2012 Arts Congress

Friday, May 4th

  • Margie Gillis Speaks of Art and the Human Experience
  • Panellists Share their Felt Experience
  • Artists Adrian Stimson and Sylvia Ziemann Share their Stories
  • Report on Arts Literacy Consulation
  • The Saskatchewan Arts Board Speak to Six Decades Serving the Arts
  • Cultural Journalist, Robert Enright, Speaks on the Current Climate of the Arts

With over one hundred people in attendance, the 2012 Arts Congress touched on current issues facing the Saskatchewan’s arts community.

Internationally recognized choreographer, performer and humanitarian Margie Gillis’ keynote address, Dancing from the inside out; an exploration in motion, humanity and nature, touched on art as an essential part of the human experience.

Recently working with Robin Poitras of New Dance Horizons on the Cyclone Project, Gills expressed her appreciation of the Saskatchewan Film Industry who helped document the project. She continued to say that it had been particularly poignant to leave Quebec, a province that recently added six million dollars to dance funding, to Saskatchewan where the government has inexplicably cut the Film Employment Tax Credit.

In her speech, she expressed the importance of authenticity, the passion of her work and the compassion of intellect. All learned when at the age of eight Gillis suffered a severe nervous breakdown, which gave her insight into what is essential to the human experience. At the age of 18 Gillis realized that she was meant to dance and for the last 40 years, she has been dancing.

Sharing stories of her active family (her parents and brother professional athletes, her other brother a dancer, and her sister a yoga instructor and cyclist), Gillis concluded that it is more essential to do our art rather than just talk about it.

Moderated by Dianne Warren, panellists Heather Cline, Rachelle Viader Knowles and Paul Wilson discussed matters of public engagement in the arts. Warren exampled the 1988 book Cultural Literacy: What every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch Jr. as she discussed the everyday “fear of not knowing” and asked the question, is anyone truly literate in all areas of the arts?

As an academic administrator, teacher and artist, Viader Knowles encourages her students to leave the school for the outside world, she exampled Rob Bos’ Gallery Arts Projects. She also discussed artistic exchanges and partnerships between cities and countries using technologies and art as an alternative to war.

Paul Wilson shared his experience as an animator during last year’s Culture Days. His intent was to change people’s minds about the creative process and writing. He designed exercises that got away from the idea of writing and focused more on selecting words. He partnered with Jonah Macfadden to combine poetry and the art of comics to tell the stories of the individuals he met. Wilson collected invisible books for his invisible library. He engaged community members by asking them to create titles for books that didn’t exist in order to ignite the creative process and imagination.

Heather Cline expressed her “deep rooted love of painting” and her fears of “What the world will become when controlled by technology natives.” She shared her jealousy over the accessible tools children have at their fingertips, but it is these tools that she uses to engage youth. As an arts administrator and teach, Cline taught art through digital technology. She concluded that her felt experience is “making art, negotiating the old and new tools of the trade and never accepting that one method negates or replaces another.”

During his talk, full-time visual and performance artist Adrian Stimson recalled that he never thought he’d become an artist after being rejected from art school. Instead, he became a First Nations politician where he quickly realized that politics simply weren’t for him so despite the initial rejection, Stimson became an artist. It was at the University of Saskatchewan where performance took a hold of Stimson and Buffalo Boy was born. A surreal moment for Stimson was when he exhibited with artists who, he admits, were his heroes and realized that he’s made it as an artist.

Visual artist Sylvia Ziemann discussed her home gallery Contrary Projects she created with David Garneau. The gallery presents artist with a critical yet supportive audience at a stage before the work is ready for a more formal venue. The one night art shows were created in response to Ziemann’s and Garneau’s love of art, the long wait-time facing artist, and artists who are intimidated by filling a large exhibition space. Thus far, Contrary Projects has shown eleven artists, five of which were paired with writers.

The Saskatchewan Arts Alliance conducted a focus group with representatives from CARFAC SASK, Ministry of Education, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the Saskatchewan Choral Federation, and the Art Gallery of Swift Current. This focus group explored the concept of arts literacy in terms of public funding and engagement and explored possible barriers facing arts literacy. One example was the education system, which has problems in policy, standardized testing, and trying to develop multiple literacies. The general feeling of the focus group was that engagement must happen throughout one’s life, particularly during youth, to create a connection between individuals and the arts. If this does not happen, these children grow into adults who don’t associate themselves with the arts nor value them. Kim Houghtaling, director and curator of the Art Gallery of Swift Current, encouraged the delegated to come forward with any ideas or recommendation to address arts literacy.

Arts Board Chair Byrna Barclay and Executive Director David Kyle spoke of the sixty-four years of the Arts Board starting with the first where the Arts Board was given $2,500 to help fund the arts. Since then, the Arts Board’s permanent collection has acquired 3000 works by 600 artists. In the past year they have received over 1000 grant applications and rewarded over 500. Kyle made note of the numbers and admitted that, despite all the grants rewarded, he still signs far too many insufficient funds letters to unsuccessful applicants. A number, he said, that is the result of no increase in funding and, as a result, a budget eaten away by inflation, which amounts to small cuts to the Arts Board.

He mentioned the upcoming Annual Report, the Lieutenant Governor’s Award, the renewal of key programs with the Ministry in terms of the Creative Industries and touring and access.

When asked about the rumours on the disbandment of the Arts Board by the current government, Barclay was adamant that such rumours were simply that. Kyle reminded the Congress that Premier Wall indicated, during the last election season, that the Arts Board would remain an arms-length agency. However, Kyle admitted the importance of the Arts Board meeting the needs of the community and of staying relevant.

Cultural journalist and critic, Robert Enright spoke of his immergence into the world of art and culture and of how people within this sector could express their love of art to the general public. He continued with his concern over what he called “a crisis point for Canadian culture: “What happens over the next decade will be critical in determining the kind of culture we’ll have in the future. We have a federal government that is hostile to the arts…”

He exampled the Canadian Periodical Fund as a means in which the Government is taking pre-existing funding structures and adjusting them to suit their version of culture (farm and religious periodicals): “I just have a feeling that we’re going to see more of the money CPF has at its disposal heading towards publications that have very little to do with cultural and artistic excellence, and everything to with readership, and a favoured readership at that.”

Enright discussed the popular phrase “The taxpayer’s money” and the double standard that is applied to the idea of public funding. He asked: since the 1948 birth of the Saskatchewan Arts Board (64 years), “has the total number of financial difficulties experienced by artist organizations even come close to the recent bail out of the automobile industry?”

Ending with a question of literacy, Enright tries to be literate in as many forms of contemporary art making as he can be before falling back on what he knows: “We are what we are because of where we’ve been, how we employ what we know and how we engage audiences with that knowledge. Those are the things that make us current.”