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Roots of inaugural Peterborough Arts Awards run deep in the community

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At the sold-out Mayor’s Luncheon for the Arts on May 25, 2018, the inaugural Peterborough Arts Awards will be presented to recognize outstanding achievement in the arts. The awards were conceived by the late Liz Bierk and Sue Ditta (second from left), championed by LLF Lawyers partner and photographer Bill Lockington (front centre), and have been sponsored over five years by (from left to right) Merit Realty Limited (represented by by Shelley Barrie), BrandHealth (represented by Paul Hickey), Kate and Alex Ramsay (represnted by Kate Ramsay, behind Bill Lockington), and Betty and Bill Morris (represented by Betty Morris). Also pictured are Bill Kimball of Public Energy (the charitable trustee for the Peterborough Arts Awards) and writer and performer Kate Story. Not pictured: sponsor Paul Bennett of Ashburnam Realty. (Photo: Tammy Thorne / kawarthaNOW.com)

At the Mayor’s Luncheon for the Arts on May 25th, the Peterborough Arts Awards, which recognize outstanding achievement in the local arts community, will be presented for the first time.

While these are the inaugural awards, their roots run deep in the community.

Su Ditta, executive director of the Electric City Culture Council (EC3), recalls how she and Liz Bierk — the wife of renowned local artist David Bierk — first came up with the idea of awards to recognize the arts community.

“Liz and I originally recommended to the City that arts awards be established as a legacy project,” Su says.

“I recall a summer day in 2005 in Liz’s backyard where she, Randy Read (artistic director of New Stages Peterborough), and I talked about arts awards. Liz took notes and typed them up. I saved them and we still use those as our core messages for material in organizing this event.”

Liz passed away in 2006 at the age of 52, four years after her husband, but her legacy lives on in through the Bierk Art Fund, Community Foundation of Peterborough, established in 2006 to honour her memory and celebrate her life as a patron and advocate of the arts. Six of the Bierk’s seven children, including local artist Alex Bierk, are involved in the arts and music.

The late Liz Bierk with her husband, the late renowned artist David Bierk, in an undated photo. Liz and Su Ditta conceived of the arts awards in 2005, a year before Liz passed away.
The late Liz Bierk with her husband, the late renowned artist David Bierk, in an undated photo. Liz and Su Ditta conceived of the arts awards in 2005, a year before Liz passed away.

While she and Liz conceived of the awards, Su is quick to point out the Bill Lockington — a partner in LLF Lawyers, a photographer and photography teacher, and co-founder of the SPARK Photo Festival — quickly became their champion.

“Around four years ago at the time that EC3 was becoming established, Bill Kimball (of Public Energy) and I visited Bill (Lockington) to explore the idea of the arts awards,” Su recalls. “He immediately agreed and accepted the role of establishing sponsorship of the awards.”

“We had been involved together in the establishment of the Community Foundation of Peterborough where one of the pillars was arts and culture,” Bill adds. “About nine months ago, we got really serious about the awards, we set a date, and EC3 and Su established the criteria and core awards.”

EC3 executive director Sue Ditta with awards champion Bill Lockington of LLF Lawyers at the announcement of the inaugural Peterborough Arts Awards, held March 15, 2018 at Art Gallery of Peterborough. (Photo: Tammy Thorne / kawarthaNOW.com)
EC3 executive director Sue Ditta with awards champion Bill Lockington of LLF Lawyers at the announcement of the inaugural Peterborough Arts Awards, held March 15, 2018 at Art Gallery of Peterborough. (Photo: Tammy Thorne / kawarthaNOW.com)

Six awards of $2,000 each will be presented for artists at the early, middle, and late stages of their careers and for an oustanding Indigenous artist, along with two awards to recognize supporters and faciltators of the arts.

EC3, which is administering the awards, has received more than 50 nominations.

“We have an abundance of creative talent in this community,” Bill says. “What was missing was the recognition — an acknowledgment of the importance of the arts and a recognition of our arts excellence.”

The inaugural Peterborough Arts Awards will be presented during the Mayor's Luncheon for the Arts on May 25, 2018. (Graphic: Electric City Culture Council)
The inaugural Peterborough Arts Awards will be presented during the Mayor’s Luncheon for the Arts on May 25, 2018. (Graphic: Electric City Culture Council)

Bill, who points out that almost every community in Canada has an event that recognizes the contribution of the arts, took on the role of organizing the sponsorship of the awards. His goal was to establish a solid foundation of sponsorship for five years to allow room for the awards to grow.

“I had a list of ten businesses and patrons to approach,” he recalls. “Within three days I had received all affirmative responses. We had sponsorship of six awards for five years at a level of $60,000, and we have a sponsor of the event at $10,000. The awards will be self-sustaining for five years.”

“It’s also important that we demonstrate municipal leadership, and we have that through the support of the Mayor and a personal donation.”

The six awards, with their six sponsors, are as follows:

  • Outstanding Emerging Artist, sponsored by Merit Realty Limited
  • Outstanding Mid-Career Artist, sponsored by Betty and Bill Morris
  • Outstanding Senior Artist, sponsored by BrandHealth
  • Outstanding Achievement by an Indigenous Artist, sponsored by LLF Lawyers
  • Arts Champion, sponsored by Ashburnham Realty
  • Arts Catalyst, sponsored by Kate and Alex Ramsay
Peterborough artist and graphic designer Jeff Macklin is creating letterpress certificates for the inaugural Peterborough Arts Awards.  (Photo: Jeff Macklin / Facebook)
Peterborough artist and graphic designer Jeff Macklin is creating letterpress certificates for the inaugural Peterborough Arts Awards. (Photo: Jeff Macklin / Facebook)

Appropriately enough, the physical awards are being created by letterpress artist and graphic designer Jeff Macklin of Jackson Creek Press.

“They are letterpress certificates,” Su says. “We felt that it was important to be presenting a work of art by an artist.”

In addition to the awards themselves, The Mayor’s Luncheon for the Arts is sponsored by Daryl Bennett: The Liftlock Group, Lett Architects, Basterfield and Associates Landscape Architects, Cherney Properties, and kawarthaNOW.com, with the Office of the Mayor, LLF Lawyers, Monkman Gracie & Johnston Insurance Brokers, BrandHealth and Engage Engineering Ltd. all as table sponsors. Public Energy Performing Arts is the charitable trustee for the Peterborough Arts Awards.

We asked Bill why he thinks it’s important to recognize artists and their contribution to the community.

“The arts are the most underestimated driver of economic development,” he says. “The arts are a huge driver in economic development. People come to our community to attend concerts, performances, to attend openings and studio tours — there is no doubt that the arts are a driver of development.

“Secondly, the value to our citizens is tangible. We enjoy our community more. Our lifestyle is enriched with support of arts and culture.”

Wanda Nanibush, Curator of Indigenous Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, will be the guest speaker at the Mayor's Luncheon for the Arts on May 25, 2018, where the inaugural Peterborough Arts Awards will be presented. (Photo: Andrew Williamson)
Wanda Nanibush, Curator of Indigenous Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, will be the guest speaker at the Mayor’s Luncheon for the Arts on May 25, 2018, where the inaugural Peterborough Arts Awards will be presented. (Photo: Andrew Williamson)

The Mayor’s Luncheon for the Arts takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, May 25th at McDonnel St. Activity Centre (577 McDonnel St, Peterborough). Along with the awards presentation, the luncheon features guest speaker Wanda Nanibush, Curator of Indigenous Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The event is sold out; if you want to be added to a waiting list, email electriccitycc@gmail.com.

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Another arts group faces a curious tradition – having the rug pulled out from under its expansion plans in Montreal

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On paper, Valérie Plante should be the most museum-friendly mayor Montreal has ever had. She is a trained museologist, who worked at the Musée d’art contemporain (MAC) before entering politics. She had a homecoming of sorts in April, as she and other politicians assembled at the MAC to fête its $44.7-million renovation plan.

Last week, however, the mayor revealed that a plot of land earmarked five years ago for a McCord Museum expansion would instead become a small park. The museum has spent more than $250,000 on needs and site assessments for the project near Place des Arts, for which Toronto philanthropist Emmanuelle Gattuso has pledged $15-million.

A 2017 exhibit at The McCord Museum in Montreal.

Marilyn Aitken/Mccord museum

The mayor said the change was necessary because a nearby plot of privately owned green space would likely soon be filled with another glass tower. Her decision is apparently final, although she promised to help the museum look for another site.

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That pledge was sure to provoke a hollow laugh from anyone who knows the hazing ritual that Montreal often inflicts on arts institutions seeking new digs. The pattern is simple: A site is found, plans are made, and then the land and related promises vanish like a fairyland castle. Repeat to the point of exhaustion, or beyond.

The MAC spent 16 years searching for a way to escape or enlarge its boxy building at the southwest corner of Place des Arts. At one point, it even considered a move into the Old Port’s derelict Silo No. 5 – an infamous black hole for redevelopment schemes that never happen.

Incredibly, when MAC was founded in 1964, it had no permanent quarters at all. It spent its first three decades moving from one temporary site to another. Apart from a brief honeymoon period after its current galleries opened in 1992, the museum has spent its entire half-century of life looking for a decent home.

The Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO) spent 30 years angling for a proper symphony hall. Six times it found a site, lined up backers and made plans, and each time ended up with nothing. When the seventh plan was announced in 2006, Quebec’s minister of culture felt obliged to say, “Cette fois-ci, c’est la bonne” – this time, it’s for real. Five years later, her words were proven true, as the MSO played its first concert at la Maison symphonique.

Several of the orchestra’s blown chances occurred after an election changed the faces in power. When Jean Doré replaced Jean Drapeau in the mayor’s office in 1986, for example, he announced that the site approved by his predecessor for a symphony hall would instead become a park.

Ms. Plante’s reprise of the same tune 32 years later couldn’t come at a worse time for the McCord. Since the land was promised five years ago by her predecessor Denis Coderre, the museum’s activities have expanded in every way. It merged with the Stewart Museum in 2013 and with the Fashion Museum in January. According to its latest annual report, McCord attendance in 2016-2017 rose by 25 per cent over the previous year, revenue went up 37 per cent and membership jumped 150 per cent.

McCord president and CEO Suzanne Sauvage says the museum can display only 1 per cent of its collections at any time – the norm among museums is 5 or 6 per cent – and can no longer accept donations of objects. There’s just no room left in its current quarters on Sherbrooke Street West.

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The museum holds large and important collections of Indigenous objects, photographs and costumes. All those collections would have been featured in the planned second building, say Ms. Sauvage, which would have doubled the McCord’s space.

The museum’s return to square one does not bode well for other things that were running in its favour. Ms. Gattuso’s $15-million pledge is still on the table, but Ms. Sauvage is understandably nervous about what may happen to it if there’s a long delay in finding a new site.

The clock is ticking, Ms. Plante. Can you hear it?

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Corner Brook artist humbled by arts residency

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Meagan Musseau is excited about an opportunity to connect with a community of her peers while fostering her own creative ideas as an emerging artist.

The Corner Brook interdisciplinary artist, a graduate of the Fine Arts (visual) Program at Grenfell Campus, has been awarded the 2018 Emerging Atlantic Canada Artist Residency at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

During her eight-week residency, Musseau will have full access to studios, digital art facilities and interaction with a lare community of her peers in a self-directed environment where she will be foster her own ideas and create new pieces of work.

“I am super excited to receive the news and very humbled by it,” Musseau said earlier this week.

One of the neat things about the experience that wasn’t known to her until she was notified about winning the award was that her residency would culminate with a public speaking tour across Canada. It’s purpose is to connect east with west and it will allow her to talk about the Bannf Centre and showcase her work to the world.

The residency, made possible through a partnership between the Banff Centre, the Hnatyshyn Foundation and the Harrison McCain Foundation, is something Musseau views as a great avenue to extend her work and network with those who share a common thread.

More importantly, she views it as a huge responsibility to take on a public speaking tour — not something she would ever undertake lightly because she’s thankful for what’s being presented to her as an emerging artist.

“I need to put in the work so that when I travel and make my new work I’m doing a good job,” she said.

During the residency, Musseau will create a new body of work titled “Necklaces Were Born.” Likely a performance or installation-based body of work, this is her response to a collection of Beothuk caribou bone pendants she came across during a visit at The Rooms provincial archives in St. John’s.

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Women in the Arts: Iwona Blazwick

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For this series celebrating women in the arts, the Director of Whitechapel Gallery, London, discusses being a curator in the 1980s and the experiences that have shaped her understanding of gender in the workplace 

As you were starting out in the arts, what were the possibilities for mentorship, collaboration and cross-generational engagement among women?

When I was a baby curator in the 1980s I entered a bright new era of feminist awareness ushered in by figures like my then boss, Sandy Nairne, director of exhibitions at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), and the ICA’s public programmes organizer, Lisa Appignanesi. In 1980, Sandy presented a trilogy of exhibitions featuring work by women artists – ‘Issue’, curated by Lucy Lippard, ‘About Time’ and ‘Women’s Image of Men’, both curated by Joyce Agee, Catherine Elwes, Jacqueline Morreau and Pat Whiteread. I had been educated at a convent school and my mother was a practising architect, so I was blissfully ignorant of sexism. Those shows were consciousness raising – it dawned on to me to ask why there had been no women artists included in my art history studies? Why were they absent from commercial galleries, museum collections, exhibitions programmes? At that moment, I also understood that exclusion is the mother of invention – women were pioneering video, performance, photography and installation. Lisa organized events that created the intellectual framework for this new avant garde. She put together conferences on issues of postmodernism, identity, cultural theory, desire. She invited speakers like Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Annette Michelson and Laura Mulvey – it was mind blowing. 

Other shining lights for me were artists such as Judith Barry, Katharina Fritsch, Rose Garrard, Jenny Holzer, Mary Kelly, Barbara Kruger, Connie Parker, Martha Rosler, Cindy Sherman, Rosemarie Trockel and Nancy Spero. And then of course there was the full frontal assault of the Guerrilla Girls. Curatorial colleagues began to have their voices heard, including Carolyn Christov Bakargiev with whom I maintain an ever-inspiring dialogue. Later, exhibitions such as Cathy de Zeiger’s ‘Inside the Visible’ shown at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1996, Catherine David’s documenta X of 1997 and, of course, ‘WACK!’ curated at LA MOCA by Connie Butler in 2007 all expanded our horizons. 

I think we should also pay tribute to some great gallerists like Maureen Paley, Monica Sprüth and Janelle Reiring and Helen Winer of Metro Pictures who all represented young women artists in the 1980s. Monica also published the magazine Eau de Cologne, which provided an incredible platform for women across the profession. 

What, if any, were the difficulties of embarking on a career in the arts as a woman?

Professional life for us facilitators – curators, producers, gallerists, publishers, editors – has been easier than for artists. Until the mid-20th century, the very notion of creativity was designated as masculine, so female artists have had to overcome millennia of being dismissed, neglected or silenced. What is remarkable is their tenacity and invention. However there will always be push back, the return of the repressed. Why have curators like Anna Coliva, Ann Goldstein and Cathy de Zegher been hounded by the press and the authorities? 

What specific experiences have you had that shaped your understanding of gender in the workplace, the media and the arts?

I was very lucky to run an artist’s space called the AIR Gallery in the mid 1980s where we pretty much had autonomy. There were just three of us and we did everything so there was no chance of a hierarchy. And the ICA, where I worked until the 1990s, was like being part of a visionary graduate programme where exhibitions, talks and publications came together to generate a post-patriarchal sensibility. Rather than the ossified and hermetic institutional structure that typified so many museums and galleries in the 20th century, I believe in a porous structure where organizations expose their staff and their publics to guest artists, thinkers, activists, poets who offer new perspectives and radical propositions. 

What has changed today?

Those artists for whom identity is not their subject have become liberated from the burden of representation. I am also proud our Max Mara Award for Women Artists has enabled women with young kids to undertake travel, research and new commissions. I think visual art along with literature are currently the most progressive cultural forms. This year’s BAFTAs didn’t recognise a single female director. In 2016, the BBC’s Proms featured 8 women out of 124 composers. Clare Foy, playing the lead role in the Neflix drama The Crown, was paid less than Matt Smith, who played her consort. The struggle continues. 

I hope that the presence of female artists in art biennales, international exchange programmes and digital platforms will inspire women in regions where religious and social orthodoxy demand their invisibility and their silence to assert their freedom. 

What are your thoughts about #Metoo and other initiatives to call attention to sexual harassment?

At last there is some immediate and communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo. 

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