Happening in and around the White Cube this week… digging into the world of art & finance at Concordia and beyond
“If culture is valuable, culture works should be valued the same way, not just verbally,” said Marc Lanctôt, curator and Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal (MAC) union delegate.
According to an article in The New York Times, “wealthy donors are generally happy to contribute to construction projects – often drawn by naming opportunities – they are far less excited about subsidizing unsexy operating expenses, like salaries and benefits.”
Public spreadsheets that document and protest unpaid internships and unfair wages in the industry currently include over 4,000 entries from museum professionals all over the world, including Montreal.
The MAC is among the six Montreal-based entries on the spreadsheet. There are two active unions at the MAC, one of which is for front-of-house staff and educators. The other is for professionals: conservators, curators, education tour managers and workshop leaders, registrar’s office, art transportation, collections management, communications and press relations, etc.
The employees at the MAC were under a common agreement (like a contract) which expired in 2015, although the conditions are still applicable today and provisions in the contract are still applied. However, there have been no financial changes, no pay increases since 2015 and certain provisions no longer pertain to the reality on the ground. Their bosses have no incentives to make any changes.
Their employers are keeping that money, spending it on renovations and increasing their own salaries. Simply put, Lanctôt suggests the museum should not “spend on what we can’t afford if we can’t pay our people right.” He added that John Zeppetelli, MAC Director and Chief Curator, is “acting like his hands are tied, that he isn’t really the director of the museum, the government is.”
This is a multi-tiered problem […] how we organize work and labour needs to be rethought,” said Lanctôt.
“We want salary increases comparable to those granted to our bosses over the past five years,” wrote @prosdumacmontreal on Instagram on Oct. 6. The affected workers have been actively protesting since Sept. 17, doing public interventions and striking on their breaks and during peak museum hours, such as the Janet Werner opening on Oct. 30.
“We have nine more strike days up our sleeve that will be deployed at strategic times,” said Lanctôt. “Everything that has to do with culture in Quebec and Canada is highly accountable to the state and public funding, very arcane. Issues are bogged down in complicated spreadsheets and legal labour language. We don’t want the public to lose track of what’s a stake; we have to stop gauging away at cultural workers. It’s the people that matter. Otherwise, it’s just bricks and mortar and art stacked in a corner.”
The Art + Museum Transparency group has stated that “many of the most vigilant and vocal activists in the current movement are those working front-of-house positions […] gallery security officers, education, retail and visitor services staff.” These labour activists are fighting the institution’s growth, urging cuts of unnecessary expenses and “fancy” renovations in favour of protection from unjust firing, basic healthcare insurance coverage, paid parental leave, and so on.
“Pas de pros, pas d’expos!”
“Museums remain extremely hierarchical, with power concentrated in the hands of a very few who dictate benefits, wages and workplace procedures out of step with the economic realities of our time,” reads the same statement by the Art + Museum Transparency group.
Museum staff are unionizing across the United States with the Marciano Art Foundation Union (MAF), and continue to prove the viability of the field, urging institutions to embrace Graduate and Undergraduate student internships instead of pushing them out, forcing them to consider otherwise.
At Concordia, the VAV Gallery has just released its 2019-20 Year Plan. It discloses their financial constraints by breaking down their budget and emphasizing the measures being taken to remedy the issue. The slow, accumulated deficit was not noticeable in last year’s financial report. Dropping by big chunks every year due to the gallery’s ambitious developments, they were forced to downsize from last year’s programming.
This year, the VAV Gallery will host smaller shows, showing larger bodies of work from three or four artists, working one on one with them to create a tailored exhibition plan. The exhibitions – now numbered and not titled in order to avoid lumping artists together with broad themes – will be more cohesive, focusing on overlaps between individual practices.
Alexia McKindsey, the VAV’s financial coordinator, knew the decision would come as a shock to Concordia Fine Arts students, but the reality is that if these drastic measures aren’t taken, the gallery won’t be able to operate next year.
We never wanted it to come to this,” said McKindsey. “This is the worst case scenario.”
Having cancelled their winter artist call-out, three out of four Fine Arts students contacted by The Concordian, who have chosen to remain anonymous, said they would consider opting out of the VAV’s fee levy should it increase from $0.85 to $1 per credit.
“The gallery has already selected its programming for the entire year – why am I paying for something that is not giving me the opportunity to show my work?,” said one student, an Art Education major.
“Especially when last year’s programming was excellent, I see no reason why a top level fine arts undergrad university can’t have a student gallery that can offer the space for students to exhibit their work, attend events and be engaged in the Montreal arts scene,” said another student. The Studio Arts major said this in regards to the $5.6 million donation to the faculty from the Peter N. Thomson Family Trust, received last spring. “It feels like things are happening up top and the students don’t have a say, like an extension of Cafe X closing.”
The faculty received this incredible donation, but where is it? In the big hole where the VA garden used to be?
Despite last year’s incident – the tragic death of art education student and sweet child of the universe, Ming Mei Ip – there are still no basic services in the building.
No one cares about the VA. We are the smallest faculty and the most neglected building on campus,” said McKinsdey. “We don’t know enough about where our fee-levies go and how we benefit from them as students.”
FASA, we love you, we know you’re doing your best, but like, the Art + Museum Transparency group stated, these institutions – universities, museums and galleries alike – remain powerful hierarchical structures out of touch with the social and economic realities they are surrounded by.
According to McKindsey, the donation isn’t reaching the VAV Gallery or any other student-run, fee-levy projects. Concordia has a weird system when it comes to money. For anyone who has ever received an honorarium or has had to be reimbursed by the university, this isn’t new information.
Unlike the gallery’s transparency, the money donated to the university and specific faculties isn’t being disclosed to students. Rumours around student organizations is that it’s a cyclical system, hinting to a new, “innovative” project unfolding towards the end of the year.
Funding opportunities for student projects
The Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA) just released their Broke Student Handbook, which provides students with accessible and low-cost options for everything from art-making materials, funding opportunities, academic services and basic necessities.
Among these services are the Regroupement des Artistes en Arts Visuels (RAAV) and L’Artisan du Renouveau et de la Transformation Écologique (ARTÉ). RAAV is an association of artists that represent and defend the interests of Quebec artists. ARTÉ is an independent company mandated by the city of Montreal to manage the reuse centres.
Not many are aware of the numerous showcasing and funding opportunities available for student projects across the university. FASA Special Project Grants, the Concordia Council on Student Life (CCSL), the Concordia University Small Grants Program (CUSGP), the Concordia University Alumni Association (CUAA), the Sustainability Action Fund and Concordia Student Union Special Project Funding are among the many programs that will encourage eligible student projects, new clubs, publications, events and more.
Showcasing platforms outside of the White Cube
Outside of student newspapers, Concordia is home to several publications. Some journals linked to various departments, like the InArte Journal, CUJAH and others offer free range to most students. Soliloquies, Yiara and l’Organe all offer a creative platform for writers and artists. Their difference lies in the language they are diffused in: l’Organe is in French, Yiara is bilingual and inter-university, and Soliloquies focuses on creative writing, poetry and prose, bringing together creative English-speaking students across the university.
A new addition to this list is Scribbles which, unlike Yiara and the InArte Journal which accept submissions from all departments within the Faculty of Fine Arts, will accept creative work from students across the university.
The magazine’s executive team doesn’t follow the typical publication masthead, similar to The Concordian’s editor/assistant structure. Instead, they have a president and various VPs and coordinators, characteristic of clubs within the John Molson School of Business (JMSB). That being said, the executive team is not restricted to JMSB students. Communications, behavioural neuroscience, software engineering and creative writing are among the team’s majors.
“In addition to our publications, we have the goal of informing students about the creative world by holding conferences with actual writers, journalists, artists and so on,” said Scribbles President Sara Shafiei, BComm Marketing.
The launch of the first publication took place on Oct. 30. Attendees paid $15, giving the magazine a head start.
“Guests were able to get their hands on a copy before anyone else and simply enjoy some food and music while celebrating with the team and getting to talk with other creative students,” said Shafiei. “We are brand new, don’t have many sponsors and are still growing as a committee. We received a small amount of funds from CSU which was barely enough to get our first edition printed. The event itself had costs, as hospitality also charged us. The tickets helped us fund the event. However, our magazine itself [is] free.”
Throughout the first weeks of November, Scribbles’s first issue will be placed around campus for students to pick up.
Interdepartmental and cross-faculty pollination is what makes our projects stronger, making voices louder, as students stand in solidarity as young creators and entrepreneurs.
Projects like Concordi’art – which claims to create a space for both fine arts and business students – really just focus on commercializing and capitalizing on pre-existing ideas. The group’s recent Bob Ross paint night at Reggies, which was sponsored by Concordia Stores, charged students $15 to paint along with a projection. They did not collaborate with the Department of Art Education, who would have been more than thrilled to assist. Concordi’art did not respond to The Concordian for comment.
The VAV Gallery is looking to collaborate with other departments and fee-levy groups for their winter programming. Among these are plans to coordinate a special exhibition with the Fine Arts Reading Room, the InArte Journal, CUCCR, Art Matters and more.
Clara Micheau, FASA Finance Coordinator and representative of the Faculty of Fine Arts for la Planète s’invite à l’Université (LPSU) at Concordia, posted on the Concordia Fine Arts Student Network Facebook page on Nov. 5, urging students to vote against online opt-outs in the upcoming CSU by-election (Nov. 12-14).
“Art Matters is not the only fee-levy group we are talking about here,” wrote Micheau. “People’s Potato is one, as is Queer Concordia, Cinema Politica, Food Coalition, Centre for Gender Advocacy, The Concordian and more. They all provide life-saving services to you or your friends or that student you don’t know but who has found their support group in them. They are everywhere, supporting our community.”
Fee-levy groups can offer superb opportunities to enhance careers and build reputable references, in any faculty. For more information and to encourage fee-levy groups, visit the Vote No Facebook Event.
Graphics by Chloë Lalonde (@ihooq2)