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Arts Commons accused of censorship for removing LGBTQ artist's work

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Arts Commons is being accused of censorship after it took down a public art installation due to complaints the organization said it received about nudity and coarse language.

Beck Gilmer-Osborne's three-channel video piece titled A Thousand Cuts was set to run in The New Gallery's window in a downtown Calgary +15 walkway until Sept. 28.

But instead, Arts Commons — which owns the window space that The New Gallery curates — sent the gallery a letter on Aug. 29 saying the piece would have to be edited to remove the objectionable content, or it would be taken down.

"I found that kind of strange because for starters there's not really that much nudity or swearing in the piece," said Gilmer-Osborne. "I did not feel comfortable with changing the piece … so it got taken down."

I'm not necessarily saying they don't support trans or gender variant artists, but I don't feel supported in the space.– Artist Beck Gilmer-Osborne

The Montreal-based artist said there are maybe seven to eight profane words displayed in the piece, and a three-second, grainy clip is shown of a nude woman wearing a prosthetic penis.

The work is composed of clips from movies and television shows that show transgender characters portrayed by non-trans actors. It can be viewed online here.

The gallery said it also offered Gilmer-Osborne a private space to exhibit the piece instead — just not the public gallery.

Gilmer-Osborne wrote an open letter that was posted to The New Gallery's website, criticizing Arts Commons' decision.

"To Arts Commons: I implore you to deal with complaints against challenging art work (especially when the content deals with marginalized communities and bodies) in a more constructive way, rather than shutting down a conversation before it can begin," Gilmer-Osborne wrote.

The piece, which was supposed to run in The New Gallery's space in Arts Commons' +15 walkway, has been turned off. (CBC)

The window gallery is one of nine Arts Commons has provided for free to local artist-run groups to run since 1992. 

While Arts Commons owns the spaces, each gallery curates their own content.

"Arts Commons has programming agreements in place with each of our partner organizations, who curate the galleries, with the understanding the work curated is 'sensitive to the fact that the Plus 15 is a public pathway open to all ages and that viewers will experience the work without having made the choice to participate as they would upon entering a gallery,'" Arts Commons programming director Jennifer Johnson said in an emailed statement.

"While Arts Commons believes the piece, A Thousand Cuts, has merit, the language and images contained in the video and audio component are not a fit with our commitment to creating a public space for all."

The organization did not provide details about how many complaints were made, or what part of the work people found objectionable.

Not 1st time Arts Commons has 'censored' trans art

In 2006, Arts Commons — then the Epcor Centre — also was criticized for censoring a transgender artist, when the venue put up a wall in front of a Plus 15 window gallery without first speaking to the artist or gallery that curated the space.

The work, titled 'Gaylord Phoenix in the Flower Temple' by Edie Fake, depicted a cartoon of a gender-fluid man, touching his genitals — drawn as a noodle with paisley patterns. 

At the same time, posters were displayed in the same venue that depicted a photo of a nude woman, and there were nude male and female steel sculptures in the main lobby. Neither were censored.

The controversy that erupted at the time was part of Arts Commons decision to establish programming agreements with the galleries, the organization said.

Gilmer-Osborne is frustrated that instead of talking about their art — which is intended to provoke discussion about violence against transgender people by showing inauthentic representations of them in media — discussion has centred on the controversy.

"I feel like the merit of the work is, it's very important," they said.

"I'd like to see moving forward some different rules or regulations in their windows spaces so they can show confrontational work because I don't think there's anything wrong with that. The censorship is just a little exhausting."

Double-standard?

Gilmer-Osborne also questioned why their piece was censored when a controversial lecturer who has been criticized for supposedly transphobic views was allowed to speak at Arts Commons this summer.

University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson delivered a lecture at Jack Singer Concert Hall in July. 

The professor, who is also an author, has spoken out about Bill C-16, which provides protections for transgender Canadians. Peterson made headlines a few years ago when he criticized political correctness on university campuses and refused to use gender-neutral pronouns.

More than 400 artists signed a letter calling for the cancellation of the event.

"Arts Commons supported him being there based on the idea of free speech. So I find it kind of strange and a bit hypocritical … I'm not necessarily saying they don't support trans or gender variant artists, but I don't feel supported in the space," Gilmer-Osborne said.

The New Gallery director Su Ying Strang plans to meet with Arts Commons Tuesday to ask them to reconsider the decision to take down the work, but Gilmer-Osborne said they're not holding their breath.

With files from Colleen Underwood.

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Indigenous culture missing from city's proposed 10-year arts plan

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Public artwork titled, The Running Track, a large, dynamic, bold, red sculpture, sits in front of the Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre in Edmonton Alta. The sculpture stands about five metres high, is eight metres long and it weighs around 2,270 kilograms.


Ellen Hua Meng / supplied

Creators of a proposed 10-year city arts and heritage plan say the omission of specific actions relating to Indigenous culture is out of respect for that community’s autonomy, but committee heard Wednesday from a critic who is troubled by what’s missing.

The community and public services committee passed a motion that will send the plan, titled Connections and exchanges: A 10-year plan to transform arts and heritage in Edmonton, to council for approval next Tuesday.

If approved, Edmonton Arts Council executive director Sanjay Shahani said they will ask council for $5 million on Oct. 28 in order to begin their work. He said $4 million will go directly into funding through grant programs, and then further consultations will take place in 2019.


Sanjay Shahani, executive director of the Edmonton Arts Council.

supplied

“The actions are ambitious and quite far-reaching because we want to put arts and culture everywhere, and so that’s what we think we will need in order to make really good stuff,” he said.

The city’s plan for the past decade — The Art of Living — wraps up in 2018, and the new plan would map the way beyond it. The focus of the new plan would be to make art and culture initiatives accessible to everyone — in all areas of the city.

But Miranda Jimmy, a member of Thunderchild First Nation who has worked and been involved with Edmonton’s arts community for 20 years, said the document fails to go beyond “lip service” in its engagement with the Indigenous community.

“There’s no opportunity for Indigenous people to be involved, there’s no accountability for the arts council or the heritage council to involve the Indigenous community, and that’s not acceptable,” Jimmy said.


Miranda Jimmy.

She wants to see some sort of accountability to ensure that Indigenous people are involved. She said the report could have pulled actions from parts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People that relate to museums and archives, and call for funding for Indigenous artists.

The proposed plan has 55 actions, but Shahani said that the decision to not make any relating to Indigenous initiatives came about after consulting with Indigenous groups.

“We have been quite deliberate in not assuming what is needed for Indigenous artists and Indigenous communities, which is why we have a principle, which actually acknowledges that Indigenous people have their own agency and their own culture,” Shahani said. 

Shahani also said the plan is a “living” document that is designed to change over time.

Speaking after the committee meeting, Coun. Ben Henderson said that although specific recommendations relating to Indigenous involvement in the plan are absent, the commitment to work with Indigenous communities is clear.

“I think the complexity is that we don’t want to get back into a situation where it’s us saying to Indigenous people what necessarily should be their voice in there,” he said.

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Cornwall votes 2018: Arts centre? Some candidates support it, some don't

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The old Bank of Montreal building on Pitt Strret on Friday July 6, 2018 in Cornwall, Ont. The building will soon become Cornwall's new arts centre.
Lois Ann Baker/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network


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The City of Cornwall has been discussing the need for an arts and culture centre for a long time.

At one point, council had a study done which recommended an addition to the Cornwall Civic Complex to the tune of $11 million to 12 million. This is at a time when funding to The Art Gallery was eliminated. In recent years, other arts groups that received grants through the city’s budget process have also seen those amounts reduced.

Other than the city’s limited recreational programming and any arts programming offered at the Cornwall Public Library, the only consistent taxpayer support for the arts in this term of council has been for a venue: The Aultsville Theatre.

Recently, the city announced it had purchased the former Bank of Montreal building on Pitt Street with the intention of turning this into the new arts and culture centre. While some of the candidates for city council think this is a great idea, others are not so sure. Beyond that, we asked candidates what the future of arts and culture in Cornwall might look like.

Coun. Justin Towndale is one of the candidates who support the city’s decision to purchase the Pitt Street building.

“Purchasing the building was securing a viable location that will cost one third of what the original plan at the civic complex will cost,” he said. “It will also act as a draw for events and tourism.”

Todd Bennett acted as chair for the culture committee and said the committee had been working very hard to bring the arts centre to Cornwall.

“All studies show how arts centres can revitalize a city’s downtown, increase business in the area and attract tourism,” he said. “Arts and culture is a proven economic driver and certainly adds to the quality of life for our residents.”

“Our city has made remarkable strides in re-inventing itself post-Domtar and other industries and the development of an arts and culture centre is an essential facility for our community’s future,” said Coun. Elaine MacDonald.

MacDonald added the centre at the Pitt Street building will complement the privately owned Cailuan Gallery, the Cline House, OBO Studios and 125 Pitt St, all located in the downtown core.

Coun. Claude McIntosh also defended the purchase of the Pitt Street building, quoting the cost difference and the fact an expansion to the complex would eat into green space. And many candidates agreed with him, including Kelly Bergeron

“The Bank of Montreal site will enhance the downtown core and be far more visible,” he said. “The goal is to keep the operation of the centre as efficient as possible.”

McIntosh suggested one model would be to turn the operation of the centre over to the arts community, much like the city did with the curling club partnership.


Members of city council, neighbours and patrons of the art came out to celebrate the beginning of the new arts centre on Pitt Street on Thursday July 26, 2018 in Cornwall, Ont. Lois Ann Baker/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network

Lois Ann Baker /

Lois Ann Baker/Standard-Freeholder

Coun. Carilyne Hebert also said she was in support of the Pitt Street building being used for the centre.

“Cornwall has a really incredible arts community in all disciplines,” she said. “It’s time we had a dedicated home for the arts.”

Syd Gardiner is also a fan of the building being used for an arts centre.

“People want from a downtown and what visitors want from a city are great experiences,” he said. “A city that does not deliver on those expectations is not going to succeed in the highly competitive and lucrative tourist economy.”

Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy said he was 100 per cent behind the location and added there is a very active group currently fundraising to contribute to the costs that are currently unknown.

Mayoral candidate Coun. Bernadette Clement said the city has taken a strong first step towards creating a proper centre for those who will benefit from the centre.

“The arts are a vital part of our community’s health, of our tourism developments and of our economic and social development,” she said. “Working in partnership with Aultsville Hall, the centre will create jobs, add vitality to our city and will quite likely launch careers for our youth.”

Heather Megill also is in support of the BMO location.

“Cornwall is a community in the midst of change and the arts greatly enhance the richness of our lives,” she said. “Aultsville (Theatre) is a wonderful performance space for larger acts, but it is too large for smaller groups to afford to rent for community based artistic endeavours.”

Claude Poirier agreed the centre located downtown would only enhance the redevelopment of the area and contribute to a more vibrant art community, however he added it would not be easy without work and commitment of funds. He also said the project will need concrete plans before applying for government funding.


Parks and Recreation division manager Jamie Fawthrop discusses the future potential layout of the new arts and Culture centre. The City purchased the old Bank of Montreal building at 159 Pitt St. earlier this year. Photo taken on Monday August 13, 2018 in Cornwall, Ont. Marc Benoit/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network

Marc Benoit /

Marc Benoit/Standard-Freeholder

One of a number of candidates to not support the purchase of the BMO building for an arts centre is Ellen Crothers, who said she supports the centre, but not at that location.

“I think we should team up with Akwesasne and build one on the water with their culture and ours built into the building,” she said. “This way it would not cost us so much for one and look at what the building would look like with all the arts from both cultures.”

Mayoral candidate Nicole Spahich said she thought an arts centre was a duplication of Aultsville Theatre, where artists already can show their pieces.

Keith Frost said he did not think all of the options were explored, therefore he does not support the centre in its current form.

Kyle Bergeron said he felt the whole project was nothing short of a “boondoggle.”

“The previous city council bought the BMO building for $450,000 without any consultation with the public outside of the culture committee,” he said.

Bergeron added the city has not provided a business plan for the project.

“So many red flags and the city has jumped in with large amounts of money without having a plan,” he said.

He also agreed the centre is a duplication of services available elsewhere in the city.

Eric Bergeron said he does not support the arts centre that is planned.

“It doesn’t add up, and therefore I cannot support it as is,” he said.

Although he said he did support the idea of a centre downtown, but the costs didn’t make sense to him.

Alex de Wit said now the city owns the building, what is most important is how to move forward.

“I believe we need to focus our energy on the people who will use the arts centre,” he said.

The final two respondents hedged their answers, without clear indication where they stand on purchase of the building.

Coun. Denis Carr did not agree or disagree with the Pitt Street building being used for an arts centre, but rather said the arts group have to demonstrate they have the community support and are willing to commit and honour a large pledge to the project.

Glen Grant said it was difficult to answer a question on an arts centre without having all the questions answered, including what is the business and fundraising plan.

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Last year, the arts got little state money. This year, arts groups are watching.

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In March, the state slashed funding for hundreds of Florida’s arts and cultural programs by 90 percent. The dropoff came as a blow to the gut, like downsizing from two loaves of bread to one piece.

After three straight years of cuts, arts nonprofit organizations — theaters, museums, zoos, orchestras and more — are still coping with a state budget that divides $2.6 million among 489 groups. That’s down from $25 million the year before. Gov. Rick Scott cited Hurricane Irma, the Parkland school shootings and other expenses for the cuts, some of them last-minute.

But the state hasn’t fully funded arts grants since 2014, an election year. With another election weeks away, arts advocates are paying more attention and organizing a plan.

A year ago, leaders thought that applying to the state’s Department of Cultural Affairs and cooperating with months of vetting would be enough. But even groups that followed all protocols got shortchanged or left out. That meant less money for producing plays, bringing arts programs into schools or reaching young musicians around the state.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: As Florida dramatically slashes arts funding, theaters and museums scramble

“I’m not sure people understand what a cut of this magnitude does to an organization, especially the smaller organizations,” said Martine Meredith Collier, who heads the Arts Council of Hillsborough County. “This was devastating.”

The one bright spot? The slashing spurred some philanthropists to step up.

The Gobioff Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation started the Tampa Bay Arts Bridge Fund in 2018 with $100,000 each. The fund will match contributions up to its goal of nearly $2.5 million to help 32 organizations in Hillsborough and Pinellas.

But even that has been slow-going. The Bridge Fund, which bills itself as “disaster relief for the arts,” recently delayed plans to distribute the funds in this month, after reaching only 8 percent of its goal. The new distribution date is Nov. 27.

Local governments and umbrella foundations continue to chip in, some significantly. It’s a stopgap at best. Funded largely by $1 million from the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners, the Arts Council of Hillsborough County runs its own grants. This year, the council gave $300,000 to 17 local groups.

“Thank goodness we have a strong interest from the county, and the county is able to do what the state used to do,” said Jerry Bickel of Bits ‘n Pieces Puppet Theatre, which received nearly $18,956 from the council and $2,274 from the state. But the 46-year-old company, which puts on shows like Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk at elementary schools, has cut its full-time staff from five to two and cannot afford to produce new work.

Jobsite, Stageworks and Carrollwood theaters also landed Arts Council grants of around $19,000 each, a short-term lifesaver.

Public money does not flow as freely in Pinellas County, which defunded its arts council in 2010 in a round of budget cuts. The count joined forces with Creative Pinellas in 2015, and accounts for much of that nonprofit’s budget of around $550,000 a year. Creative Pinellas offers a range of grants to artists, but not enough to keep struggling organizations afloat.

Even in the windfall year 2014, when arts groups reaped more than $43 million from the state, the arts put nearly 10 times that amount into the community via jobs, tourism and tax money.

But numbers can only convey so much.

Without state funds, the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance had to cancel bookings for the National Theatre of the Deaf and a dance troupe from Tennessee.

“When we talk about dollars and impact value, people’s eyes tend to glaze over,” said John Collins, the alliance’s executive director. “The money aside, there’s a human cost.”

The challenge centers on how to boil a blizzard of statistics down to a few selling points, and getting lawmakers to notice. Creative Pinellas held a forum in August on state funding. The non-profit’s goal — to come up with a plan to sell the arts to the legislature.

For now, arts-related groups are hanging on. Jobsite Theater, the resident company of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, has raised ticket prices, reduced the number of special matinee performances for Hillsborough County school students, and launched a fund-raising campaign. Stageworks Theatre, also in Tampa, is accepting smaller gigs such as private parties.

American Stage in St. Petersburg has avoided cutting staff, as leaders had feared, thanks in part to an uptick in private donations. The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, which got shut out by the state, secured a $35,000 grant from the city to market the St. Petersburg Festival of the Arts, which runs Friday through Oct. 28.

As arts advocates bring a renewed focus to the next budget, some wonder whether the best news to come out of the last one — public generosity — could somehow backfire. Do these efforts mean the arts can survive without the state, just as the townspeople saved George from Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life?

“That is a challenge,” said Meredith Collier, who heads the Arts Council of Hillsborough County. “You have to commend them for trying to assist these organizations in these crisis times. But it’s not a fix going forward.”

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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