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.

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