Kathleen Bartels arrived at her new post as executive director and CEO of the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto in April with the gallery still under lockdown. Eight months into her tenure and the Sterling Road museum is once again shut to the public.
While MOCA has learned a lot lately about how to be a museum with its doors closed, this year chock full of pauses and postponements has given the new boss plenty of time to consider what kind of museum she’s running.
“MOCA has had a wonderful history on Queen Street and in North York,” Bartels says. “Now, it’s in the new building where it’s been programming for about two years. So what is the future of MOCA? What does MOCA want to be?”
These are the big questions the museum hasn’t yet answered for itself, but which Bartels is determined to.
Since dropping the second “C” from its name (the one that stood for “Canadian”) and leaving Queen West for the Tower Automotive Building on an ambitious growth project, MOCA has wobbled out of the starting gate. The grand opening was delayed repeatedly, its programming has been scattered and turnover at the very top — four different directorships in as many years — has sapped efforts to develop an identity.
The Junction Triangle outpost has had moments when it rose to its promise but, mostly, it’s felt a bit adrift, in need of surer leadership.
Bartels joins MOCA as an experienced captain with a track record for fundraising and building audiences. (And what budding institution couldn’t use more funds or audience?) For 18 years, she was director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, where she grew its annual membership from 5,000 to 37,000 people and nearly quadrupled private donations.
She was an ardent champion for its ultra-ambitious, starchitect-designed new gallery, which awaits still more funds before shovels hit the ground, though she raised an impressive $135 million from public and private sources. Before that, the Chicago-born art administrator spent 13 years at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where she served last as assistant director.
“(MOCA) hired me for my experience,” Bartels says. “I think experience matters.”
The museum’s new board chair, Brad Keast, confirms it. “Kathleen is a visionary that understands MOCA’s potential to be an important international institution,” he says. “She has extensive experience building programs, audiences and a solid support base.”
Before the gallery closed last month, some of Bartels’ touch was perhaps beginning to shine through.
The museum’s landlord, Castlepoint, retired a $5.7-million loan, completing the museum’s $25-million capital campaign begun in 2017. Shortly after, an anonymous donor gifted $1 million earmarked for exhibitions. Then, in the days just before lockdown No. 2, MOCA opened a rollicking, fun show by the New York-based filmmaker Mika Rottenberg and was applying finishing touches to a new lobby exhibition by Taiwanese artist Michael Lin, who worked with a dozen Toronto artists.
It felt like finally the museum had gathered some momentum.
“We’re in spitting distance right now of having a balanced budget for 2020,” Bartels says, “which I’m not sure many organizations will be able to say.”
Moving forward, the program will be paramount to MOCA’s future. Bartels’ modus operandi goes like this: “build a program, raise the profile, build a broader audience.”
“Whether that’s donors, members or general visitors, it all stems from the work that you’re showing,” she says. The director wants MOCA to expand and diversify its offerings. That means more openings, more art and more types of artwork: “film, new media, architecture, design, fashion,” she lists. “Visual culture overall.”
One exhibition she’s especially excited about is scheduled to open in the spring (pending further COVID-19 restrictions).
“Greater Toronto Art 2021” will feature the work of 21 artists and creators from the GTA and surrounding areas, including for example the conceptual design team Common Accounts, Hamilton-based painter Kareem-Anthony Ferreira and the sculptor Azza El Siddique, whose work appeared recently at the Gardiner Museum. Some names, like “Wendy” comics creator Walter Scott, may be familiar, while others will be introduced to many for the first time.
Scene surveys like this have been rare in Toronto in the last decade. This vacant niche represents a space MOCA could well claim on its journey to define itself — and it is certainly an interesting time to see what the city’s artists have been up to.
“These moments allow you to think about the richness of your own community,” Bartels says. “Turning our gaze toward the local is important for MOCA in general, but particularly at this time.
“It will be an important show for all of us,” she says.
'This is too much': Art shows children's struggles during pandemic, says researcher – CTV News
A collection of children’s drawings made during the pandemic illustrates the mental toll the pandemic is taking on Canadian youth, says the researcher behind a project analyzing their artwork.
Many of the submissions by kids and teenagers on childart.ca depict people alone, haunted by shadowy spectres, or worse, their own thoughts.
Collectively, the images paint a stark picture of how the trials of young life under lockdown could shape the next generation, says Nikki Martyn, program head of early childhood studies at University of Guelph-Humber.
While the study is still underway, Martyn said initial observations suggest that coming of age during the COVID-19 crisis can create an emotional maelstrom during a critical period of adolescent development.
Being a teenager is tough enough at the best of times, she said, but finding your place in the world while stuck at home has left many young people feeling like they have no future to look forward to.
“The saddest part for me … is that kind of loss of not being able to see through to the other side,” she said.
“There’s so much pain and so much struggle right now that I think needs to be shared and seen, so that we can support our youth and make sure they become healthy adults.”
Since September, Martyn’s team has received more than 120 pieces from Canadians aged two to 18, submitted anonymously with parental permission, along with some background information and written responses.
Martyn marvelled at the breadth of creative talent the project has attracted, with submissions ranging from doodles, sketches, digital drawings, paintings, pastels, photos and even one musical composition.
Researchers circulated the call for young artists at schools and on social media. While the collection includes a few tot-scribbled masterpieces, Martyn said the majority of contributors are between the ages of 14 and 17.
As the submissions trickled in, she was struck by the potent and sometimes graphic depictions of adolescent anxiety, despair and isolation.
Recurring themes include confined figures, screaming faces, phantasmic presences, gory imagery and infringing darkness.
Some images contain allusions to self-harm, which Martyn sees as a physical representation of the pain afflicting so many of the study’s participants.
Just as unsettling are the words that accompany the images. Some artists transcribed the relentless patter of pandemic-related concerns that pervade daily life, while others expressed sentiments like “I’m broken,” “this is too much” and “what’s the point?”
Martyn said many participants wrote of struggling to keep up in school, while some were dealing with family problems such as job loss, illness and even death.
Many of these feelings and challenges are common across age groups, Martyn noted. However, while adults are more accustomed to the ups and downs that life can bring, young people are less likely to have fostered the coping skills to help them weather a global crisis.
A coalition of Canadian children’s hospitals has warned that the pandemic is fomenting a youth mental-health crisis with potentially “catastrophic” short- and long-term consequences for children’s wellbeing and growth.
This would be consistent with research from previous outbreaks suggesting that young people are more vulnerable to the negative psychological impacts of quarantine, including increased risk of post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and behavioural problems, according to an August report by Children’s Mental Health Ontario.
An online survey of 1,300 Ontario children and young adults last spring found that nearly two-thirds of respondents felt that their mental health had deteriorated since COVID-19 hit, with many citing the abrupt end of school, disconnection from friends and uncertainty about the future as significant stressors.
Lydia Muyingo, a PhD student in clinical psychology at Dalhousie University, said when she looks through the images in the childart.ca gallery, she can see how these concerns are confounding the typical turmoil of being a teenager.
Adolescence is a time for young people to figure out who they are through new experiences, interests and social interactions, said Muyingo.
This transition tends to bring about intense emotions, she said, and the pandemic has exacerbated this upheaval by replacing familiar anxieties about fitting in with fears about mortality.
Muyingo said she’s encouraged to see that the childart.ca project is giving young people an outlet for these difficult feelings they may not even be able to put words to.
She encouraged adults to keep an eye out for children’s silent struggles, perhaps setting an example by sharing their own vulnerabilities.
“I think parents are sometimes scared of talking about dark themes, but the reality is that kids know a lot more than we think,” she said. “I think art like this can be used as a tool to communicate that it’s OK to feel this way.”
Martyn said the study has given her hope for what a future led by the quarantined generation could look like, because while pain pervades many of the illustrations, there are also symbols of resilience, connection and compassion.
“One of my visions from the very beginning of this was to have this as an art exhibit in a gallery, and to be able to go and be enveloped by it, have it around us and fully experience that lived idea of what children in Canada experienced.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.
Art is having a virtual birthday party, a 'buffet' on Saturday – Regina Leader-Post
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Dunlop director Alyssa Fearon encourages experiencing these events, which are free admission, “just to see the format.”
“Everything that we’re doing right now in this COVID era is very experimental, and this is very much part of that. So I like that the heart of it is still there, even though it can’t take place in person,” said Fearon.
Art’s Birthday Buffet has four main menu items — or maybe three, plus dessert.
— From 2 to 3 p.m., Clive Robertson (Kingston, Ont. artist, critic and curator) and Craig Leonard (Halifax artist and teacher) will discuss Filliou’s impact on shaping artists collectives, spaces and alternative practices.
— From 7 to 9 p.m., “Every Possible Place” features various artist performances. It includes Jeff Morton, Sbot N Wo (experimental musicians/married couple WL Altman and Helen Pridmore), Jon Vaughn, Laura Kavanaugh, Ian Birse, Hilarey Cowan and Ian Campbell.
— From 9:30 to 11 p.m., there’s karaoke on Zoom. Sing along to cover songs and see videos by artists including YGretz, Kablusiak, Lucien Durey, respectfulchild, Peter Morin, Josie Whitebear, Erroll Kinistino, Piper Burns and People Tanning. Sean Dunham is hosting karaoke and there will be prizes. Register in advance through neutralground.sk.ca.
Gallery offers ArtBoxes and Art PenPals for Greater Trail seniors – Trail Times
With COVID keeping seniors away from the finer things in life like art studios, the VISAC Gallery in downtown Trail has come up with a thoughtful way to keep patrons painting and/or crafting.
The nonprofit is offering art supplies and instruction for any senior in the Greater Trail area through VISAC’s Creating Connections; ArtBoxes and Art PenPals for Seniors!
This free service, available over the next two months, is so important right now given many locals have been isolated for months on end due to the ongoing pandemic. Studies show that art can play a valuable role in mental wellness, being that creating art can alleviate stress and anxiety, and help boost confidence and the feeling of resilience.
“During the winter and Covid-19, many seniors are not able to attend in-person classes and workshops due to risks and restrictions. We have heard … that many seniors do not have the means to take online art classes or can feel overwhelmed by online offerings,” explains VISAC director Kristin Chester.
“Our input also indicates that seniors either have a hard time allocating limited funds to art supplies or are not able to source art supplies due to stores being back ordered.”
After asking local seniors what kind of art-themed activities are most interesting to them, the gallery has come up with two art box themes.
The January box is weaving-themed and the February/March art box will be water-coloured themed.
Each art box will contain: quality art supplies; instruction on how to use materials and art project instructions; art-focused enrichment materials; and a little piece of art created by a local elementary student, in hopes the senior writes back a letter to their new art penpal.
The art boxes are designed for seniors without motor ability restrictions, however there is the option of having it adapted for those with ailments such as arthritis.
Sign up for January delivery is available online at visacgallery.com under ‘upcoming art programs.’
”We understand not all seniors have access to the internet,” says Chester. “So we are up for feedback on how we can reach seniors who are interested in a delivery but are not able to fill out the online sign up form,” she added. “We have a limited amount of art boxes per month and hope to distribute them out fairly as best we can around Greater Trail. If you think your network, senior housing, etc. would like to be allocated a certain amount each month, let me know so we may reserve some and get back to you when … the delivery sign up is ready.”
Read more: VISAC Gallery
Read more: Downtown Trail art gallery
Anyone with questions is encouraged to email Kristin Chester at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This project was made possible thanks to a grant from the Le Roi Community Foundation. Through an extensive network of donors and cooperations, the Le Roi foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the betterment of people living in Trail, Warfield, Rossland, Montrose, Fruitvale, and Areas A and B of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary.
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