lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

p.s to Want

In Uncategorized on July 23, 2009 at 8:28 pm

July 5, 2009

It gave me satisfaction to be working on an art project as an artist in St. Catharines and I had a sense of benefitting from years of work building cultural infrastructure. I left Queen and Spadina in Toronto for rural Niagara in 1988. From 1998, when I got my first “break” of part-time employment writing the cultural municipal policy, to my departure as first Executive Director of St. Catharines and Area Arts Council in 2008, I lived a life imbalanced between giving and receiving. There was too much self-sacrifice and a lot of indignities. I will never know if this was “good” because I was going with the flow or “bad” because the compromises necessary removed me from any chance of the level of artistic achievement I knew as a young artist. But it doesn’t matter because what is is what is and that’s the end of it.

 I carry behind me a heavy wagon of resentments, a habit taken on early in life that I am ambivalent about breaking. A special section of the wagon is reserved for resentments about St. Catharines. When I moved back to Niagara in 1988, St. Catharines was a nightmarish wilderness after the artistic ferment, vigour and brilliance of Queen St., the General Idea scene and the early days of artist-run culture. I avoided living in St. Catharines until 2004 when I rented a lovely old house owned by a friend from my adolescence, and to my surprise, things started falling into place – a got a job in culture and I fell in love. (Both are gone now.)

Yes, there is finally going to be an arts centre in this city, after decades of attempts, but there is still very far to go before this is an arts-friendly town.  I remember too keenly years of frustration, irritation and humiliation in this town. As in, “Please, please let me write you a very good municipal cultural policy…oh yes, I’ll be thrilled to work for $10.26 an hour, anything for work. I’ll be so happy to write it even though  I cannot afford housing. Please, please, let me work like a maniac for the community arts council because I’m so happy to finally have a job here in culture. Please, please, let us give you a wonderful artists’ garden project in this town called the Garden City. Etc. Etc.”) Numerous things I could mention and won’t out of a sense of “appropriateness” that finally developed late in life and a desire to do no harm. The good part was I genuinely want to give service, the bad part but it crossed too often into neglecting one’s self. Being here has been hiding one’s light under a bushel, to use a Judeo-Christian phrase.  I am much happier in my current job (CADA-ON) and delighted to work at CSI. (See links).

 So, on July 3, as I sat in my camp chair outside of the Arts Council (I used to call it SCAAC but that seems to have passed), waiting for participants in Want to pass by, watching a street person nestled in the beautiful foliage of the arch of the first artist’s garden in St. Catharines, I felt a quiet sense of accomplishment. (The garden is by Don Dormady and titled, Arch. It is into its third year and the arch is truly magnificient.) Art City owes something to the success of James St. Night of Art, another SCAAC project I initiated. And I will be soon planting the second artist’s garden in St. Catharines. But the delays in the City’s preparation for my garden show nothing but indifference, if not contempt, for an artist’s work.


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