Punk musician Art Bergmann has a message for the government that just awarded him its highest civilian honour.
“The Canadian government should stop taking First Nations to court … and give them fresh water, drinking water, and suitable housing, and to honour the treaties,” says Bergmann, one of the latest inductees to the Order of Canada.
Bergmann, who has spent his life writing anti-establishment songs, was honoured for his “indelible contributions to the Canadian punk music scene, and for his thought-provoking discourse on social, gender and racial inequalities,” said Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.
He made a splash in the Vancouver punk scene in the ’70s and ’80s as the frontman for the K-Tels, which was later renamed the Young Canadians. He now produces solo work from his home in Rocky View County, Alta.
He spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about what it’s like to win an award from the power he’s spent his life raging against. Here is part of their conversation.
First of all, congratulations.
Well, a thank you is in order, I suppose. Thank you very much. I’m deeply surprised and humbled.
What first went through your mind when you got the news?
I just thought it was a joke by maybe some friends that have grown up through the years and now work … at the Governor General’s office.
Why would you think it was a joke?
Because I have been toiling in the underground for years, and awards like this are kind of anathema. So, you know, this would be the ultimate leg-pulling, I would think.
Well, the Governor General, in recognizing you, says that … it is for … your “indelible contributions to the Canadian punk music scene” and for [your] “thought-provoking discourse on social, gender and racial inequalities.” How does that sound to you?
That sounds great. That sounds wonderful. It’s a lot better than somebody [who] referred to me in the Edmonton Journal as a “generic rock singer” and which I take great offence to.
Because rock singers are generally assholes if I may use the term, and narcissists, and I hope not to be that, ever.
When you were in the height of the punk scene, would it have occurred to you that one day you would be honoured with the Order of Canada for being a key part of the punk scene?
No, never. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever.
It almost seems counter to what punk is.
We were against the idea of power and power of the state.
Yeah, and so it’s quite a leap.
It’s quite a leap. I’m sure the screams of “sellout” will be coming fast and furious as we go, but I assure everyone that there’s no 30 pieces of silver involved.
I was radicalized by shows like As It Happens, especially after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry.– Art Bergmann, punk musician
What did punk mean to you when you first came across it?
It meant ultimate freedom, ultimate tearing down of status quos wherever they might be.
When you said it meant freedom for you — freedom from what?
Well, at the time, I was just writing songs … and not having any direction, and it taught me that there are things to fight against in this world, and you can use music to do it.
Who were your punk idols? Who first inspired you?
Well, I don’t like the term idol. I prefer the term iconoclasts. Like, the first time I heard maybe the Sex Pistols was a mind-blowing moment to feel that piss and vinegar coming through the speakers. It was a glorious moment.
It’s kind of funny, the Sex Pistols and God Save the Queen, and now you’re getting the Governor General’s award.
Well, I hope to use it as a platform. Does power come with this award? I’m not sure, but I hope to use it to outline several of the problems we still face as a hopefully progressing nation.
Tell us more about that, because that is actually one of the things that you’re being honoured for, fights for social, gender and racial equality.
Actually, I was radicalized by shows like As It Happens, especially after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry. You couldn’t go by a night, I don’t think, [without] another story about it on the CBC, which was news to, I’m sure, 95 per cent of the nation. And it hopefully shocked us out of our reverie as this great democratic and free country, when we were just another empire.
So you want to get your message out. You have the platform now. What’s the key thing you want us to think about today?
Today, the key thing, I think, is the Canadian government should stop taking First Nations to court … and give them fresh water, drinking water, and suitable housing, and to honour the treaties.
Where did this activism, this desire for honesty and equality, come from for you?
From my mother and father.
My dad actually escaped the civil war, the Russian civil war, from the Ukraine. He was actually a settler himself … and they thrived there in their farms, not knowing that they were usurping the land of the Tartars that lived there before them.
They had to escape. And in spite of that, my dad became a small-C Christian socialist. And by the age of six or seven years, he had us stapling together pamphlets for his union. And that’s where I got my first basic education in organizing.
I’m not that big of an organizer, being a punk rocker at first trying to destroy organizations, but I learned a great lesson from my dad, who, in spite of the odds, fought for socialism.
What would your parents think of you getting the Order of Canada?
The music I made was a mystery to my dad, because he was a, you know, a classical churchy kind of musical guy, but I’m sure he’d be very proud at this moment. He’s gone now.
Your path has probably not always been an easy one. The recipe for success for a punk artist is an unusual one. Do you have any regrets, any things you’d like to build on?
How could I regret anything? I mean, this my life. This is what it’s been. I’m doomed to getting not much of a monetary reward. And that’s OK. That’s not the point.
I understand you’ve got a new album coming out. Tell me a little bit about it.
What’s it about? Well, wow. The last four years have been inspiring as far as the president, who shall not be named, letting loose all these racist tropes all over the world and giving fascism new life when it should be destroyed everywhere it’s seen. With fascism uniting with Evangelicals in the United States, the most dangerous combination, and we’ve got to raise our voices to wipe it out.
It’s called Late Stage Empire Dementia — how all empires will eat themselves and destroy themselves. And also about, you know, mass incarceration and genocide, of course, what our own country is built on. And there’s also a song about your Second Amendment gun nuts and basically how to deal with the ignorance and the uneducated masses. I mean, slogans and sloganeering aren’t going to do it. Maybe a song or two will do it.
Obviously, you can’t have the traditional Order of Canada ceremony right now. We hear it’s being delayed until perhaps you can. What would the Art Bergmann in his 20s say if he could see you walk into Rideau Hall and accept this award from the Governor General?
I mean, do I have to wear a penguin suit?
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
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Visit the city's tiniest art gallery: Five things to do in Saskatoon this weekend – Saskatoon StarPhoenix
In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E.
Whether you’re interested in art, a virtual party, some outdoor activities or cleaning up around the house, there’s a little bit of something for everyone this weekend in Saskatoon.
1. Visit the Free Little Art Gallery
In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E. Designed in the style of community libraries and kitchen boxes, visitors to the gallery can take a piece of art, leave a piece of art, or do both. You can check out some of the artwork on Instagram @Freelittleartgalleryyxe.
2. Hit up The Bassment’s virtual party
Featuring the music and talents of eight Saskatoon bands, The Bassment presents InTune 2021 — a free online party playing from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The shows will be streamed live through the Bassment’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
3. Check out local performers
Watch as some of Saskatoon’s performing artists share their work in Episode 1 of Persephone Theatre’s Open Stage, which was published earlier this month. The episode is available to watch whenever you want at persephonetheatre.org and features Peace Akintade, Kathie Cram, Amanda Trapp, Sketchy Bandits, Carla Orosz and Ellen Froese.
4. Have some family fun
The Fuddruckers Family Fun Centre (2910 8th St. E) is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday, weather permitting. Families can practice their skills on the 18-hole Putt N’ Bounce miniature golf course, reach new heights on The Rock climbing wall or take a swing at the Grand Slam batting cages. More information is available at fudds.ca or by calling 306-477-0808.
5. Drop off your hazardous waste
The City of Saskatoon is holding its first Hazardous Household Waste Drop Off of the year on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Civic Operations Centre (57 Valley Rd.). The drop off is open to Saskatoon residents from residential properties only. Products eligible for drop off include aerosols, automotive fluids, batteries, cleaners, light bulbs, yard chemicals and more. Learn more at saskatoon.ca/hazardouswaste.
The news seems to be flying at us faster all the time. From COVID-19 updates to politics and crime and everything in between, it can be hard to keep up. With that in mind, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox to help make sure you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe.
YK ARCC celebrates 10 years by pushing for NWT art gallery – Cabin Radio
Its trailer doubles as one of the NWT’s only art galleries. Now, the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre is turning 10 years old.
The group, YK ARCC for short, formed in 2011 in a downtown Yellowknife church scheduled for demolition. “There was always something going on,” recalled Métis artist Rosalind Mercredi, owner of the city’s Down to Earth Gallery, who was YK ARCC’s first president.
“I think it was so good to be able to have a space where people wanted to work on stuff and, if they had bigger projects they wanted to do, there was a space to do it. It was pretty vibrant times, I would say, for art.”
Though the organization stayed in the church for less than a year, it has brought art and shows to Yellowknife since. Temporary homes have included an apartment above a Vietnamese restaurant and empty spaces in the Centre Square Mall.
Casey Koyczan, a Tłı̨chǫ artist from Yellowknife pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Manitoba, held some of his first shows with YK ARCC’s help.
“It really helped to be able to show work within an environment that was conducive to more of a fine arts aesthetic as opposed to … a coffee shop, or a pub, or something like that,” said Koyczan, who was on YK ARCC’s board.
“YK ARCC felt like it was getting to more of a formal-exhibit kind of feel.”
‘We need a territorial gallery’
The group made headlines shortly after opening a mobile art gallery in a trailer. At the beginning of the pandemic, the team took art to residents by accepting reservations through Facebook then driving the gallery to make house calls in different neighbourhoods.
“Because it’s so small, we might be the only gallery in Canada that didn’t have to close,” said longtime board member Sarah Swan. “It has a limited capacity. We knew we could still operate it safely.”
Yet the trailer’s success simultaneously illuminated what YK ARCC’s members believe is a glaring deficiency in the NWT: the absence of a territorial gallery.
The cost of rent makes it difficult for the non-profit to hold on to one space for any length of time. Many of the spaces that are available in Yellowknife don’t work well for art shows.
“We need a territorial gallery,” former board member Dan Korver said.
That doesn’t mean a commercial gallery geared toward profit, he clarified. Instead, Korver wants a space where artists can show their work and engage with an audience “for art’s sake.”
The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is the only large-scale, non-commercial, gallery fitting that bill in the NWT. It hosts two fine art exhibits a year.
“It’s just simply not enough,” said Swan. “There are so many more artists and so much more work out there to show, so many more ideas.”
“We created the mobile gallery in the first place to feel that exhibition gap, but also, we created it to be a piece of agitation in itself. That’s why we called it the Art Gallery of the Northwest Territories.
“It’s really pathetic that our territorial gallery is a trailer. We all joke that if there ever is a real gallery of the Northwest Territories that’s not in a trailer, we’ll happily give the name back.”
Koyczan described obstacles in establishing his career that stemmed directly from the lack of a territorial art gallery.
“Back when I was showing at YK ARCC, it wasn’t recognized by the Canada Arts Council,” he said. “Therefore, when you go to apply for grants and funding … and you provide your CV saying that you showed work at YK ARCC, they check their records and say the show basically didn’t exist because they don’t recognize it as a legitimate gallery.
“I’ve had to work really hard on exporting myself and making artwork that is impactful so that, regardless of where I was located, it would be recognized by people in the south, or around North America, or internationally.
“The NWT needs a contemporary gallery. It’s just holding us back, not having that space.”
‘No GNWT mandate’ for a gallery
In a written statement to Cabin Radio, the territorial Department of Education, Culture, and Employment said it has no plan to create a territorial gallery.
The department said it “does not have a mandate to create physical infrastructure for the arts.”
“However,” the response continued, “the GNWT would be happy to work with regional organizations to see how the GNWT can support their plans.”
Korver believes government involvement in creating an artist-run centre or non-commercial gallery should be limited to provision of funding, so any gallery can remain community-driven and independent.
“We need that physical space, but how do you run it?” he wondered. “Is it better to just provide a grassroots organization – or organizations, maybe there shouldn’t just be one – with stable funding so they can provide those spaces and run those spaces?”
More spaces that can host art are on the way.
Makerspace YK moved into the old After 8 pub this January and is planning workshops and exhibits. The City of Yellowknife expects to open a visitor centre in the Centre Square Mall that would include art displays.
Meanwhile, the territorial government is set to release its updated NWT Arts Strategy this June. The previous territorial arts strategy, released in 2004, had identified a need for more arts spaces.
As a gallery owner, Mercredi said she is curious to see how the strategy is implemented.
“You can make a strategy but if the plan doesn’t have an implementation idea behind it, then really just sits,” she said. “How do you implement it when most of the arts organizations don’t have enough infrastructure or people to put those things together?”
Swan said YK ARCC will continue to run its mobile gallery while celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Members have applied for funding to run a series of “emerging curator workshops.”
“Art is our passion,” Swan said. “I think there’s just this drive to share.
“Because we know how good art can be, or how amazing and fully developed it can be, we want to fight for that. We want to try to grow the art community in Yellowknife.”
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