Gallery 44 – Toronto

Gallery 44 – Toronto

401 Richmond is a former huge tin factory, now repurposed for the use of arts and culture, offering affordable workspaces to over 150 tenant arts organisations and artists in downtown Toronto. These also include A-Space, an experimental arts space, one of the longer running artist run initiatives in Canada, V-Tape, the Womens Art Resource Centre, Musicworks magazine, Prefic, Trinity Square Video and others. I guess it has ALL of the Toronto artistic producing community under one roof.

The building is owned by Urbanspace Property Group and they describe itself as a ‘mission driven developer’ with its initiatives ‘directed toward the preservation and restoration of historic and architecturally significant spaces with the goal of adaptively reusing these buildings to provide commercial opportunities for the creative sector… we provide spaces for the arts and social innovation communities’.

Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography is a ‘non-profit artist-run centre’ committed to photography as a multi-faceted and ever-changing art form. Non-profit is another way of describing publicly funded organisations in the UK who are limited companies with charitable status. G44 was founded in 1979 with a mandate to provide a context for reflection and dialogue on contemporary photography and its related practices. It provides exhibition and publication opportunities to national and international artists, an education programme and affordable production facilities for artists. Under its education programme is a series of workshops (which we would refer to as fee-paying courses) in a range of techniques such Experimental Lighting, Incorporating Typography into Photography, Studio Lighting, Pinhole, Cyanotype, Digital Negs and Lith Printing, Lightroom and also professional development courses in Project Development, How to Write an Application, etc etc.

The initial meeting involves all the core staff at G44 – Director – Lise Beaudry, Exhibition Coordinator – Alice Dixon, Education Coordinator –  Sojin Chun
, and
Membership/Facilities Coordinator – Stu Sakai. We were joined by Robyn York, Development of Communitcations Coordinator who comes in 12 horus a week. Most of all the staff are part time (in general the artists run spaces don’t pay large salaries and it is common to find many trying to make additional bucks through other jobs). All of the staff at G44 have come into their current roles through being members of deliverers or workshops, giving a sense of identity and affinity which gives it a collective zest.

Here they are in the gallery space

We then have separate meetings with each of the staff on their areas of delivery – to note Sojin tells us about the education programme and its connection to the Latino community in Toronto. They have 5 community partners in their education programme, and we discuss the possibilities of connecting people in one of their groups with participants in our community collaborations programme, such as residents at the Red Road. We are excited at the prospects of this, facilitated by new technologies and social media. Stu is responsible for the facilities and for members, and he also does the admin involved in communications and renewals with them. They have an active membership (250 members!, most artists), helped by the fact that they have a members gallery area and also have members away days – recent excursions were to George Eastman House (a photographic preservation centre), and the next will be a visit to Mois do la Photo,photography festival which is currently on in Montreal (this year includes work by Douglas Gordon). Members are expected to give at least 3 hours of their time to the gallery – be it helping out with openings, etc. In relation to the members space, they have a ‘lottery’ through which a member gets chosen ‘out of a hat’ to exhibit their work – this is an ongoing feature and it connects to the main gallery space which visitors can traverse through and view their offices. There is a feeling of openness here, which whilst looks good, must make it difficult to get the customary grant applications done.

Alice tells us more about their exhibitions and some of the people they have worked with – we discuss with her the potential of undertaking an exhibition which could connect Glasgow artists with Toronto ones, and we agree to follow that us once the research questionnaire is complete in order to take it forward. Alice is aware of some of the names in the Glasgow art scene and we discuss the efficacy of an MA award in advancing artists careers. There is some discussion about supply and demand, in that the former can’t meet the needs of the latter in Glasgow, despite it being abundant with all sorts of spaces. I tell her a little about Glasgow, that it is also a city whose art community is sometimes splintered into its separate ‘scenes’ and I bemoan a barrier to audience development when some scenes don’t ‘cross-pollinate’ or reach out in a way that would enliven the larger scene more. She mentions a visual arts festival or Expo that happens every two years, the next being in April of 2012, and I tell her of Glasgow International.

Lise sees G44 as providing an important function for artists and regularly conveys this to her board that if risk and experimentation in photographic image-making can happen at G44 then where can it? They are under a little pressure and uncertainty as the new Mayor is conservative and in the early stages of making cuts in the public sector, first to libraries and other services, with the arts probably to follow. Their main provider of investment is the Ontario Arts Council, with some input from the local authority. They have been offered some money over 3 years from the Arts Investment Fund to look at new ways to generating income or surviving on diminishing public funds, so it is similar to our own Resilience remit to an extent. She therefore identifies with many of the questions put to her Street Levels case study questionnaire regarding social enterprises and fundraising.

They undertake fundraising event – more established member’s work is selected with the aim of selling, with set prices of 100, 200, 300 dollars, 60% to the artist, 40% to the gallery. 8000 dollars was made from raffle tickets selling at $100 for the last show done. They also have an annual fundraising dinner. The Board are encouraged be active and have to elect 5 people, potential ‘givers’ (of money preferably!), and for the fundraising dinner. I like the onus put on the board here to actively assist in this area as it is yet another event to organize as well as peoples expectations, on top of an already full programme. She also has an advisory board who are met on an individual basis. As Director, Lise has to manage staff and there often isn’t training available to her in this area. She is employed to work 4 days a week, but that is often 5 and teaches 1 day a week at the University, and then has an infant to pick up from nursery. She organizes a one-day event with staff and board to review and revamp their mission and purpose.

401 Richmond is similar to Trongate 103, but much larger, with a bar and a large shop selling books and merchandise. In the spirit of the grass always being greener on the other side, it feels more vibrant and more of a community. In terms of Toronto as a whole this is augmented by a large number of high profile events in the city, such as the Toronto Film Festival.

Later, I meet up with Krista Blake at a live music and cultural venue called The Drake Hotel. She was responsible for getting Edwyn Collins to agree to play live at the civic opening of Trongate 103 back in 2009 and at the gig in Mono later, which included her husband, Norman Blake (of Teenage Fanclub). She tells me of a great plan to get a Glasgow season going in this venue in the run to or during 2014, which would invite artists, writers and musicians, and guest chefs, to pander and celebrate in the best possible way to Toronto’s love of all things Scottish. I tell her of the meeting earlier that day with G44 and also of a forthcoming exhibition on the Scottish indendent music scene in the early 80s in the show by Harry Papadoupolis. I’m keen to see if we can explore this further and connect these up somehow.

On leaving leaving the city, again very early next morning, preparations are underway in the vacant spaces in Toronto for Nuit Blanche (sponsored by Scotiabank), a one night arts extravaganza that takes place from sunset to sunrise on October 1st into the 2nd, that populates the city’s art galleries and shop units, public spaces, with art events and exhibitions.

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