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Toronto bank redefines corporate art with digital collection – The Globe and Mail

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Anna Eyler, still from PAN/PAN, 2018.

Courtesy of the artist/Handout

On mountainous Arctic shores, glistening pools of silvery water are home to creatures that look like spare parts of humanoid kitchen implements, combining steel and plastic with digits and hair. This is a futuristic northern landscape imagined by artist Anna Eyler; it was created using 3D imaging software to produce a short and silent video that grabs your attention with its indefinable weirdness.

The art work, entitled PAN/PAN, is displayed on a screen in the Toronto office of Equitable Bank, where it is intended for the enjoyment – or mystification – of employees.

Some Canadian banks collect paintings by blue-chip artists or hefty soapstone sculptures to decorate their boardrooms and hallways; not Equitable Bank, a branchless bank that launched a new digital platform in 2015. Since then, it has concentrated on collecting the work of Canada’s digital artists, acquiring about two or three new pieces every year to round out an art collection that also includes about 180 physical works.

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“There was an obvious overlap,” curator Shannon Linde said in a recent interview. “Artists doing digital were facing some of the same challenges as the bank, moving into new territory.”

The collection, launched by Linde’s predecessor Lindsay LeBlanc and Equitable chief executive Andrew Moor, concentrates on works that probe and push the technology. “If you have a digital camera and take a picture, that is not necessarily digital art,” Linde said.

Instead, the bank collects stellar examples that experiment with media and question the role of technology. For example, artist Alison Postma plays with our perception of computer-generated imagery in a four-minute video loop depicting a clay cube continually imprinted with the artist’s fingerprints. Entitled A Point, A Line, A Surface, A Solid, it may look like CGI but it was actually produced using painstaking handmade claymation.

Linde also points to another example, a digital carpet created by Shaheer Zazai, an artist of Afghan heritage who renders the traditional woven pattern with pixels of red, blue and grey.

“Each knot is a piece of software punctuation,” Linde said, adding, “It’s hard to make a still digital image that captures attention, but this nails it. It’s questioning the technology, it’s got cultural context. It goes beyond.”

Much of the digital work that the bank collects comes to it through its annual prize for emerging digital artists, which it organizes in collaboration with the Toronto media arts centre Trinity Square Video. Every year, one winner receives $5,000 plus a residency at Trinity Square while four runners-up receive $1,000 and are included in a group show at the centre. (This year, recognizing the impact of the pandemic on artists, all five nominees received the grand prize amount). Winners have included Eyler for PAN/PAN in 2018 while Postma was one of the five 2020 winners.

Linde figures that digital artists are in particular need of support because their work is expensive to produce while few private or public collections buy it or integrate it into their programming. She speculates that the technology required represents an added hurdle, especially for smaller institutions.

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“You don’t see a lot of VR included in exhibitions or museum shows,” she said.

Meanwhile, the bank’s collection includes Jawa El Khash’s The Upper Side of the Sky, a 10-minute VR experience by the Toronto artist that produces a dreamscape or memory palace inspired by the ancient city of Palmyra, the archeological site that was heavily damaged by ISIS during the civil war in her native Syria.

Digital rather than physical art might seem ideally suited to viewing during the pandemic, but in truth exhibition of this art can be tricky precisely because the work is infinitely reproduceable. The bank acquires rights to screen the work in its offices, but does not usually own it outright.

“We aren’t printing these images; we aren’t sharing original files,” Linde said. “We are trying to fight for the value of this art. It’s very different: What does it mean to have a digital art work? What can you do with it? … It’s less about ownership than stewardship.”

Still, with staff mainly working from home, the bank has gotten creative about how to make the work accessible. Linde organized an Instagram exhibition for some of the artists early in the pandemic and there are now plans to commission screen savers and meeting backdrops for staff. Meanwhile, when the bank moves to new offices in 2023, digital art will be incorporated into the interior design.

Digital art can work well in a corporate setting, Linde said, pointing to the experience with PAN/PAN.

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“There’s no audio. It’s under four minutes, and it’s really curious. A lot of people stop and say: ‘Wow, what am I looking at.’”

Find out what’s new on Canadian stages from Globe theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck in the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.

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Visit the city's tiniest art gallery: Five things to do in Saskatoon this weekend – Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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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.

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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.

Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring “a little joy to the community” by installing a tiny art gallery on her front lawn in Saskatoon’s Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood.
Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring “a little joy to the community” by installing a tiny art gallery on her front lawn in Saskatoon’s Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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

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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.

  1. Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring

    Little art gallery brings colour, connection to Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood

  2. Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon

    Persephone Theatre brings in community co-leads for new Artists’ Working Group

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.

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YK ARCC celebrates 10 years by pushing for NWT art gallery – Cabin Radio

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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.”

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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.

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“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.”

YK ARCC’s first home is pictured in 2011. Photo: Submitted
Casey Koyczan stands in front of a painting at a YK ARCC show in 2014. Photo: Submitted

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.”

YK ARCC debuted its mobile gallery in the summer of 2019. Pictured are board member Brian McCutcheon and artist Terry Pamplin. Photo: Submitted
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mobile art gallery, yk arcc

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Art by Shelley Vanderbyl is displayed in Yellowknife’s mobile gallery in May 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
A YK ARCC show in 2018, called Social Fabric, was held inside a former bank in the Centre Square Mall. Thirty-two artists were featured and 800 people attended. Photo: Submitted

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.

YK ARCC staged an outdoor installation in 2017. Photo: Submitted
Rosalind Mercredi, first president of YK ARCC, at the mobile gallery. Photo: Submitted

“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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