Thursday, 18 December 2014

Underwhelming National Coverage of the Arts in Canadian News

      An excitable acquaintance of mine, big on conspiracy theories, maintains that Canadian television news won’t feature Canadian artists unless their work sells for exorbitant prices or is stolen or vandalized. This is because the Harper government wants to limit the dissemination of a variety of opinions and distract us from real and alternative issues that writers and artists deal with as representatives of a diverse society. This is also why, she says, Canadian news covers popular American movies, American TV shows and hockey stories that are as inane as players getting the mumps or the Edmonton Oiler’s losing streak. Hockey is the soma of the masses!
     In Canada coverage of the arts varies provincially. TV Ontario and CBC radio do a passable job of covering the arts, but our national news programs can certainly be criticized for not covering the arts as well as they should. With 24-hour news cycles, you would think they could at least drop in a half hour show on the arts in Canada somewhere. They should be embarrassed that they don’t.
     Unlike regular sports, science, health, or business contributors and commentators who we are familiar with, the closest CBC or CTV has to a regular “arts” contributor is Ben Mulroney, yikes!, or a regularly featured film critic. It would be wonderful if the CBC and CTV at least had an arts contributor as prominent as their science reporter, Bob McDonald or financial news commentator, Pattie Lovett Reid.
     Unless a prominent Canadian writer or artist dies, or when a former CBC/CTV reporter turned novelist puts out a book, there is very little coverage nationally of the arts. And when we do see writers, because we only hear about painters when they’re dead, we keep seeing the same few faces over and over again. How much of Margaret Atwood or convicted criminal Conrad Black can you take? And they’re both in their seventies. Where are all the young talented Canadian artists?
     By comparison the Americans do a pretty good job of covering the arts, maybe not on CNN or other 24-hour news programs, but PBS does, as do morning news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC. And then there are the satirical news programs on the comedy channel, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, where both have one interview segment, sometimes two, featuring a diversity of artists. And then there are the other late night comedy shows, which might not feature many fine artists, but the diversity of the popular arts covered is refreshing and surprising by comparison.  
     On many American programs, writers, painters, poets, sculptors, designers, architects, playwrights, etc. are continually interviewed to discuss their latest works or their extensive and often historic involvement in the arts. And every once in a while you will see Canadian writer or actor on these shows, with extensive interviews on the PBS NewsHour. All this coverage of the arts contribute to building a rich and diverse culture in the United States, one in which we Canadians are familiar with and ultimately copy, whether or not we’re talking about popular art or fine art.
     Unless you make a real effort, or are part of the scene, you wouldn’t know if there was some kind of new art movement in the visual arts or new poetry or new theatre or new anything going on in Canada. Unless it’s something like Cirque du Soleil, raising truckloads of money, or has won an international award, the public is unlikely to hear about it.
      We do hear about the Giller Prize winners because a real effort is made with a live televised broadcast. And we do have televised award ceremonies; the Junos for popular music, the Screen Awards for film, Gemini for film and TV, but have you watched any of these from start to finish? It’s nice to hear that Canadians are getting awards, but it’s very likely that you know little to nothing about all the nominated artists. There’s little excitement for these shows because we hear so little about anyone being nominated. It’s like watching an award ceremony based in Quebec or a European country.  
      At least the award ceremonies announce what might be really good and valuable for us to look into, when we get the time.
     It was a rare occasion, and delightful to see two of Thunder Bay’s own talented animators Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver followed around at the Toronto International Film Festival where they won the award for Best Canadian First Feature Film. We need more of this kind of thing, but not just for award winners, but for all the hard working artists who produce great work, whether or not they get grants or awards, for we live in a large country and not in Toronto.
     That national Canadian TV news can’t cover the arts better than a couple comedy shows on American television says a lot. But is there a conspiracy involved? Hmmm.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

December Dreams: Rotary Club Helps Artists amongst other Charitable Work

     For the last seven years, one of the most successful venues for artists to sell their work has been December Dreams, (photos by Clint Kuschak) which is happening this weekend at the CLE Coliseum. At this event there are over sixty vendors representing about a hundred different artists. Only twelve of the vendors also sell their wares at Artisans Northwest, an artist run event, which occurred two weeks ago.
     Artisans Northwest has been a very successful artist run event lasting over two decades, which is rare. Generally, such large artist run events don’t last more than a couple years. They’re difficult to manage, somewhat expensive and rely on a lot of good will. The Lakehead Rotary Club of Thunder Bay supports December Dreams, so the artists don’t have to step on each other’s toes, organize the finances for advertising, or run an artist jury system, which has it’s pros and cons. 
     Local artist Linda Dell did the bulk of the work to manage her novel concept called Art Zoom, a few years back. With limited funds and assistance, she put on a very successful event in Port Arthur to mix artists and businesses together. I took over the next year when she decided she couldn’t handle the workload involved. I quickly discovered how taxing it was to organize such a big event. Art Zoom ended simply because there were too few people to assist and little financial support. One day Art Zoom might be resurrected, but it would be great to join forces with a larger organization as December Dreams has done.   
    So, special thanks and commendations can be given to the Rotary organizers who manage December Dreams and the many volunteers for their support over the last seven years. The volunteers number over twenty each year. They help set up the booths and tables, supervise the door, assist the artists, keep the place clean and serve the public.
     December Dreams was an idea that Clint Kuschak and his wife Barbara, both local artists, came up with eight years ago. It was then that Clint saw the need for another venue when two other artist run events shut down. In Thunder Bay artists have work available in various shops throughout the city, so bigger events are a great way to get them all under one roof. As a member of the rotary club Clint pitched the idea to other members that a big two-day sales event supporting local artists could also be a fundraising event for the Club.
    Usually, Rotarians are associated with helping to eradicate polio from the planet, and with supporting hospitals, shelter houses, food banks, kettle campaigns with the Salvation Army and other social causes. It’s all humanitarian stuff. So, what’s the deal with helping artists?
     “Rotary work is done by helping artists, who have low incomes. We help them get more money to continue doing the work they love,” says Clint. “I’m very pleased that my Rotarians got behind this not only as a way of raising funds for the Rotary Club, but of community building through the arts. This is a great opportunity to purchase regionally hand-produced items of all kinds from their creators who come from as far away as Kenora West, Terrace Bay East, and points further North.”
      At December Dreams you can expect to see only hand-made items, such as pottery, paintings, knits, festive foods, Christmas decorations, Santa socks, books, jewelry, beading, woodworking, leather works, stone carvings, chainmail creations, handmade knives and handles, photography, handmade fishing lures, and much more.
      Many vendors are participating for the first time this year and you can meet the creators at their booths, which is very unlike a shopping mall or box store. As a result you can haggle and commission artists on the spot. It’s a rare opportunity to see so many artists in one place. The minimal door fee of two dollars, for anyone twelve years of age and older, will go to local charities. Items range in prince from two dollars to two hundred.
     December Dreams runs on Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Get details about December Dreams and the Lakehead Rotary Club at: www.lakeheadrotary.com.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Artisans Northwest: Over 75 Artists at the Valhalla Inn including The Potter's Guild

     Quality art and crafts from our Northern Region can be found at the biggest event of its kind at the Valhalla Inn this Saturday and Sunday.  This is an artist run event with a jury process to ensure quality work is up for sale, which results in a continuing high turnout of local art fans and tourists, and many happy artists.
     Every year in November about seventy-five artists are corralled into one of the classiest spaces available for hosting large events, the Valhalla, which has a long history of being of great benefit to the city. Local artists also benefit greatly from this event not only because it takes place in an awesome location, but also because local artists typically sell their work in smaller venues throughout the city as there isn’t one big venue that is as accommodating.
     How to access the public is an ongoing conversation that artists have. Thunder Bay is a city without a major center that everyone can agree upon, although of late, great steps have been taken by the city to further identify a North core and South core with beautification projects. But for now, as much as this city has all sorts of benefits over bigger cities for its lack of traffic and easy access to nature, and more benefits of smaller communities with better shopping and services, the cultural realm where its citizens can interact more easily with local creative individuals is still wanting.
     Artist groups sometimes shift locations from one venue to another, like the Lakehead Visual Artists. Individual artists will rent an empty space or a room at a community centre as Peggy Moran did last Sunday when she showed her explosive works at the Oliver Road Community Centre. The Walkabout group invites the public out to their homes. And there are sundry artsy venues, including the second floor of the Country Market, galleries and picture frame shops spread throughout the city that showcase artists work.  
     Many of the artists featured in Artisans Northwest also sell their work at the Fireweed, The Craft Collective, Authentique, Silk and Cedar, Gallery 33, the Baggage Building Arts Centre and other locations. You can find individual artists, and information about where they sell their work from a list provided by Artisans Northwest at: www.artisansnorthwest.ca/artisans.
   In terms of variety of quality handmade wares, you can’t do better than attend this event. With about three thousand people passing through on each day many are returning customers looking either to buy something similar that they bought the year before or they are searching for something new. Every year a few new artists are added to the rosters. Jury selection is done a few times throughout the year in a search for new artists. Admission is free. Saturday November 15, from 10am to 6pm and Sunday November 16, from 10am to 4pm.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The HUNGER 9: Best Entertainment Gig in Town - Happy Halloween

Riley Mcmanus stars in The Hunger 9 as Edward Scissorhands in Definitely Superior Art Gallery's mega fundraiser.
One of the best-organized events in town, happening this Friday, is an example of how local business and the arts can collaborate to make memorable experiences for thousands of people while earning money for the host venues and raising money for the Definitely Superior Art Gallery, supporting its alternative art shows and youth programs.
     In its ninth year The Hunger has a couple new venues and expects to top a 4,250 mark for the number of attendees, some of who plan for weeks, even months in advance to design and fabricate their costumes.
     There are eight venues, Gargoyles, Black Pirates Pub, Crocks, A Little to the Left, The Read Lion Smokehouse, The Sovereign Room, The Foundry and the big “dancehall” called Hell, found through the side doors of the old Eaton’s building on Park St.
     Each person or group attending will be creating their own entertainment experience because much of the entertainment runs simultaneously in different venues. This gives you options. Director of the Definitely Superior Art Gallery, David Karasiewicz says, “It’s hard to express in terms people understand… everyone will walk away with their own story that they created for that night. They will have eight separate stories to tell, not including the stories in the streets between the venues which is something incredible on its own.”
    David describes the Hunger where its events are condensed into six hours, as bigger in terms of performance, than the largest weekend long music festivals that Thunder Bay has in the summer. With 56 performance acts and 44 bands, both local and from across the country, you have to make a little effort to pick which bands and acts you want to see, since you can’t see them all. And if you’re with friends, a little democracy or flip of the coin will be necessary. You may want to check out the DefSup Facebook page, “The Hunger 9” to make your choices. The cost is only $15.00 to access all eight venues, which you can pick up at any venue. You will get a Multi-Pass and Wristband.
     There were complaints last year that people couldn’t get into the smaller venues where lines were slow moving. Hell will be the easiest venue to access, as it is the biggest with 10,000 square feet of space. A trick is to go early and either plant yourself in one spot all night, which doesn’t take advantage of all that is offered, or roam all the venues and go for the ones that are easy to access first. Making a plan is great, but prepare to be versatile.
     This is a great time to check out Thunder Bay’s local bands. They go all out for their audience. In fact what any musician, or any performer loves is a big audience. The acts will go all out when the room is packed. So you will get a great opportunity to see talent at its best and boldest. 
     The biggest act of all, of course, is the audience. No matter where you go, even if you have to stand in line for a bit, you will be entertained. Prizes will be given out in the venues and in the street. Young people will go all out to have fun, join in, and in some cases, really impress with their creative costume. Costumed attendees will be everywhere.

     For older people, if you feel a little shy joining in and wearing a costume, which isn’t necessary, you may want to do a slow drive-by on Friday night. “Slow” because there will be students traipsing around in costumes, some with a little of the drink in them, and finding it difficult to see.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

First Big Juried Show at the TBAG in Ten Years, and the Annual Walkabout Tour

     Tomorrow night the grand opening for a juried exhibition called The North Now begins at 7:30pm at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. It’s the gallery’s first juried show in ten years, and the first time the gallery has looked to represent the entire Northern region.
     Some names will be familiar and there will likely be a few surprises. This is also likely to be a very good show as the quality of art produced in and around Thunder Bay has been growing over the years due to younger artists keeping roots, due to the City’s mandate to beautify Thunder Bay, part of which offers up competitions for local artists.
      For the last eight years the Ontario Arts Council has been supporting the North with their Northern Ontario Arts programs, instrumental in allowing artists of our region to explore their métier, to start new projects or complete them. The OAC also supports artistic venues and the installation process of new works. With this support, younger artists across the region have have found their hometowns to be a viable alternative to leaving for cities where the cost of living is high. Older established artists have also been able to try out new tricks. As a result, this exhibition will feature new works from a range of artists of different ages from diverse backgrounds and locations who will have the OAC to thank.
     There could be some controversy as juried exhibitions elicit all sorts of commentary from people who feel that this or that artist’s work should or shouldn’t have been represented. If you’re not the one feeling burnt, this can be a provocative or entertaining aspect of a juried exhibition, so the Thunder Bay Art Gallery has to be commended for their courage and setting up a fair jurying process.
     The show runs from October 24 to January 4, 2015. More information can be found at www.theag.ca.
    This coming weekend, Friday to Sunday, the annual Walkabout Tour features a couple changes to the roster of artists who will be displaying their works in their homes and studios. This tour takes place with a somewhat circular route encompassing a few blocks around Hillcrest and Waverly Park, so it is a delightful walk with an opportunity to Christmas shop and meet the artists. Information can be downloaded and maps can be copied at: www.duncanweller.blogspot.ca.
     This year the tour is in commemoration of Alison Kendal who passed away in August. Alison was a former and active member. There was some discussion about having Alison’s studio open for the tour, but it’s a little too soon after her husband’s loss to consider it this year, mostly because organizing the prodigious amount of work that Alison created will be a long process.
     A few of the artists are trying out new styles. Luke Nicol is back this year with bolder and brighter landscape paintings. Sculptor Chris Stones and ceramicist Kasia Piech both have more contemporary and somewhat surreal works for sale.
     Potters are notoriously secretive about their techniques, especially for glazes. Sara Link is trying out some wonderful new glazes on classically styled pottery. Liz and Peter Powlowski have lots of new pieces that are both functional and decorative. Tim Alexander is always exploring and has given an edge to his functional pieces. He says, “a new branch of my work will explore geological and environmental themes in a series I've coined Ring of Fire. It consists of a variety of large heavily textured platters in different shapes and sizes.” You can ask how he does it, but don’t expect a direct answer.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Rock Art hits Red River Road and KAPOW the Naysayers Go Wild

     The enablers of this serendipitous event were all smiles despite a sudden burst of protest from three very vocally agitated naysayers. They complained that the delivery trucks no longer had easy drop-off points, that the sculpture was yet another waste of public money and bound to be vandalized.
     The naysayers couldn’t be bothered to get the facts, and when there were attempts to offer the facts, during their loud ranting, they weren’t interested. Some people simply don’t like change, and don’t want to understand. They have their worldview and no one is going to change it. It’s especially hard to do so when they stomp around in circles looking angry, and yell as opposed to listening. It was funny to see how the two children ignored the ranting and fondly ran their hands over the stone.
     The Waterfront District BIA was planning to put a couple big planters and a garbage pail where the big rock was carefully placed by crane on Friday. The BIA wanted to ensure that the path between the Scotia Bank and the Daily Grind coffee shop wasn’t continually used as an alley drop off point for delivery trucks.
     It is a pedestrian walkway, which is supposed to be a safe passageway. The potential for an accident and lawsuit was nearing. A young employee at the Daily Grind regularly hears complaints from customers who have near misses with the delivery trucks. Scotiabank customers have similar complaints.
     Fortunately, the planter and garbage can was only a stopgap. Fortuitously, a couple days before, Don Bayes a new member of the BIA, and operator of Art’s Gallery on St. Paul Street, came up with an alternative solution. One of the artists with work at the gallery, John David Hart, was meeting at Rooster’s Bistro with the supplier of his stone, Howard Pilstner of 23 Aurolite Mine. John and Howard strolled into Art’s Gallery and during the conversation John said he would like to donate a big piece to the city. KAPOW! Don got inspired and mentioned the problem with the walkway. Howard too liked the idea and was willing to donate the rock. Contact with the BIA and the City was made and bang, done deal.
     Don chortles when he mentions the speed at which it all came together. “72 hours, man!” And who paid for the delivery of the stone? “The BIA had to foot the bill to float the stone out of the mine before the snow flew,” says Don, grinning. “Cost the taxpayers nothin’”
 When the 4,000lb rock was released from its straps it was immediately fawned over by a couple children. Passersby took pictures and video. The amount of quartz and amethyst visible on its surface was pretty extraordinary.
     John Hart got out his grinders and went to work over the next couple days, carving and shaping and applying other stone pieces to the bigger rock with rebar and construction adhesive. He carved in the shapes of traditional Ojibwa spirit animals: owls, fish, turtles, eagle feathers and more.  
     As a work of art, the stone had a lot to say before it was carved. In it’s own way the earthly spirit of a 1.5 billion year old creation could be left to its own devices, to speak of its ponderous yet beautiful evolutionary geological formation. But there are lots of big rocks in Northwestern Ontario that can speak to this.
     However, John lets the stone do most of the speaking. His approach to sculpture is physically shallow, allowing the shape and nature of the rock to present itself. He hasn’t carved the rock in its entirety to look like anything representational. It’s as if nature had a pact with the artist that neither would intrude too much on the other.
     John allowed the rock to be rough, to be unpredictable in shape, to be blocky and unformed in parts. This gives a graffiti feel to John’s etchings and additions, as if overly creative hikers in a park had taken their time to scratch in animal symbols and then stood stones upon one another.
     The stone and sculpture will have its fans and detractors, but two groups of people who have taken to it immediately are children and many First Nations people, who will stand and thoughtfully admire the work.
     The young women at the Local Grind have decided to take it upon themselves to throw water on the base of the sculpture as a couple of the aforementioned naysayers have decided to piss on it on a daily basis so far. If the police can, it would be good to catch these jackasses in the act. Downtown is for everyone.

     And if you don’t mind, I’m going to plug my own art show! I’m helping out the Habana Gallery, 118 North Cumberland, with some exposure. Tomorrow night at 7:30 I have a gala opening for portrait and figurative works of mostly local people at the gallery. The show will run for a month or so. The gallery is located across from the former Cumberland Cinema Centre.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Three Shows at DEFSUP: Mavourneen Trainer, Paula Thiessen, and Me

     On one side of the sad old Eaton’s building, still a giant waste of space where the telemarketers operate in order to disturb the peace of thousands of Canadians every day, there is a medium sized gallery space in its basement on its Park St. side that is its saving grace, maybe where the building’s last bit of soul exists.
      Here, the Definitely Superior Art Gallery is back in action this fall with three artist’s shows before its mega blockbusting Halloween hit for the city, The Hunger.
     All three shows represent an incredible amount of work done over a number of years with artistic imagery that is identifiably unique to each artist.
     Mavourneen Trainer’s show titled Chambers employs the use of Photoshop, but for those unfamiliar with the computer program, creating an image as detailed and using as many references as Trainer does is a lengthy process. Photoshop’s use of layers allows image after image to be place over top of one another other, and for each layer to be individually altered in hundreds of ways, allowing a creative person to shape entirely new worlds from combined images.
     First the images have to found, gathered, assembled and applied. It’s painstaking work, filling up dozens and dozens of computer files. The results of four years worth of work are stunning. “People don’t realize the amount of work you put into an image. It’s the equivalent of a hand drawing,” says Trainer. Trainer spent four years creating the imagery making making it her own. “I wanted to parody an etching to avoid the garishness you get with most Photoshop images. I put filters on many of the images to get rid of the poster look and to make them look more like etchings.”
     What got Trainer started on this series was “an image I did called Unforseen, of two caribous butting heads. I placed them in a cement room and I really liked the idea of a closed space for content, a chamber.”
     And with the death a few years ago of a close friend, Trainer ran with all encompassing themes of youth, aging and death. Fairy tales are referenced and nearly every image contains imagery from famous historical artists.
     Paula Thiessen’s black and white photography, taken over a 25-year period is featured in Gallery 2 and called Peeps Show.
     On three of the walls are images of a few strangers, but mostly people in her life, a few that some viewers will recognize. The images make for a sensitive and endearing display of human faces, revealing all sorts of subtleties like hope, love, apprehension, joy, thought, etc. Thiessen writes, “I admit that I am one of those people like many others, who feels compelled to document the people and scenery around me through photographs.”
     Thiessen does this in a way in opposition to our “selfie” culture. “I’m interested in spontaneity and trying to capture something about a person you wouldn’t see otherwise in a still photograph, that might reveal a hidden aspect of a person.” This is a consistent element in Thiessen’s work.
     The subject matter featured on the specially painted red wall is different in tone. “The way they’ve been framed, with a camera, ads to it grittiness,” says Thiessen.
I am attracted to photographing people, mostly because they offer me a greater margin for chance. A picturesque mountain lake is not going anywhere, but the person being photographed is often moving, occupying various environments, emanating different moods, may evade the camera, may become someone else in front of the camera, or may be completely oblivious to it.”
    In Gallery three is my own work, illustrations painting in alkyds and oils for an upcoming children’s picture book, Lara Wood. Special thanks go to the Ontario Arts Council for funding a good portion of its creation.