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Why I signed the “Visual Arts Professionals in favour of a new Vancouver Art Gallery” petition

I am not one of the “impressive names”i that signed the “Visual Arts Professionals in favour of a new Vancouver Art Gallery” petitionii, however I did sign it sincerely, as an independent Curator/Programmer; and as a citizen of Vancouver concerned about the future of all publicly funded, independent arts institutions in Vancouver. 

When I was sent an invitation to support this petition, I, like many others, was apprehensive about minimizing our statement of solidarity to focus on a new “iconic” building, and solely entrusting Kathleen Bartels and the VAG’s Board of Trustees, with its vision. However, I signed the petition because the building and the cultural workers that support the institution, symbolically represent public visual art and culture.

I signed the petition because it is important to me is that the VAG maintains its curatorial autonomy, and remains a public art institution, entrusted to the citizens of Vancouver, as is articulated in its namesake. It is important to me that the gallery operates independently of the artistic influence of corporate investors, developers, private collectors, or donors; and refuses to offer naming rights as investment collateral.

I signed the petition because I support Vancouver’s largest public art gallery to have above-adequate conditions for housing and exhibiting its collection. And yet I also advocate for it to have: sufficient conditions to develop education programs for children, youth and adults; a variety of spaces and infrastructure to foster experimental and speculative exhibitions and public programming; a visible and accessible library and archive; an accessibility mandate for addressing social and economic barriers; stable and respectful human resource and labour practices; initiatives to collaborate with, and mutually support Vancouver’s constellation of museums, contemporary art galleries, artist-run centres, and community projects; and a curatorial philosophy that articulates Vancouver’s historic and contemporary art production and discourse, as part of a weave of global visual art cultures. I do not advocate for these terms to be observed by the Vancouver Art Gallery alone. I propose these points as a road map for assessing the sincerity and value of any proposed public visual art institution.

I signed the petition because I counter positions that believe the Vancouver Art Gallery is a “single star in an empty sky”iv. Visual artists and visual art professionals in Vancouver understand the VAG as one star within an already vibrant constellation. If the city is interested in seeding visual art culture throughout its neighborhoods, it has to look no further then the numerous contemporary art galleries and artist-run centres that have played an integral role in making Vancouver a livable and creative city for the last forty years. For example: Presentation House Gallery in North Vancouver; The Helen and Morris Belkin Gallery in Point Grey; The Contemporary Art Gallery in Downtown Vancouver, Centre A International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Chinatown; The Western Front and Grunt Gallery in Mount Pleasant; Artspeak in Gastown, and the Charles H. Scott Gallery on Granville Island. These galleries and centres also represent a dynamic ecology of specializations in photography, Indigenous art, Asian art, and interdisciplinary media, sound and performance art.

Many of these galleries need further political and financial support for facilities, operations and programming. Many do not possess stable leases or own buildings; have adequate space or funding to build public collections, archives and endowments; or boast healthy budgets for far-reaching publicity and promotions. However, I believe that collectively, wev have established a network of collaborative programming, co-presentations, mutual support, and social concern.

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