Friday, October 23, 2009
MID CAREER AND ELEPHANTS
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.
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.