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Eco-activist Attacks at Art Museums Ask us to Decide What We Value – University of Guelph News



By Dr. Sally Hickson, School of Fine Art and Music 

This article is republished from The Conversation Canada under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

In the last few weeks, climate change activists have perpetrated various acts of reversible vandalism against famous works of art in public galleries.

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In the latest incident on Oct. 27, two men entered the Mauritshuis gallery in the Hague. After taking off their jackets to reveal t-shirts printed with anti-oil slogans, one proceeded to glue his head to glass overtop Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, while the other bathed the head of his partner-in-crime with what appeared to be tinned tomatoes before gluing his own hand to the wall adjacent to the painting.

This was just the latest in a series of similar art attacks that have peppered the news.

The motivation of the eco-activists involved is to draw attention to the crisis of climate change, the role of big oil in hastening the deterioration of the environment and the necessity to save our planet.

By attacking a famous and high-value cultural target like Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring — it even starred in its own movie — the protesters are asking us to examine our values.

Big oil protests

Close-up of Dr. Sally Hickson
Dr. Sally Hickson

The first Vermeer painting to come to auction for almost 80 years sold for almost $40 million in 2004. Today a Vermeer (there are not that many) could easily be valued at twice that. Whether you like Vermeer or not, the monetary value of the targets under attack enhances the sheer audacity and shock value of the current art attacks.

The eco-activists want to appear to desecrate something that people associate with value and with culture. Their point is that if we don’t have a planet, we’ll lose all the things in it that we seem to value more.

As activist Phoebe Plummer of Just Stop Oil told NPR after being involved in the attack on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at London’s National Gallery:

“Since October, we have been engaging in disruptive acts all around London because right now what is missing to make this change is political will. So our action in particular was a media-grabbing action to get people talking, not just about what we did, but why we did it.”

Note, the idea is disruption, not destruction. As acts designed for shock value, the activists did draw immediate public attention.

Attacking art

By staging their attacks in public galleries, where the majority of visitors carry cell phones, activists could be assured film and photos of the incidents would draw immediate attention. By sticking to non-corrosive substances and mitigating damage to the works under attack, they don’t draw the kind of public ire that wilful destruction would evoke.

In recent news, attacking art as a form of public protest has largely been limited to public monuments outside the gallery space, like the destruction and removal of Confederate or colonial statues.

But it’s also true that works of museum art have come under attack before. Over the course of its history, Rembrandt’s Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was stabbed in two separate incidents in 1911 and 1975; in 1990, it was sprayed with acid; but all of those attacks were ascribed to individuals with unclear and less clearly rational motives.

I see a few issues at stake with assessing what these recent art attacks could mean.

1. How effective is the messaging?

The activists have been articulate about their objectives, but those objectives haven’t been obvious to everyone who sees via social media, but doesn’t stick around to hear the explanation. When a broad range of media outlets all perceive the need to publish editorials on why eco activists are targeting art, something is getting lost in translation.

People see the endangerment of the works of art, but may ascribe that to the activists, not to the planetary erosion wrought by climate change. I don’t think everyone is getting the message.

2. Possible misplaced outrage

The incidents up until now have been pretty effective and harmless acts. But what if something is irreparably damaged? People will be outraged, but they’ll still be outraged about the art, not about the planet.

And while there will be a call for stiff prison sentences, precedent suggests that’s an unlikely outcome.

A man who damaged a Picasso valued at $26 million USD at the Tate Modern in London in 2020 was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

3. Violation of public trust

The third effect is what I consider a violation of the public trust, and this gives me pause. Works of art, even the most famous ones, lead precarious lives of constant endangerment; war, weather, fire, floods. The protesters are destabilizing the idea that public galleries are “safe” spaces for works of art, held in public trust.

As fari nzinga, inaugural curator of academic engagement and special projects at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY, pointed out in a 2016 paper:

“The museum doesn’t serve the public trust simply by displaying art for its members, it does so by keeping and caring for the art on behalf of a greater community of members and non¬members alike, preserving it for future generations to study and enjoy.”

Right now these acts, no matter how well-intentioned, could lead to increased security and more limited access, making galleries prisons for art rather than places for people.

At the same time, part of the activsts’ point is that economy that sustains big oil is entwined with arts infrastructure and the art market.

The pandemic taught us, I think, that art could be the thing we share that saves us; think of people during quarantine in Italy singing opera together from their balconies.

Eco-activists engaged in performance protests ask us to question our public institutions and make us accountable for what they, and we, value. Their climate activism is dedicated to our shared fate.

If you’re willing to fight for the protection of art, maybe you’re willing to fight to protect the planet.

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‘Amazing’ art, dance program a hit for local seniors (3 photos)



The Orillia and District Arts Council (ODAC) has married dance, visual art, and art history in a comprehensive new arts program created specifically for local seniors.

The HeARTS (Helping Elders with ARTS) program is held every Tuesday and Thursday at St. James’ Anglican Church; the goal is to get participants’ bodies moving before trying their hand at various disciplines of art.

The 26-week program began in September after ODAC secured federal government funding earlier this year, and each lesson includes a dance component, supplementary lectures on the session’s artistic theme, and — of course — the opportunity to create art.

Organizers offer a wide-ranging variety of programming and artistic styles for the participants to learn about, ranging from Picasso-inspired self portraits, to re-creations of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, Japanese Suminigashi marbling, and more.

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An “intelligent” approach was brought to the program, organizers say, adding they hope to give seniors legitimate opportunities to explore their artistic sides, as well as the opportunity to self-reflect.

“It (isn’t) juvenile, like arts and crafts. We wanted to do something intelligent and fresh, and have something that seniors could be excited to come to weekly,” said HeARTS art facilitator Sukhi Kaur.

“They’re taken on a journey of self-reflection that they get to explore through different art techniques, and different artists and activities,” Kaur said. “By the end, they’ll hopefully create a small body of work that represents their time here, as well as connecting to the memories that the art prompts are supposed to bring up, and they have the opportunity to share that with new people.”

Each session’s programming is designed to tie into a specific theme, Kaur said, noting those themes are guided by participant feedback. For example, a dance session based in mirroring was included with a lecture on Picasso before participants painted their own self portraits.

A variety of guest artists — and even a harp player during the Vincent Van Gogh session — have been brought to the program to enrich its sessions.

Above all, however, the program offers the opportunity for seniors to have fun and socialize.

“We were hoping that it would be an opportunity post-COVID for seniors to socialize,” Kaur said. “They come here for art, and they come here for dance, but they get to talk about their week. There’s been some new friendships made here that I’ve got to watch flourish over the weeks.”

The idea is catching on.

“Our board made a decision some time back that we wanted to be more socially involved with vulnerable or underrepresented groups, and we thought seniors would be a good fit,” said ODAC board secretary Christine Hager.

“It was a slow start … but now it’s catching people by word of mouth. They are telling other people what’s going on here, and they’re having a lot of fun — that’s the main thing.”

So far, the program has been a success, with one participant celebrating it as “an amazing get together for seniors” that got her out of a rut through COVID-19.

“It gives us something to look forward to, shows us our cognitive abilities, and motivates us to do better than we thought we could do,” said Donna Howlett.

“I love the dance class — just hearing the music has brought me back to my childhood, and the art class is so interesting. I did not know that I had some talent there,” said Maryann Van Arem.

Miriam Goldberger, the program’s dance instructor, said she enthusiastically joined the program when she learned it would incorporate multiple styles of art, and highlighted the importance of movement for both physical health and creating the right mindset to engage with art.

“Movement and physical activity prevent serious physical and mental and emotional decline of seniors,” she explained. “It also really lubricates all the creativity and the social goals that happen with the other part of the program.”

“They’re relaxed, they’re comfortable with themselves, they’re feeling positive,” she said. “They’re open to new things.”

Beyond offering arts programming to seniors, the HeARTS program also serves as a placement opportunity for Georgian College Social Service Worker students.

Program volunteer Joan Berndt said the addition of these students is “incredibly beneficial” to breaking down stigma surrounding seniors.

“The addition of social work students is incredibly beneficial because they don’t get frontline experience when they’re in school,” Berndt said. “They learn about seniors, (and) there is a discrimination in some younger people, that they don’t want to work for seniors, but they’re meeting some fabulous seniors, and it’s working.”

The HeARTS program is offered to local seniors free of charge. It takes place at St. James’ Anglican Church, every Tuesday and Thursday, with a drop-in session from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with dance and arts programming taking place from 1 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Organizers are hoping to secure funding to continue the program following its current 26-week run.

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Christmas-themed “One Man Art Show” at Evergreen Park



This will be his second show in the Chuckwagon room at the TARA Centre, which he thoroughly enjoys, having fallen in love with it during his last show in the fall.

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” It’s so perfect (Evergreen Park) has so much room there to park and the room is just the perfect size, and like you said the light shows out there and stuff, the whole thing has such a nice Christmas feel to it, they’ve had so many events over there lately here with the Christmas theme. It just fits in perfectly, again, with my niche and stuff I couldn’t imagine a better location to do this,” said McCaffrey.

He does expect a bigger crowd for this time round after his last “One Man Art Show” took place at the start of hunting season, which is a big chunk of his target demographic.

“They’ll be a little bit of new stuff, but mostly stuff that was already there in September, but there were a lot of people that didn’t get a chance to come to the show in September because of hunting season and different stuff like that, and I thought Christmas would be another opportunity for those people to come out.”

McCaffrey says among the stuff he’s bringing back from the September show is a piece not for sale. It is a portrait of his granddaughter that he enjoys and just likes to show off to the community.

McCaffrey’s “One Man Art Show” runs December 7, and 8, starting at noon until 9 p.m. both days, at Evergreen Park in the TARA Centre, inside of the Chuckwagon Room.

If you want to browse McCaffrey’s collection online, click here.

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The Ottawa Art Gallery and The Ottawa Hospital select winners of the TRIAS Art Prize – The Ottawa Hospital





The winning artwork will be displayed at The Ottawa Hospital campuses as a way of enhancing wellness through art.

OTTAWA – December 6, 2022 – The Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) and The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) have selected the winners of the 2022 TRIAS Art Prize. This included five prizes in three categories.

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  • Art and Science Residency winner: Svetlana Swinimer
  • Indigenous and Inuit Healing Art Award winner: Koomuatuk (Kuzy) Curley, Sikusilingmiut
    • Honourable Mention: Christine Toulouse, Courage
  • Art as Healing winner: Andrew Morrow, Neither Brightly Lit Nor Completely Enlightened
    • Honourable Mention: Jovita Akahome, Soul

TRIAS Art Prize is a juried art competition that intersects art, science, medicine, and community. All winning artwork will be displayed at The Ottawa Hospital with the aim of enhancing care through restorative art, engaging the community, and supporting artists from Ottawa, Eastern Ontario, Western Quebec, and Nunavut.

“They say all good things come in threes and the TRIAS Art Prize program is no exception, bringing together Art, Health and Community, through three great prize categories, that demonstrate the power of working together to bring about positive change. We are appreciative of the artists who submitted and of the jury who were challenged to choose from over 130 applications!” expressed Alexandra Badzak, Director and Chief Executive Officer at the Ottawa Art Gallery.

“We are grateful to our partners at the OAG for the opportunity to combine art, science, and medicine to help us create a hospital environment that is reflective of the diverse community we serve while showcasing TOH’s core values of research, medical care, and healing,” said Joanne Read, Chief Planning and Development Officer at The Ottawa Hospital. “Congratulations to the winners of this year’s TRIAS Art Prize.”

TRIAS Art Award is part of the Creative Wellbeing program, a city-building initiative connecting artists and communities with hospital researchers and clinicians to create original works of art to enhance hospital spaces. Creative Wellbeing aims to increase awareness of patient care at The Ottawa Hospital, incorporate art as part of the patient experience, and further develop art as therapy programming.

Ottawa residents Jennifer Toby and Dr. François Auclair, who have been integral to Creative Wellbeing since its inception, have provided the inaugural funding for the awards. The Indigenous and Inuit Healing Art Honourable Mention prize is provided by The Lawson Foundation.

For media inquiries or to book an interview:

Ottawa Art Gallery:

Véronique Couillard
Officer, Media, Public and Francophone Relations
613-233-8699 +244

The Ottawa Hospital:

Rebecca Abelson

Media Relations Officer


About the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG)

The Ottawa Art Gallery is situated on traditional Anishinābe Aki and is Ottawa’s municipal art gallery and cultural hub. Located in Ottawa’s downtown core, the expanded Gallery is a contemporary luminous cube designed by KPMB Architects and Régis Côté et associés.

About The Ottawa Hospital (TOH)

The Ottawa Hospital is committed to providing each patient with the world-class care, exceptional service and compassion that they would want for their loved ones. Over their three campuses, they serve tens of thousands of patients in Ottawa and the surrounding area each year. They rank 5th in Canada for total research funding and published over 2,200 research papers in 2019. As one of the largest research hospitals throughout the country, they are constantly innovating and providing new insight into the healthcare sector.

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