated, the network infrastructure dissolves, the unpaid internships aren't the wonderful opportunities they once were because they don't pay rent, and the majority of the paid ones (in Canada) aren't applicable for graduates. The situation narrows where you thought it would expand. Because you have a degree, you are no longer in the process of developing the qualifications; you have secured them (on paper). The university has done it's part, now you're left to fend for yourself with no one ensuring the significance of your degree after you graduate, now it is what it is (and you're not sure what it is).

Gallery TPW is a seemingly rare example of an institution providing an opportunity for a recent graduate through the Young Canada Works programme. In the non-profit industry, with many graduates looking for new opportunities, there needs to be a stronger infrastructure to support those qualified individuals; not just a future-employee training zone, when there is no employment after the fact. With an emphasis on training, without a thorough follow-up support system, there is a significant lag of young, qualified individuals (with training, education and shaky networks) floundering around for a sense of meaning out of the years and expenses spent during the build up.

Don't worry, once us graduates get our shit together, making stellar contributions to the cultural community, leading renown institutions, the university will make itself known again, asking for us "to give back to the educational community" that may or may not have led us astray.


Museum Studies Mothership

Application: Visitor and Membership Representative at the Royal Ontario Museum.

There is an application drop-box in the staff entrance at the back of the building. I know about this entrance because I would use that entrance when treated to fields trips in some of my museum studies classes. I've been in offices within the ROM, seen many of the collections storage areas and met with staff members including curators and collections managers as well as the people working in the Institute of Contemporary Culture- the contemporary art component within the larger history-based institution. With these special opportunities to meet with museum professionals, there seemed to be an accompanied expectation that we would be filling the seats of some of these individuals we were meeting in the future, or at least be able to directly assist them in the nearer future.

That's why it's interesting for me to be applying for a front-of-house job. In the past few weeks I have also applied to other jobs at the ROM--Exhibition Planner, Programmes Coordinator-- with no call backs. The ROM is a large institution with a world class reputation. With so many applications it only makes sense that they can only afford to hire the most skilled and experienced workers.

In fact, Museum Studies students, within my graduating year have had both paid and unpaid jobs in the very institution within marketing/development and the ICC. They entered through internships and mentorships and continued to make work for themselves and find the holes that needed filling. Even with a larger, more corporate-modelled institution, "it's who you know" or "who you schmooze" that will help land the job.

Schmoozing (or the less squeemish term for some: Networking) is not to be taken lightly. It must be cultivated and nurtured to achieve success in the cultural industry...along with one's education and experience of course.

Regardless, the front-of-house jobs also have higher-than-expected qualifications, but are also solid jobs with good pay. I noticed that the security personel at the ROM also are required to have specific post-secondary education/credentials too.....which seems weird to me after having worked at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia where there was a frail and delightful elderly lady as one of the chief security guards whose main qualification was her wisdom, and maybe the fact that she just already been there so darn long.


The art of meeting for coffee....

When I am practicing within the arts administration field, when I am influencing culture and keeping money where money should be kept--towards creative, smart and innovative arts initiatives--I would bestow advice and knowledge, hard earned, to budding arts administrators. The arts world is competitive and requires a creatively dedicated spirit; but more importantly it requires good social and professional connections.

I am setting up meetings with individuals who I have asked to share industry advice, answer some questions about what goes on inside their organizations and to take my cover letter and resume for any future job opportunities within their respective institutions.

Meetings have been set up with:
  • the Associate Director; Visual & Media Arts Officer; Literary Officer at the Toronto Arts Council, William Huffman
  • the Executive Director of the Artist-Run Centres and Collectives of Ontario, Jewell Goodwyn (phone interview in early October)
  • the Executive Director of CARFAC Ontario, Kristian Clarke.
Prospective meetings, yet to be confirmed:
  • Chief Editor of C Magazine, Amish Morrel;
  • Curatorial Director, Textile Museum of Canada, Sarah Quinton;
  • Curator, TPW Gallery, Kim Simon.
More to be set.

img: Merret Oppenheim, Object, 1936


Potential Galleries

Gallery 1313
Gallery DK
Gladstone Hotel
Loop Gallery
Drake Hotel
The Median Gallery
The Beverly Owens Project
Thrush Holmes Empire
Board of Directors
The Great Hall
Sunny Choi Gallery
Stephen Bulger Gallery/CAMERA
Ontario Craft Council
Propeller Centre for Visual Arts
Paul Petro Gallery
Paul Petro Special Projects Space
Cassuccio Gallery
Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art
Edward Day Gallery
Clint Roenisch Gallery
*new* Gallery
Angell Gallery
Elaine Fleck Gallery
Lausberg Contemporary
Diaz Contemporary
Mira Godard Gallery
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition
Toronto International Art Fair
Images Festival
Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation
Art Metropole
Georgia Scherman Projects
Birch Limbralto
Susan Hobbes
Jessica Bradley Art + Projects
The Toronto Photographers Workshop/Gallery TPW
Clark and Faria
Monte Clark Gallery
AGYU Gallery
Justina M. Barnicke Gallery
University of Toronto Art Centre
OCAD Professional Gallery
OCAD Student Gallery
Mercer Union
A Space
YYZ Artists' Outlet
Gallery 44
Toronto Free Gallery
Wynick/Tuck Gallery
The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery
Art Gallery of Ontario, Contmeporary Art Department
Institute of Contemporary Culture, Royal Ontario Museum
Redbull - 381 Projects
Olga Korper Gallery
Open Studio
Bau-Xi Gallery
Campbell House Museum (Contemporary Art programming)
Corkin Gallery
Engine Gallery
Koffler Gallery at the Koffler Centre for the Arts
Launch Projects Gallery (Toronto School of Art)
Peak Gallery
Steam Whistle Art Gallery
Toronto Sculpture Garden
Creative Spirit Art Centre
The Cryptic Canvas
Textile Museum of Canada
Trinity Square Video
Toronto Art Expo
PREFIX Institute of Contemporary Art
FADO Performance Inc.
Women's Art Resource Centre
Red Head Gallery
Forest City Gallery
2 of 2 Gallery
The Villiage Gallery/ Art Beyond Walls (Pop-Up Gallery)

The Beginning

I am a recent graduate from a masters program in arts administration, theory and practice at the University of Toronto. I also have a bachelor in studio and art history from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I have worked in art galleries across Canada, but I am currently under-employed.

I am trained as an artist and as an administrator (university, internships, jobs). From where both these professions coalesce, this project is created and performed.

  • Apply in-person for an administrative position at every contemporary art gallery in Toronto;
  • Each application will be tailored to the particular institution I am applying for that day and will be accompanied by my resume;
  • Dress like an arts administrator;
  • There will be no discrimination between non-profit, commercial, artist-run centre, members' gallery, university or arts' foundation in my search;
  • All applications and progress will be archived on this blog.