Friday, October 12, 2007

The Art of Engagement Conference, Thu Oct 11 @ Emily Carr

I am giving the conference 4 1/2 stars out of 5.
It gives a big bang for the buck and so far is wildly exceeding my expectations !!!

(photo above: Registration with RAIN at Emily Carr)

Both Moderator jil p. weaving of Panel 1 - ROLES
and Moderator Paula Jardine of Panel 2 - EXPECTATIONS

were fearless/articulate in putting focussed questions to their panel members.

(photo right: best dressed gal palz award to couple on the right)

Artist-Talk-Presenters (Elwood Jimmy of Common Weal, Judy McNaughton, & Hans Winkler) as well as the collective panel members were astute and reflective about the parameters, pitfalls, responsibilities, and development of this not-as-new-as-many-people-think practice that spans Community-based Art, Relational Art, and Intervention/Manouvre Art.

To me, the growth of community-based art practice in Canada and Quebec has roots/seeds/pollen from many historical sources including NFB's Challenge for Change & Studio D; Trudeau's Opportunities for Youth and Compnay of Young Canadians; former Explorations Dept. of CC; agit-prop theatre artists from '30's-'50's; etc.... So therefore ....

I welcomed the perspectives of Weaving and Fernandez. They contextualized this conference esp. Fernandez's analysis of the effect Mike Harris's political climate in Ontario ten years ago made on the community arts Links Conference, as well as hearing her pithy obervation on the changes over the last 15 years in criteria for artist-run centres seaking core funding. First it was "artistic excellence", then "critical discourse", and now centres are asked for "rigor".

Plus ca change, amiga.
(photo : networking-joy of face-to-face; you can't do this by email!!!)

There were many Memorable THURSDAY Moments/Ideas but some I note are:

1. Melanie Fernandez (Director Community & Education Programmes/Summer Festival Director - Harbourfront, Toronto) naming herself a BRIDGE in a 3-way relationship with Artists and Community and describing the relationship as symbiotic ecology.
Also -- naming a space for the spiritual, creating voice/space for art, her rememberance of LINKS Conference 10 years ago (check out Ontario Arts Council Publications on-line !!!) and her changing perspective on this art practice as well as her memories of Mike Harris era and the political bedfellows and divorces created by that economic censure.

2. Simon Levin (interdisciplinary artist & teacher) brought forward the idea of MESSY NEGOTIATION. He described his passion for intervening thru mutliple points of entry into existing systems and bravely shared his failures in messy neogtations as well as his joyful experiences. He quoted one of his mentors (Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble) as saying that "the term community is for the Centre-Left as the term Family Values is for the Right".

3. Cheryl L'hirondelle (multidisciplinary artist/teacher/activist/co-ordinator etc)
spoke eloquently about the tyranny of the term "traditional artist" and opened the tword up with inciteful questions of pre-conceived notions of rural, community, histories and by questioning who is voicing the definition and why. It reminds me of many people's reaction to the word spiritual. Both words have been used to beat those who disagree or differ from status quo. I loved her acronym from anarchist pals in England: DIY (do it yourself) and then DIT (do it together). Cheryl sang a knock your socks off song at the beginning of her talk and tried to lead us in singing Strong Woman's Song but we were worse than Arlo Guthrie's recording of Alice's Restaurant where he chides his audience that "you got to sing louder than that if you want to stop war and stuff". But her story-telling of the power of Strong Woman's Song in a woman's prison riot will remain with me forever.

4. Ingrid Mayrhofer (artist/curator) showed a great power point presentation on a photography exhibit she animated/facillitated with Mexcian and Trinidadian migrant farm workers in Ontario. I liked her notion of being a conceptual artist working in socialist realism and her pragmatic no-nonsense problem-solving skills in action as she told the story of this project that changed the perceptions of everyone involved in that community.

5. Hans Winkler (artist) expressing his relief (and the farmer-host's relief) that an avalanche destroyed a mountain hermitage library he had created that had become so famous and popular it had become a burden; Hans brought forth the idea that "art engagement should be limited in time".

6. Devora Neumark (artist/teacher) brought forth the idea that the best of intentions do no assure best results; and she shared a story about the journey one of her student's made around issues of his actively "helping" families mourn dying or recently dead relatives and evolving his project to one more of listeninng/bearing witness. Devora's story addressed an earlier idea of artist-as-saviour and the imbalance of power around that territory. When asked what makes her do this work, she said she liked to hold the heart of individuation while feeling the creative tension of the collective; it was a return to her own complexity; that it was a meditation: Breathe In and Out to Make Possible for Yourself and then Breathe In and Out to Make Possible for Others.

7. Guinevere Pencarrick (artist/instructor/co-ordinator/mentor) riffed on art/safety/tracking by sharing her experiences running art programmes for youth at risk. She made vibrant and potent the necessity of standing behind intanglible results. I am left with an image of this talented, articulate and really smart woman filling in anectodatal logs and pages of forms in her ongoing effort to fund these projects for which she gives her life-blood. When asked what keeps her returning to this work, Guinevere said the work is a revisiting to a site of personal trauma and when she claims and shares that space it also becomes a gateway to others.

8. Geoff McMurchy (singer/dancer/Artistic Director Society for Disability Arts & Culture)demonstrated with his storytelling and playing of an audio recording why he is a leader in throwing off the dominant narrative that disabled people are broken, tragic and freakish. The audio recording of choir and solist was beautiful. I walked away with a realization of the empowerment of "slipping into subject from object".

9. Cathy Stubington (Artistic Director/Puppet Designer/Large-Scale Theatre Artist of Enderby, BC) asked terrific questions of herself and others including how can she create without imposing? How can she/we/they get away from expectations?

(photo above: Enderby's Veggie Ribbons)

I am looking forward to Saturday: going to see Glynn Davies-Marshall at HELEN PITT tfor "When Debt Comes in theWindow Love Goes Out the Door". Sounds like a kewl piece about labour, demand, and community. Sound familiar?
Then off to Granville Island for even more ART OF ENGAGEMENT !!!
Darling -- if I were any more engaged -- I would be married.
I love ART. And I know you do, too !!!
See you there -- or be square !!!
Margaret Dragu


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