Calla Durose-Moya’s description of her personal experience with the First Friday Art Crawl adds another side to the story, but her letter to the editor contains some misinformation that bears clarification and context.
Until the end of December 2018, the Crawl was indeed organized by the Ad Hoc Arts Committee, of which I was a member. Artists, businesses, and organizations participated at no cost and most of them benefitted from the event. In addition to presenting exhibitions at Evans Contemporary, Star X, and Coeur Nouveau, Paolo Fortin and the volunteer labour of the Ad Hoc Committee handled all communications, branding, signage, and auxiliary events like DJs and projections for the Crawl.
As a Hamilton native, Durose-Moya rightly states that the city should not be painted by a single brush. It is only one example of a pattern of satellite cities of large metropolises like Toronto that have suffered from gentrification in recent years.
I heartily agree with her statement that artist-run, charitable, non-profit Centre3 is an impressive organization, and that it serves many functions. It is also located in a city with a population of over half a million, giving it access to far more supporting members and corporate partners than Peterborough, with or without the Hamilton Art Crawl.
We visited Hamilton ourselves and spoke to a number of artists and galleries, including Centre3. The picture these parties painted for us was that the Hamilton Art Crawl was over-commercialized and of little benefit to them (“Live panel recap: Is Hamilton really a haven for artists?” CBC.ca September 2018). Meanwhile, the cost of housing there has risen 70% in 5 years (“Hamilton housing prices up 70 per cent from 2013” Global News December 2018).
Yes, artists are resourceful and can usually find other places to live and work. Our point was, why should they have to? The value artists added to the Hamilton art district makes the area desirable to developers, but artists have not been compensated even as their rents increase. Emerging artists may be able to adapt, but what about artists with families? And what of other sectors of the community who suffer from rising housing costs? This speaks to the larger issues of urban planning and social justice that we sought to challenge.
To dispel confusion around the commercial vs. public gallery debate: Evans Contemporary does not fit either label. It did not pay exhibition fees, but exhibiting artists were free to sell and choose the amount of commission, if any. Evans is also self- or privately-funded, paying for thousands of dollars worth of renovations to three gallery spaces and part of the courtyard in the Commerce Building; transportation and accommodation for artists and their work, from as far as Finland; and installation costs, often including custom framing and fine art printing. Beverages and food at openings were free to the public and paid for by Evans Contemporary, while tips went to the Crossroads Women’s Shelter to the tune of $10,000 over two years.
Evans Contemporary chose to stay flexible and keep its costs down as an organization by not becoming entangled in the precarity of government grants and non-profit red tape. In Taylor’s article, Director Jon Lockyer attested to the years of effort that the 40-year-old, artist-run centre, Artspace, invested in order to secure stable municipal funding. Evans also refused to make commercial profit its priority. Private patronage, including a one time grant from the DBIA, covered only some of its expenses, the balance being absorbed by Fortin and his partner.
Coeur Nouveau operated as a closed local members’ gallery, similar to Loop Gallery in Toronto. Members paid a fee to exhibit, which was equivalent to the rent of the space, and 10% of any sales went back to the Ad Hoc Committee to pay for gallery paint, printing, etc.
Star X was run as a rental gallery, available for a variety of exhibitions. It too charged only what covered the rent of the space plus a 10% commission on sales, much less than the 50% most commercial galleries charge. Durose-Moya was free to sell her work during her participation in an exhibition there.
There was never a submission fee for applying for an exhibition at any of the galleries. Although all work was ostensibly for sale, saleability was never a criterion for work to be exhibited in any of the galleries, thus commissions were often zero.
All three galleries were staffed by artist labour, including gallery sitting, installation, cleaning, administration, and publicity.
I object to the insinuation that the Ad Hoc Arts Committee made no effort to work with the City, landlord or DBIA. The City was aware of the lack of affordable artist spaces through our communications with councillors, forums hosted by EC3, my own articles sounding the alarm on gentrification, as well as closure of other venues mentioned in Taylor’s article. In our meetings with the landlord (who is also chair of the DBIA) we could not secure transparency as to the future of the building or a firm commitment to its artist tenants. As such, further investment, monetary or otherwise, did not make sense to us.
This was never a debate about commercial vs. non-commercial. The Ad Hoc version of the Art Crawl successfully accomplished its goal of providing a variety of opportunities for artists to present their work to the public, and for the public to access professional presentations of diverse art, both commercial and non-commercial.
Many artists, myself included, sold work at their exhibitions at Evans Contemporary, Coeur Nouveau or Star X, and/or had successful grant applications and subsequent exhibitions, in both commercial galleries and in galleries that pay CARFAC fees.
I would not frame that as either anti-commercial or as artist exploitation.