The Benefits of Seclusion

The Banff Centre and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design connection: both institutions rely on the perceived benefits of social and geographical seclusion to induce fits of artistic inspiration. With the wider arts community far on the outside of these institutions, they can only operate inwardly, forming strong mixed communities of participants, which may be reaching close to some sort of an understanding and practice of inter-disciplinarity (although I attended NSCAD, I have yet to confirm these activities in the Banff Centre). On another note, moving to Halifax to attend university was actually a large step towards cultural expansion and exposure for me personally – people who move to Halifax from larger cities and communities have a tendency to hang around in Halifax after they graduate NSCAD due to the intoxicating community of cubby hole galleries in people’s hallways and rogue restaurants in other people’s living rooms.

Recent research into the NSCAD conceptual art heydays in the late 1960s into the 1970s unearthed some explanations as to why it could have ever happened in the small city of Halifax. Garry Neill Kennedy offered his opinion upon arriving in Halifax as the first president of the College in 1967 when he decided that there wasn’t much of anything else going on in the city at the time: no distinctive art movements and no public institutions displaying historical or contemporary art from local or international artists. There were essentially no barriers to break down and the city was ripe for the introduction of anything creative and experimental. Being a Nova Scotian and an art historian who has researched the healthy development of abstract art in Halifax in the 1950s and 60s, I know that the region was not an artistic wasteland. All the same, I agree that it was deserving of and receptive to some cultural infusion. Upon his instatement Kennedy hired a new crop of teachers, mostly from the United States and began inviting artists from the great New York conceptual art scene including the likes of Lawrence Weiner, Dan Graham, Lucy Lippard, Douglas Huebler, and Joseph Beuys (on the more European scope) and many more. These artists gave lectures, hung about the hallways (according to Kennedy in his account in the book Conceptual Art: The NSCAD Connection 1967-1973, Beuys “became the unanticipated and personable star. His accessibility and friendly demeanour were made more surprising and engaging given the stern, removed, and shamanistic figure that he had projected in the art press. The students loved him. And he hugged everyone!”), contributed instructions for students to realize in David Askevold’s Projects Class, worked with master printers in the Lithography Workshop and with Seth Siegelaub on publications out of the NSCAD Press.

Colours are probably more brilliant in person. http://rangermikedesigns.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/postcard_banff.jpg

Banff has a similar history as far as a strong and steady movement of artists coming and going, contributing, networking and leaving work and legacies in their wakes. Although I am moving from the largest city in Canada this time, opposed to a small town, the art community is still strong, and most likely no more insular than the current Toronto scene that seems to get smaller by the week.

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