Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back in the USSR Canada-SSR, Don't Know How Lucky You Are: Q&A With Caitlin Jones

Truth out!–-I'm a dual citizen of the US and Canada. When my US passport was still valid, I mostly liked it because it made travelling south of the 49th a little easier. But the lack of health care coverage freaked me out in terms of long-term stays--something that I do hope will change for the good folks of America as its new health-care plan gets implemented.

In any case, like everyone, I'm well aware that the US art scene pretty much eclipses Canada's in every way. Truly, you sometimes just have to admit that quantity can sometimes equal quality--or at least better odds of same.

Nonetheless, it was very interesting to chat a couple of weeks back with Caitlin Jones, who recently returned to Vancouver after a decade in the NYC region, where she worked for the Guggenheim, Rhizome and a variety of other impressive orgs (Believer and PS1, anybody?) Soon after returning, Jones became executive director at Western Front, the venerable artist-run centre, and this became my excuse to, you know, find out why she would abscond from what many culturati think of as mega-hyper-art-land to our supposedly barren frontiers.

Today, Canadian Art published an edited version of our phone chat. Here's an excerpt:

LS: You mentioned that you came back to Vancouver (and BC, and Canada) even before this position was posted. What do you like about being back?

CJ: Well, it’s nice to just be in this city; Vancouver’s a beautiful city to be in. So that’s number one, getting a little more space and breathing fresher air.

In terms of the art world, one of the things I found so frustrating living in New York was that despite the hard work of many, many people working independently, it’s extremely driven and directed by the market. In New York, there’s just no way you can get away from that. It’s a really commercial-gallery-driven culture.

Being back in Canada, and being back in British Columbia—although, sadly with massive funding cuts all this may change very soon or is changing drastically—it’s very nice to be in an environment and brainstorming with people in a way that has nothing to do with salability or market value or anything like that. It feels great—it feels the way it’s supposed to be, really inspiring and open.

So far, that’s biggest change I’ve noticed. Of course, once I get into the nitty-gritty of how arts funding and policy works, my feelings might change. But for the moment it’s a really refreshing change of perspective.

In the interview, we also talk about her views on Internet/art stuffs, which is a specialty of hers. One thing that didn't make it into the edit was that Jones' arrival marks a shift for the Front from a collective-management structure to a more traditional executive-director mode. Also, I had been wondering why a couple of positions became available at the Front this year--though many readers likely already figured this out, former exhibitions director Candice Hopkins got a job offer from the National Gallery in Ottawa and former media director Alissa Firth-Eagland departed for schooling in Europa. So there ya go!

Image of Caitlin Jones from

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