Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Panel Pétanque: Toronto Knocks Itself Out Discussing Idea of Hogtown Biennial

Seeing as how I posted about the April 17 Toronto Biennial forum a few weeks back, I thought I’d follow up with some of my thoughts on the event—y’know, now that it’s actually happened and all.

I attended the full day of presentations and took notes throughout, which adds up to a sore writing hand and too much material for a quickly produced blog post. Also, the entire proceedings were videotaped, hopefully to be posted online at some future date along with a summary by Peggy Gale. So what follows instead are five of the spectrums (spectri?) of discussion that were most interesting to me overall.

1. Town Hall vs. Nothing at All

OK, so the main thing I got out of this whole event was that museums and other public art institutions should do “town hall” style public meetings more often.

During the course of the day, it was incredibly evident that people from many different parts of the arts community really wanted to provide feedback the big kahunae and to each other, that people wanted a forum to express their loves and loathes about the Toronto scene, as well as suggestions or critiques for making it better. The feedback didn’t just address the idea of a biennial, though that was the ostensible jumping off point. It also touched on wider issues in arts funding, local history, and current institutional choices—things that people do want to talk about in a setting that’s a bit wider than beers with friends from time to time.

Of course, I understand that many public museums and galleries feel like they already stretched to the limit just trying to meet programming and budgetary goals. Extra events and associated logistics? No thank you. But honestly, if the president of the United States can make time for public town halls, maybe our museum directors can too. Just sayin’. I really believe it would be to everyone’s benefit in the long run. (And to be fair, if you don't want to wait for this next town hall to be organized, Matthew Teitelbaum said during the forum that he's welcomes feedback at

2. Nasty vs. Nice

One of the most engaging moments of the forum’s morning session came when panelist Philip Monk, speaking on a panel titled “Histories and Opportunities,” held up two pieces of paper to the audience. “Would you like Nasty or Nice?” he asked. The audience’s energetic response, to my relief, was “Nasty!” And so Monk went on to provide a helpful counterpoint to the typical (though often practical) tradition of Canadian niceness.

One question Monk raised (from what I understood… Monk and others are very welcome to correct me in the comments section) was whether the forum was truly collaborative or whether there was an agenda (ie. a biennial plan) already at hand. He also took issue with the format of the sessions, with morning being “histories/past,” the afternoon being “supposed visionaries” of the future and “the big boys” stepping up at finish the day.

Monk also noted that the press release for the event said it was about “bringing” a biennial to Toronto, and that he wanted to critique a persistent idea that Toronto needed to have stuff “brought to it” rather than “building on what’s here.”

He also pointed out the latecomer nature of this Hogtown biennial discussion. “Why is Toronto always belated? What does that say about our city and its elite?”

Referring to an Olympics model of the way big events force cities and countries to prove they can “get it together” for the world, Monk asked “Can Toronto get it together? Does Toronto have a history of getting it together?” Riffing on this question, he stated, “Toronto is a sick scene, a dysfunctional scene. Will a biennial be a part of this sickness or will it be a way to health?”

And lest anyone be left out of this enjoyable nastiness, there was also something for the critics! Monk said “When it comes to criticism, this discourse in Toronto is at a juvenile level—Toronto has no art critical understanding. It is confused and regressive, with no knowledge of what is at stake.” (I take no issue with this, really—I feel confused much of the time, art crit being a field with few standards or performance-measurement mechanisms.) (UPDATE - In an April 30 comment on this post, Monk writes that his comment wasn't directed at published criticism. He says his original panel comment was: "When it comes to criticism—and I mean not what is published but what purports to be a public discourse, that is, as what takes place in public—frankly, this critical discourse in Toronto today is at a juvenile level. Ju-ven-ile! It’s embarrassing." I suspect the panel documentation will bear him out on this, but I also doubt I'm the only one who took his comments as being directed to published criticism in the moment. For more details, please see the comments.)

To sum up, Monk said “I’m always distressed by a lack of generosity in this art community… I can imagine a biennial that might be a love-in for Toronto or public group therapy for the art community. But we can’t have an international biennial until we change our attitude to being here.”

Cue resounding applause, which is what Monk got.

I reproduce Monk’s comments, or my notes of them, at length because I feel there is a considerable and consistent tension in the art community (and during the daylong forum) with “how to couch this or that criticism so that it produces the change I want to see without being emotionally inflammatory?”

In a way, this is an advantageous approach to conflict, wanting to maintain relationships rather than burn bridges while making desired things happen. But it is also feels like a drawback in terms of vitality, honesty and robustness. There were many other people during the forum who had compelling feedback along the nice to nasty spectrum, and I actually have to say I was impressed with the way people spoke to longstanding, difficult or frustrating issues in mostly “positive” ways. In any case, I think the point now is to keep the conversation, whatever its nature, going. (Possibly peppered with a bit of nasty to keep people awake.)

3. Festivals vs. Institutions

Another point that became clear from the day of talks was that any future art festival in Toronto, biennial or not, will have a hella lot of pressure put on it to represent local or regional artists. To my mind, this is due to the fact that our institutions have not committed to consistent programming of Toronto or Ontario artists, have not committed to reflecting the strong creative production of our region back to the public. So when the idea of a biennial comes up, and associated questions of local vs. international focus comes up (as it must) the pressure is huge to finally do the local justice.

The problem, to my mind, is that we really need our institutions to step up and do some of that regional research and presentation. It really can’t all be shoved on a festival. It needs to be something more consistent, and more persistent, like regular solo shows of local artists, large ones at that for those with significant careers already under their belts. Matthew Teitelbaum of the AGO did say there was more Toronto-artist programming coming in the future, which is great to hear, but it must be evaluated as it is produced. (aka I sure as hell hope that not all the installations in the AGO’s new “Toronto Now” space will double as an extension of the gallery restaurant—I know it works for Dean Baldwin’s current show, but I confess I have my think-the-worst fears.)

4. Toronto vs. Vancouver/Rest of World

Holy man, I did not expect to hear as much about Vancouver during the morning of this forum than I actually did. Some panelists, though joking in tone, were actually saying things like “it’s sad for a lot of people in the arts community to see planes flying over Toronto; we so often picture an international curator in there, jetting direct from Europe to Vancouver.” Which was kind of funny but also kind of freaking-well sad.

Later, the anxiety around Vancouver widened, as it does, to basically include the rest of the world. “Why doesn’t the rest of the world recognize our scene?” the plea seems to go. “Why are we a second or third tier country at Venice?” (A consequence of this widening anxiety also sometimes conflates “Toronto” as “Canada,” another weird and unfortunate psychogeographical leap.)

Overall, though I think it was therapeutic for people to air some of these fears and frustrations about feeling overlooked, I do believe that you have to value your own scene before you can expect other people to value it. (Haema Sivanesan of SAVAC had a great anecdote about immigrating to Toronto from Australia and finding the scene difficult to perceive—great behind the scenes but not visible in public spaces, I think it what she was referring to. This is the kind of valuation that’s needed, and relates to that point on institutions I mentioned earlier.)

You also have to be realistic; Canada may be a wonderful country (I certainly like to think so) but it is also a rather small one in terms of population. I don’t think it’s very realistic to aim for more than (or lament being) “a second or third tier country” at Venice. Sometimes all you can do is do your best, be a pro, market the hell out of it, and appreciate the coverage you get—which I’d bet is actually a fairly high proportion relative to Canada’s population size.

Then again, maybe I’m missing some data. What is this other country that people think Canada should be “equal to” artistically? Or a city that people think Toronto should be thought of in the same league with (other than Vancouver, people!). If you have ideas beyond the usual unreachably-megalopolis suspects (NYC, London, Paris) please share in the comments. Is it that Sydney and Auckland are outshining TO? What’s a reasonable point of comparison?

5. Artist-run vs. Mega-org

The last, but certainly not least, thread of discussion that intrigued me had to do with tensions between artist-run centre approaches and priorities and mega-arts-organization approaches and priorities—or at least some of the perceived differences between these sectors’ priorities.

Panellist Heather Haynes of Toronto Free Gallery (and Fuse Magazine) actually put me on the spot a bit when she referred to my original post about this forum and my complaint that there wasn’t enough artist-run centre representation in the official proceedings. She said that had prompted her to consult informally with some artist run centre staff and compile a list of their recommendations for any proposed Toronto Biennial.

According to my notes, these artist-run centre feedback points—which were well received and referred to again in the rest of the proceedings—were:

  • Financial concerns and desire to participate in the planning process
  • Wondering whether this is a good time for starting a project like this with provincial funding commitments already being cut to large infrastructure projects in Toronto like Transit City
  • Worry about top-down Olympic effect, of funding orgs going over festival budget and of long-term operational budgets for centres and galleries being cut as a result
  • Concern over whether a biennial type event would result in overworked and underpaid labor
  • A desire for something other than “high-profile prosecco parties,” for something that lasts longer than a day or a week
  • Looking for a strong balance between international and Canadian programmers
  • Noting a need for strong representation of aboriginal communities in the planning stages and racialized communities as well
  • Interest in seeing a biennial that will go beyond the international art stars and that will present emerging artists along with established ones
  • Documenta was often used as a frame of reference, for example in the way it creates a website and publications that live on beyond the event
  • There was also a feeling the biennial should not appear in one location and should be held throughout the city
  • A lot of people were interested in events that are not just VIP oriented, that go morning to evening
  • Also interested in a biennial that challenges what happens in traditional art centres
  • Questions of how to make this a non-Toronto initiative, to bring in other Canadian centres
While these points were generally well received, there were some weird aftercomments. I’m thinking of the final panel of the day when OCAD head Sara Diamond was adamant that any future biennial/event “can’t be marginal.” She also said something to the effect that criticality can be present in big events and institutions, and doesn’t have to be “at the margins.” I could be totally wrong (again, commenters, feel free to correct me) but it seemed like Diamond on this point was trying to defend what mega-orgs had to offer and also (maybe just a little bit) demean the impact of those “tiny” “self-conciously critical” ARCs.

In a way, that’s a false battle (one I admittedly might have constructed in my own mind through misinterpretation) because most ARCs realize that they don’t have the public reach of an OCAD or an AGO. Yet the fact remains, as SAVAC’s Haema Sivanesan noted, that many smaller galleries in Toronto do “biennial-quality” exhibitions, which is to say show strong art—some of it stronger and more internationally robust than what the big guys show.

So… this concludes my main threads of interest from the panel pétanque on Saturday. Apparently, the AGO has agreed to host any followup panel in association with one of my freelance clients, the Canadian Art Foundation. Will it happen for reals though? I certainly hope so. There’s a lot of people, I think, who still want to step up to the mic.

And in that spirit, what did you think of the event? Would you go to the next one? Why or why not? How would you make it better? And most importantly, what did I get wrong?

Image of petanque players from


sally said...

Thank you so much for this Leah. I was kind of hoping that you'd be reporting on this. I really wanted to go, and I've been curious.

I like what you say about having realistic models for Canada/Toronto.

Also, there's so much complaining lately about how Toronto's art scene & criticism suck. I keep wondering, is it really worse here than anywhere else? Maybe always thinking about how we're crap is a more insidious problem than actually being crappy. Or maybe not. I know there are valid complaints out there, but I just dunno if it's any worse here than, say, in NYC. I read Art Fag City regularly, and there's lots of people fed up there too.

A.K. said...

Thank you for such an extensive summary. Like Sally, I couldn't attend, but was very curious. This is tangentially related to your point about town halls, public participation, etc...I attended Dr. Robert Janes's keynote address (Museums and the End of Materialism) at the Museum practices conference currently going on at U of T. The talk was generous and optimistic in tone, and he addressed many of the points implicit in your post. He has a new book out, which I am going to read, and then just keep handy for whenever I need a ray of sunshine.

Leah Sandals said...

Thanks for your comments, guys!

You probably also saw this, but just in case, my Canadian Art editor Rick Rhodes also did a forum report which incorporates more historical experience in this realm, as well as notes the (true) enthusiasm and interest that seemed to build positively throughout the day:

Sally, yeah, I'm sorry if this post prolonged the Toronto-complaining-about-self feeling. There was actually a lot of optimism and enthusiasm expressed by commenters and panellists too, people who are proud of what Toronto has to offer. But there was also that insecurity/anxiety from others too. The Spacing/Toronto enthusiast model ( was also mentioned at one point as a possible connecting point for a big event. And yes, maybe familiarity with any place tends to breed complaints/contempt of that place.

AK I appreciate your referral to that Robert Janes talk and book... sounds right up my alley! I'm also trying to read bits of Nina K Simon's The Participatory Museum for a few of those rays.

sally said...

well, rah-rah boosterism has it's drawbacks too. No slag on Spacing, I think they're great, and enthusiasm seems to by my main mode of participation in the blogosphere. But in this context I would agree that self-definition for international discourse needs to be critically rigorous. I'm just not really buying into the idea that Toronto is sick and dysfunctional. Been posting about this over atSimpleposie:

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Sally,

Thanks for posting that link to Simpleposie... and thanks to Jennifer McMackon for linking to this post!

I'm with you on personally being in between total boosterism and total slagging. One point I didn't put into my report is that Greg Burke and others noted how criticality is a vital part of Toronto's art-community character/identity. So though it's always appropriate to be critical (in my view) it may be doubly so in this instance.

TimothyC said...

[Part 1 (due to char limit)]

Thanks Leah for this extensive review. I had no interest in attending but appreciate the rundown.

My lack of interest comes from an impression that the scene talks a lot about doing stuff in the future, but in the end it’s just another panel talk with a cocaine-fuelled afterparty and I’d rather be actually making stuff. (Frankly, I stopped going to shows and openings over the winter because I’m no longer that interested in what others are doing, and want to concentrate on what I’m doing).

Artists in this city (and everywhere) want curators who understand them and are able to thus market them, and myself I’m frustrated by merry-go-round of Toronto’s galleries. The journalism sucks (which I mean as no offense to you or recently-appointed-to The Globe’s Richard) in that it’s all 500 words yadda-yadda or published in quarterly magazines. The blogs are too personalized to really fill in the gap, and I must say their tendency to be ossified in design (hello Sally & Lorna, have you heard of an RSS feed? McMackon, WTF?) comes across as unprofessional-don’t-take-us-seriously. All fine and well for cliques, but not for the promotional discourse which I’m here promoting but in all honesty of which I’m also rather bored by, so I’m saying this without a lot of sincerity. The magazines and blogs reflect an interest in something I’m not that interested in. But my boredom merely reflects the atrophy of what was once a passionate interest, which could not be sustained in Toronto’s art scene, and by extension the disconnected-from-reality theories.

I don’t understand what an artscene is or is supposed to be. I know that I’m interested in being well-adjusted, sane, and want to be able to get along with people. The scene as I’ve known it would rather be us vs. them (aka ‘mainstream etc’), drug-fuelled, and mal-adjusted (tortured artist myths ftw).

Pretending ignorance here, I don’t understand why talk of a biennial is paneled by those who spoke. Toronto is a multi-cultural city but Art here is somehow still Euro-American and Homosexual. The city has commercial galleries and artist-run centres and people can pretty much buy a piece of whatever they’re looking for to hang over the couch. (In that sense it’s healthy).

It seems the hang-up is one of validation by the Euro-American curatorial elites (“flying from Vancouver”) and yawn, why does what they think matter? For example, I read Bourriaud’s Radicant and found it a defence of globalized nomadism, but nowhere was global warming and peak oil’s relation to flight acknowledged. I’m under the impression that “Art” is totally disconnected from the realities of this century, and even when it tries to touch base, comes across as irrelevant and pathetic. Thus is seems true that “Art” is a social-pass time for wealthy elites, always has been, and ‘artists’ are on paths of social advancement. So because we are not yet being invited to stay at Damien Hirst’s chateau, there’s a problem with our scene. Again, yawn.

TimothyC said...

[Part 2 (due to char limit)

Artstars* is a breath of fresh air, but also problematic, agreed. I characterize the infamous Lahde video as one which a conflict between the coke-sceneters (yes, I’m referencing cocaine a lot here, because I see it as a genuine problem in the circuit) against the square-conceptualists, who try to make considered-art. Izida Zorde is on camera telling Nadja that what she’s doing is dangerous, which is absurd. If we want to be take seriously as cultural professionals, we should separate our professional and family lives. Using the art scene as a substitute family gets us the the family-newsletters disguised as magazines which (for good reason) are unsold on the store shelves where-we’re-lucky if they are stocked.

I’d suggest this as a measure of scene-health: somewhat cognizant of my reputation as an asshole-curmudgeon, I’d posit that this scene would be healthy if curators would show people like me despite our reputations. (Do I really need to be nice to be asked to be in shows? Yes, it’s true I should promote myself more, but the point remains that shows are very friend-based). As it is, and partially because of the universities here, curation is cautious toward offending the establishment, so artists who are art-social-problems (and supporters of Palestinians) are excluded from the merry-go-round. The pushback against Nadja and the above is an example of what I mean. Safe and nice keep the really interesting artists in the shadows, and in the end, this city/country care more about hockey, so our timidity toward an establishment (which has no international reputation to speak of anyway) is unwarranted.

Again, we need to consider what a scene is or should be. Are we really just trying to get the attention of rich European collectors? Or are we trying to have rewarding cultural lives? If the later, I think everything is probably fine, but if the former, I’d like to hear serious reasons as to why that matters beyond weekends at villas.

I’m going back to work now.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Timothy,

Thanks for your extensive comment. I'm
on the go right now so can't
respond extensively, but you've
given me lots to think about.
Others too, I'm sure. The frustration
with status quo and insiderness
definitely comes through. Also...
cocaine, eh? I'm in the mega square
camp and so have to say I am way
out of the loop on that one. (Artstars
pulled vid excluded.)

TimothyC said...

I should probably clarify the coke stuff - first, I don’t want to too closely associate Artstars* with it, but merely want to say that it seems the cultural-model of the zeitgeist is that debauchery is an ideal, and hence the aesthetic of Terry Richardson/Dash Snow/American Apparel ads define both hipsterdom and cool. Artstars* are clearly most aligned with that aesthetic, so in that manner I linked them. Because of these media-models, I think it can be said that the kids coming out of high school (into art school) want to party that way, and the people running the galleries consider themselves with it - fully participating and representing the model. (It’s a self-perpetuating cycle - Richardson et al represent a class of people already behaving that way, and people who identify with that class, or who want to identify with that class, behave that way in response. Along the way, whatever authenticity the behaviour has been lost, and now it’s just enacting a destructive stereotype).

It may be hypocritical for me to say, but the parties where people are doing lines in the bathroom are really good parties, nonetheless. (I myself have never partook). Recreationaly it would be no matter, but as a lifestyle I think it’s a problem. It’s fair to ask whether the administrators of the city’s galleries would be more productive and effective if chronic hangovers weren’t a part of their lives. Also, by extension, artists like to play at social justice issues, but let’s never mind the crime and broken lives that go into getting annoyingly high at 3am. (Like, let’s really never mind it).

L.M. said...

Quick note to Tim. We don't have an RSS feed because it doesn't reproduce our coded animated gifs with any accuracy. (so yes we've heard of it, you pompous twat and now that's five more shows you won't be curated in)

TimothyC said...

Again, I wouldn't take my comments too seriously, like I said, I don't really care. I've just come to see the scene as an invite-only party and thought that my perspective might be of use. If y'all really care about what Philip Monk thinks, that's your business. I've gone to too many panel talks over the years and see them all as dead ends. I mean, a talk about establishing a biennial? Just fucking do it. I doubt it would be worse than Luminato or Nuit Blanche.

PS LM - your comment made me smile (I appreciate a good ribbing) but the gif excuse is lame.

Gabby said...

Thanks, Leah, for the fastidious note-taking. I spent the day on hold with Air Transat and couldn't make it, but am glad to hear the day was so productive and thought-provoking, from many different angles.

On the Toronto vs. Vancouver comparison - oy, am I sick of that. I don't know how well versed I am in the Vancity "scene" anymore, having lived as many years of my adult life in Toronto as I did there at this point (which makes me feel old), but one of the things I remember from my time there and continue to hear from friends who are there is that there are just as many complaints from within that city's artistic producers as there are here, similarly about nepotism, inner circles, self-esteem issues, inadequate representation of minorities in the art world, etc. One difference which I still notice, especially through publications like Fillip and Pyramid Power, is a staunch interest in critiquing one another's work, in a (and I know this is a bit redundant) *critical* way. It seems to me that is okay to be a bit sassy there, in print, even about your friend/acquaintance's work, so long as you support your claims and judgments. I would agree with both you and Sally that perhaps criticism here is confused and does not always write from a place of "important things are at stake" - and this includes my own writing - which is necessary for engaged, critical art writing. I was part of a workshop with Nick Brown about art writing for recent grads at U of T and something he said there has stuck with me, which is that art criticism is rarely "gut-wrenching" in the way that a lot of curatorial or art historical writing is: where it displays, overtly, what is at stake and the authors' own positioning.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey guys,

Thanks for the continued comments. Lorna, your made me smile too... laugh out loud actually. People have asked me where the heck my RSS feed is as well, to be honest.

Still on the go so can't type more now but look forward to doing so later.

L.M. said...

GIFs are lame and we're damn proud of it.

(now add two biennials to your curatorial lockout.)

Gareth Bate said...

This is an excellent summary of the day. Thanks for taking notes!

I'm going to link it on facebook for friends who couldn't attend.

I have to say I really enjoyed being there. It felt like the start of something important --not just a plan for a festival, but rather the start of a dialogue between different levels/classes in the Toronto art world. Progress!

Doing this kind of event for other issues would make a HUGE difference! It really felt like people wanted to hear what other people thought.

Something I started to think after this event was how much optimism there was in the room. It was great.

But then I thought---that has a lot to do with who our Mayor has been over the last few years. Our current festivals have really taken off because we have had a friend in the Mayor's office.

What I would like to see is the art community actively trying to ensure that we don't end up with an enemy for a Mayor in the next few months. Some of the potential mayors are not going to be our allies and that will kill this Biennial project before it has even started. Will Rob Ford, Rocco Rossi, or frankly even Smitherman be championing a Toronto Biennial?

Anonymous said...

we need a panel discussion about a biennale as much as we need artstars or another Timothy Comeau comment. they are all just big cringey embarrassments.seriously, you people must live very boring lives. only in toronto would there be a need to discuss "maybe" having a biennale. of course we should have a biennale, or anything for that matter. just dont associate it with the mocca and we will be fine. anyone see that photo mural? now that's world class!!!

Stanzie Tooth said...

Leah, as always, thank you for your post. I was there for most of the day (unfortunately, I missed the last panel) and also took thorough notes - more than I have time go into hear...

The major point I wanted to bring up was that I was happy there was a lot of critical discussion about allocations of arts funding and the issue of lack of fair pay for labour in the arts. As a young arts professional (artist, curator, labourer, etc) I know first hand how little financial support is out there. I understand that we all "pay our dues", but like any industry there should be a standard for fair wages (thanks to Heather for bringing up the issue). The major festivals such as Nuit Blanche, Luminato, Contact, etc. really depend on the underpaid or free labour of young arts professionals to sustain them. These projects are built on the backs of passionate volunteers, while the tourism industry of the city profits hugely.

A key example is Nuit Blanche. Most of the projects prepared for Nuit Blanche (other than the few featured exhibits) are prepared for free by artists and curators around the city (and there is a fee to apply). There are a few grants available to produce these projects but the average grant is less that $1000 - this barely covers the cost of materials let along labour, security, venues, etc. In contrast, bars and other entertainment/tourist attractions reap the benefits of having later TTC access and extensions of liquor permits for the evening. It would be great if these businesses had to pay a fee or percentage of profits to be associated with the night and to have the access and exposure, which is granted to them through Nuit Blanche.

Overall I my message/rant is that were we to go forward with a Biennale, there should be a greater consideration for financial support. In light of recent criticisms of financial allocations in major Toronto orgs I think the subject was glazed over a little in the talks, but the “Top Down” issue is really prevalent.

For those criticizing the idea of having the panel in the first place- I think it is important as the first steps to a "healthier scene". It would be great to have more such town-hall-style events, but there has to be real transparency about these issues.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey all,

Gabby, I hope you got a flight! I appreciate your observation that these types of complaints can exist in Vancouver as well. And I'm reminded that I really need to read up on Fillip and Pyramid Power! I trust you on your assessment that maybe it's the openly critical dialogue that can make a big difference. I don't know about gut wrenching as something I'm really concerned about, but honesty, definitely, yes.

Gareth, thanks for reposting this elsewhere -- I'm glad you found it helpful. I also hadn't considered your point about the mayor's office and the upcoming municipal election. You are definitely correct when you note Miller has been very interested in supporting the arts, something I likely take for granted because I wasn't here during the Lastman years or prior. Do you know if anything's happening with that Vote for the Arts initiative that came out a while back? Or are there other initiatives developing (maybe the Department of Culture is working on that front?)

Anonymous, I hear your fed-upness, I think a lot of people share that feeling albeit maybe for different reasons. I'm kind of glad though that things aren't immediately "forging ahead" with a mystery $40 mil or $25 mil appearing from the province to be funnelled... where exactly? I like the idea of at least attempting accountability and dialogue. The Lachapelle mural you're referring to I haven't seen yet but it's part of Contact, a fest I really like for its public installations and access initiatives. I'll see if I like it in person though!

Timothy, overall I'm really glad to hear you're making art and focusing in that direction. In the end, that's the main reason to keep going, no?

Leah Sandals said...


Thanks for your comments. I think my last comments was posted just as yours was being posted, hence the omission.

Yes, the issue of underpaid labour is a very problematic one in these festivals and in the arts in general. On the one hand, I totally salute volunteer workers who want to contribute to the community. On the other, those with expertise contributing to an event should be paid fairly.

I too am concerned with the way money has been spent thus far in our festivals and institutions, and agree with you that more transparency is needed on these fronts.

L.M. said...

Stanzie's comment is right on the money. It's an aspect of nuit blanche that enrages me. (As an artist I have no problem spending untold hours supporting other artists, and those efforts have been reciprocated.) But I'm appalled by the tiny fees paid to most of the participating artists to ensure a huge volume of work that ultimately benefits the sponsors of the event. We all know that the marquee names that are brought in do not go out of pocket to participate.

Will a biennial be another big event directly subsidized by Toronto artists?

Leah Sandals said...

LM - ditto on that question. Could budgets be made more transparent for our existing arts fests? That might help some people understand this concern.

Also, just wanted to post a release from Harbourfront Centre that followed up on the biennial panel. It says the forum's own report will be out by end of May:

Philip Monk said...

Leah, your notetaking was pretty good until you came to what I said about criticism. I was careful to distinguish between published criticism and what takes place in public. Since your notes have set off chains of comments in other blogs, here is what I said: "When it comes to criticism—and I mean not what is published but what purports to be a public discourse, that is, as what takes place in public—frankly, this critical discourse in Toronto today is at a juvenile level. Ju-ven-ile! It’s embarrassing." (Imagine "ju-ven-ile" said as Penelope Cruz says "gen-i-us" in the film "Vicky Cristina Barcelona.") If you want an example, think of Nadja Sayej's performance at the Alliance of Toronto Art Critics "Bring It" panel.

Leah Sandals said...

Hi Philip,

Thanks for the clarification (enunciation points included!).

I didn't mean to create confusion around this point -- what I took notes on was what came across to me, and I suspect I wasn't the only person who took your comments that way.

At the same time, I can appreciate that the videotape of the proceedings will reflect the factual error in these notes (funny to refer to videotape evidence in this context, but I'm glad for it and hope it streams soon to give people a wider picture of the whole day!)

I will edit this post to indicate that you meant the comments in a particular way, and that readers can look to your comments here for details.

As for your specific mention of the Bring It panel, I have to say I was fine with Sayej's approach there. (Then again, I'm biased, having been on the panel.) There's a couple of Artstars videos that have gone "too far" for me, like the MKG127 episode, which I've noted over at Sally & LM's blog. But overall, I appreciate the sense of energy Sayej has brought to the idea of a critical dialogue. I also appreciate her covering some of the "behind the scenes" of the art world -- stuff that is quite primary to some people's experience of art and the art world. Also, the videos are a little more about the sociology of the art world than what we usually see out there. Of course, it's all heavily inflected by Sayej's personal beliefs about same. But I'll continue to watch her work and see what happens.

Are there any other instances of this disappointing critical dialogue that you're thinking of in particular? More details could be helpful to others in terms of understanding exactly what you meant at the panel.

Earl Miller said...

I didn't attend the biennial panel, but from reading about it in Canadian Art and here, and from eye and ear witnesses, it wasn't really about biennials but about the much larger issue of Toronto being a backwater, proven, according to Canadian art, by our pride in reading the New York Times (I stand guilty of that, but it is only online, so I am not sure if I am an inbred provincial or not, according to that magazine's sophisticated standards).

While a biennial needs a context, The "Toronto problem" is not one I see worth pursuing. The debate will go on forever and too often already has taken the form of empty whining. It is like the "world class" debate in the mainstream press - circular, unnuanced and boring. And fruitless.

Imagine, for instance, in the late 19th century when the Venice Biennale began, if it had to be determined if Venice was a significant art centre, and if the bienniale would reflect the local scene before the show got off the ground. There still would be no biennale. Some may want it that way, but I digress. Just either have one or don't - or at least limit the preceding discussion to topics that are finite.

amy fung said...

fascinating. sort of.