Friday, October 23, 2009


Mid career is an in between space implying a before and after. The visual arts industry has come-up with the categories of emerging , mid career and established, with varying criteria for each depending on the level of organizations. Level in this context means local, provincial, national or international. Within the industry, "mid career" refers to a set of criteria that places emphasis on recognition by "the other", such as jury selection, exhibition fees, and status of exhibition venue. Lets not forget the art is the bottom-line, but who sees it and where makes a difference to a career.  An artist may confuse the high level of their artistic abilities using specialized techniques honed over years of practice to place themselves as an "established" artist. However, as in any career, if the art hasn't been seen and positioned, within the hierarchical industry of public exhibitions, private galleries, awards and collections, then it is unknown and consequently unrecognized by key players.  clic link for images.

Preoccupation with the career for the artist is distracting and can potentially subvert the authenticity of their art. This is why many artists try to connect with a third party gallery, curator or other type of agent whom they trust to promote their artwork and thus career.  For mid career independent visual artist who may not have an appropriate agent, its a delicate balance requiring constant self-questioning and revisiting of the authenticity of their aesthetic concerns.

From the visual arts industry perspective, it would depend on "professional recognition". Artists with a recognizable career are preferable investments from the perspective of art administrators, dealers, curators, collectors and funding agents. Its a matter of protecting their investment in a demonstrable prolific practice that will be consistently reliable. For example, an exhibitions resume with galleries known to use the jury process and which pay the CARFAC regulated professional artist copyright fee has a better chance competing for public funding support.  Similarily, a mid career artist with a list of recognized commercial galleries, an established fair market value and sales results is attractive to art dealers working within that sector.  Most artists choose either an exhibitions or gallery representation career, with some straddling both.

The need for professional recognition as described above is crucial for the mid career artist regardless of sector.  Art reviews of exhibitions pubished by mass media/press, and by art critics in specialized art publications are an important interface for this recognition. Ottawa is a small town and even smaller when it comes to the visual arts community and opportunities. And so, its quite crowded to have two elephants in the room/city that no one will publicly write about or address which directly implicates artists a the mid career stage.

The first elephant relates to visual art reviews and exhibition coverage that narrowly focus' on downtown Ottawa and the artists with one particular studio there. Ok we all know, EBA.  I suppose it easier, but readership of the Citizen, for example, is much broader. So too are the Ottawa locations of professional independent artists, also with challenging and thought provoking practices, but living and working outside of the downtown core. But still Ottawa.

The second elephant in the room, so to speak, is the lack of mid career nurturing through public exhibition opportunities in Ottawa. The city has designated two downtown public galleries, Karsh-Masson and City Hall, as "professional" galleries where selection is by jury and exhibition artists are paid a CARFAC fee. The City also has several other galleries in Centrepointe's Ben Franklin Place (2) and Orleans' Shenkman (4) which are designated as "community" galleries. These galleries have a jury selection process, but do not pay an exhibition fee to the artist. These galleries, originally intended for the part time leisure artists in the community, are increasingly in demand by professional independent artists in order to build their resume with juried exhibitions.  And because it is juried these community galleries support "emerging" artists In Ottawa. However, the mid career artist's resume is expected to show professional galleries that pay an artist fee, as per the published mid career program funding criteria by Ontario Council for the Arts.

Perception is everything when it comes to recognition. Indeed, in my opinion, the perception that has been created, within the art community and obviously with the media, is that the art being shown in these "community" galleries is somehow second-rate, not professional and not even worthy of attending exhibition openings or writing about it. The artist shouldn't have to know someone at the Citizen in order to have coverage of their exhibition outside the downtown core, nor should they have to be a member of a downtown studio, or having an exhibition downtown, or  be an artist who is employed with one of the downtown arts organizations. And, of course, the ever industrious mid career artist is actively exhibiting outside Ottawa, and often around the world. But its an awful lot more work, and no one in Ottawa knows about it, if they're not working and showing their art "downtown" Ottawa.


  1. I like your take on mid-career and the distracting and worrying aspects of having to "position" oneself over and over. Ottawa is a difficult town to play in.
    I also admire the way you cross borders- artist/teacher and writer. I am involved in a/r/tography (artist/researcher/teacher) through the Masters in Education program at Ottawa U. Have you looked at "a/r/tography" (S. Springgay, Rita Irwin in particular)?
    You kindly commented on my website yesterday. here's my thesis blog:
    The subject is: "Art, Nature and the Virtual Environment". We may have some things in common.
    Thanks for your writing,
    Barbara Cuerden

  2. Thanks Barbara;
    I will check the references you offer above. Sandra


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