Sunday, March 29, 2009

Update: Our Nat'l Photo Museum Confirmed to Close

Yesterday, there was a very good article in the Ottawa Citizen on the fate of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, which I posted on earlier this week. The article gives full coverage to the question of whether the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, opened to great fanfare in 1992, is about to lose its building.

The answer: Most definitely. And the main culprit would seem to be the Harper government, which is taking over the site as meeting rooms and offices.

As the article makes clear, other factors did come into play such as water seepage. And it does note that the collection and programs of the CMCP will continue to exist at the National Gallery of Canada at 380 Sussex Drive. But the museum will no longer have its own standalone building.

My opinion on this-- shared by Ottawa photographer Jennifer Dickson and founding CMCP director Martha Langford, both of whom were interviewed in the article--is anger and disappointment.

As the article makes clear, the creation of the CMCP took many years, and million of dollars. In many ways was a triumph of the Mulroney Conservatives--Mulroney being a right-wing leader who, in retrospect, seems very arts-friendly compared to our current conservative PM Stephen Harper.

Given the Harper government's cancellation of the construction of our National Portrait Gallery, and the fact that he are taking over the CMCP site for the government's own purposes, this seems like just another instance of the current government's "eff you" stance towards arts and culture, both in Ottawa and elsewhere. (Remember Calgary and Edmonton submitted extensive proposals for the Portrait Gallery as well... this is not about east-west patronage tensions, just arts stuff.)

This decision to shut the gallery is also not about more theoretical questions around the validity of photography as its own medium in this multidisciplinary day and age. Were the museum to continue in its current site, I'm sure they'd continue to manage the analog-digital transitions of the medium just fine. (The exhibition they've got coming up at the NGC focuses on Scott McFarland, who uses digital techniques quite extensively.)

Relevant questions that still remain, however, might be the budgetary constraints imposed by former liberal PM Chretien's decision to build an outpost of the NGC in his home riding of Shawinigan. As well as, of course, Harper's desire to control messaging and media at all costs. (As the CBC recently reports, Harper's currently doing his second interviews with CNN and Fox in less than a month--but has refused to give national news service the Canadian Press an interview since December 2007. Pathetic.)

Image of outraged Ottawa photographer Jennifer Dickson from the Ottawa Citizen


MK said...

While it's (very, very) easy to lay everything at Harper's door, it seems there is a lot more going on here than meets they eye.

So "trustees of the federally governed institution decided to stop looking for a separate home", "CMCP's touring program has been "virtually annihilated" over the years", and it appears there may have been difficulty "having to meet our fiscal requirements".

Did the trustees stand up for it? Have the CMCP's finances been managed properly over the years? How and why has its touring programme been "annihilated" over the years? By whom?

It would see that the CMCP's troubles started long before today, and instead of an in-depth investigation, all we have to go on is another news article that skims the surface.

MK said...

Whoops, two big typos, of course I meant to say "than meets the eye", rather than "than meets they eye", and I meant "It would seem", not "It would see".

Itchy "publish" finger!

Leah Sandals said...

Hey MK,

Yes, you're right, it is a much longer story than just Harper. And I appreciate your suggestion that the board and admin at the CMCP was deeply involved in this turn of events.

Still, taken together, I can't help but note that this turn of events is consistent with the feds' many other recent decisions undermining our national arts infrastructure.

Plus, my frustration has just built up with Harper et al, I must say I let it blow here. I was in Ottawa this past weekend and it just especially resonated there.

It is worth considering those internal factors though as you point out--certainly not inconsiderable, I'm sure!

What do you think is needed to internally keep organizations strong?

Unknown said...

Hi Leah,
I agree that the current gov't has not exactly proven to be arts friendly... I can certainly understand your need to "blow"!

I think if I had to pinpoint it to one thing and one thing only for sake of brevity (like a "who would you want to be stuck with on a desert island" kind of thing), I'd say (and this will sound pretty A-B-C, but amazing how often it doesn't happen to be the case...) good governance in the form of an effective board is essential to keeping organisations strong.

I'm actually pretty under-informed on the CMCP, and made my comments based just on the news story and what it inferred, so I can't comment on their board. I don't even know who they are.

However, what I can comment on is that the great organisations I observe and work with often have the same thing in common (that mediocre and/or weak organisations often do not have) - effective, engaged, strong boards.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey MK,

I appreciate your observation. I've never been on a board myself, so I tend to neglect that end of arts orgs. But it is key.

On a totally different note, I just found this link on "yellow journalism" that I will now tip my hat to whenever making outrageous claims and the like, about Harper or otherwise: