Friday, 24 May 2013

The consequences of how you define art…

Fogo Island Inn is scheduled to open soon!  An exciting example of architecture, community development and inspired patronage by the Shorefast Foundation.

During the spring in NL it is time to roll out the red carpet and give out the awards.  Tonight is the Excellence in Visual Arts Awards ceremony at The Rooms.  So get out that extra red lipstick and celebrate.  We are also still reeling from the double whammy of cuts to funding, an explosion of arts festivals and fierce competition for a relatively small audience for "cultural products".  

I can't think of a single profession where an individual works so hard for so little dollars than the professional world of visual arts, music and attendant cultural industries like independent film and dance.  In the province of NL there has never been so much to choose from when it comes time to spend that arts and entertainment dollar.  In Canada, many of us look to our sponsors - some of them government- to pick up the slack between what it costs to put on a show and what it brings in.  Profit?  What's that?  And that's how art gets to be seen as a vocation…where you are expected to take a vow of poverty in order to practice your art.

But if you regard art as self-expression that's a different story.  If it tells the story of an individual, well let the individual get a day job.  If that story reflects cultural identity well it is at least good press for regionalism, etc…government.  Now, if art is seen as an education– something that teaches us– well that almost makes it an inalienable right in Canada where we regard education highly.  What about art as community building?  There's a whole new relationship to consider.

So, if you consider art as a luxury, an indulgence, a status object, a lesson it all has an impact on whether art deserves your time and money.  Think about it.

Monday, 13 May 2013

All hail matriarch Mary Pratt

CBC photo of Mary Pratt at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery May 11,2013.

The Friday evening reception for the Mary Pratt retrospective at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery was a major event that truly felt like a celebration.  It was a much-needed pick-me-up after the provincial government cutbacks, which matriarch Mary Pratt denounced on the Radio Noon call in program on CBC the following Monday.  She said that any government that put oil before art was doomed to failure because the oil would go but the art would remain.  Politics were put aside on opening night and the event was attended by all and sundry.  It was good to see the opening attracting not just the regular art community but also a wide cross section of the public.  In her remarks, Pratt expressed surprise that "so many of you apparently like painting".

Pratt took a very casual approach in her remarks and did not talk about her inspiration or process.  Instead, she talked about the loneliness of her early life in Newfoundland out in Salmonier, pointing out that she only learned to drive at age 52.  She was clearly thrilled by the attendance of her family members, particularly her children, grandchildren and a great-grandchild.  The show will be touring for three years after its summer at The Rooms and representatives from the other venues were present - as was Mary's commercial dealers such as Emma Butler (St. John's) and the Mira Goddard Gallery (Toronto).  (The Mira Goddard Gallery in Montreal was the first gallery I ever got thrown out of!  I think it was because my photographer from the Loyola News took a photograph of a Jackson Pollock without permission.)

Mary Pratt says this painting of her daughter with cold cream is the fastest painting she has ever done - 2 hours from start to finish.  Usually her paintings take months.

The exhibition is a grand sprawling show filled with riches including many of Pratt's best-known and iconic works.  One of my favourite images is of dainty porcelain figurines of gentlewomen that have been placed in a glass fruit bowl.  I believe it dates from 1997 and I recall discussing the painting with Mary when she first made it.  She explained that she had been dusting a shelf and put the figurines in the bowl for safety on a nearby table.  Boldly I commented, "so you felt trapped in your domesticity" to which Mary remarked that I was too smart for my own good.  Pratt has always avoided interpreting her painting.  She describes herself as a "visual artist not an intellectual one".  Pratt paints something because she likes the look of it.  I will be curious to see what curator Mireille Eagan had to say in her catalogue essay.  Eagan is still a relatively young curator (I remember when Mary Pratt first met Mireille she commented "you can't be a curator you look like your sixteen".) and this show will be a feather in her cap.  It is unfortunate that Eagan's position has been eliminated with the cuts but she couldn't be going out with a bigger bang.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Building a Bridge Between Business and the Arts

I love the caption for this photo of Ted Rogers on Google Images:  Cellular Guru.

I have had the pleasure of working in both the business and arts sectors.  Some of the most creative people that I have worked with were not artists but business folk.  I am thinking particularly of the late Ted Rogers, whom I admired.  He was a real pioneer with a sense of adventure, risk taking and long range thinking that I have not seen in many quarters.  He had the ability to make lots of things, like the evolution of technology or the cycles of the economy, make sense to me with only a sentence.  What Ted Rogers also understood superbly was the relationship between business and the community it served.  There is more than one way to make your client happy and loyal– and giving to the arts is one way of doing that.

The reason why the relationship between the arts or culture and the business world is on my mind is that I saw, about ten days ago, a posting for the CEO position of the Business and Arts NL.  Et voilĂ„:

The arts in Newfoundland and Labrador are thriving, and the business community is supporting the arts at unprecedented levels. Business and Arts NL is a new organization whose aim is to build on this activity and expand the collaboration between arts organizations and business partners.

Business and Arts NL is looking for a Chief Executive Officer.  Reporting to a Board of Directors led by members of the business community, and including representation from Memorial University and cross-sectoral arts organizations, the CEO will initially focus attention on developing a three year operating plan, membership development and program development. The initial period of employment is three years.

What splendid news! Whether it is in the arts or business community or the minds' of the general public, it is characteristic to see the two communities as opposites or mutually exclusive.  I believe this is a misconception and despite the characterization of art as a vocation and business as profit driven there is much that unites the two.  Core values, standards of excellence, audience development and the need for communication are just a few of the things that could form a bridge or partnership between the two communities.

 Forging a partnership between the arts and business communities within this province is a key activity in the well being of Newfoundland and Labrador, where our cultural identity of independence and resourcefulness is reflected in both communities.  I wish Business and Arts NL every success in this endeavour.