Report on the Meeting for the International Development of Quebec Artist-Run Centres

October 1, 2009

New Alliance

The meeting was held on June 4 and 5, 2009 in Sainte-Thérèse, a town located in the greater Montreal area, in Quebec. Brought together to examine development possibilities, artist-run centres’ current projects as well as the Quebec government support in this sector of activity, twelve speakers and contributors gave their comments during two days. More than ninety individuals participated.

The first speaker, François Deck, took his audience by surprise when he shared his thoughts on the international art market and his description of its desvastating effects on art production. Entitled Brouillon général, his intervention asserted that the art marked has been discredited since the 2009 events that generated a crisis in expertise and the dematerialization of the value of the economy of knowledge, forcing players to reassess their relationships. According to Deck, the art marked creates serious problems by linking the value of art to luxury and by focusing on the production of material objects. Moreover, the market is dominated by a few dealers who encourage the disappearance of criticism, the artwork thus being certified only by the market. He concluded his talk with an intriguing quote from John Keynes: Goods should not circulate too much, ideas and men as much as possible, and capital not at all!

Afterwards, five experiences in collaboration and international development by Quebec artist-run centres were shared with the audience. The biennial event Viva http://vivamontreal.org/viva/ brings together five artist-run centres in Montreal to produce a Performance Festival whose next presentation will take place in September 2009. Artist-run centres Engramme http://www.meduse.org/engramme/ and Le Lieu http://www.inter-lelieu.org/lieu_pres.html, both in Quebec City, presented their networks—in Europe for Engramme and for Le Lieu with several performance artists across the world. Langage Plus http://www.langageplus.com/, while located off-centre, has developed a residency exchange programme with the Alsace region in France. Located in Trois-Rivières, a city half-way between Montreal and Quebec City, l’Atelier Presse Papier often invites foreign artists for a residency in their studios http://sites.rapidus.net/atelier.presse.papier/PageAtelier/anglais.htm.

Our two guests from Finland were chosen to represent a country where artistic production, state support and excellent art installations seem to us exemplary. Timo Soppela is the director of Muu, a multidisciplinary art centre, managed by the Muu Artists’ Association of which he is also the director. As for Mitro Kaurinkoski, he is the director of the Photographic Gallery Hippolyte and of the Union of Artist Photographers, which manages Hippolyte.

The ojective of their common presentation entitled The Internationalization of Contemporary Visual Artists Based in Finland and the Work of Artist Associations was to give us information about their centres, the organization of state fuding and their shared achievements in and out Finland. At once, Mitro indicated that artists often live away from their country of origin, which would be the case for 10% of the members of the Union of Artist Photographers. It was interesting to hear that the construction of various networks is part of the work of a visual artist. 80% to 90% of Finnish artists are members of a professional association for a total of 2,500 in the five overseen by the Artists Association of Finland founded in 1864. Among these, the Muu Association has 500 members and the Union of Artist Photographers has 330. Galleries have activities similar to those of centres in Quebec: exhibitions, publications, talks, information centre, residency exchanges, concerts and performances, production studio (Muu), workshops, seminars. Moreover, they each organize a major event, i.e. a photography triennial for Hippolyte and the performance biennial AMORPH! for Muu. Together, they sell some 750 artworks made by 150 of their members during the Art Fair Suomi event. Of interest are the reasons given by both associations for their joining forces to sell the artworks: both are not-for-profit organizations without commercial objectives and work outside collectors’ networks. They also added that collaboration between the arts sector and the private sector is rare, and that the art market in Finland is small. The results of the 2008 sales were not particularly successful due to the beginning of the economic crisis. Among an ensemble of activities and talks designed to bring together artists and buyers, several interesting initiatives could inspire us, among them a talk entiteld Five Works I Would Buy and the publication of guide books: How to Buy Performance Art, How to Buy Photographic Art, How to Buy Video Art.

As a conclusion, our two guests indicated that the value of cultural exchange is too often neglected and emphasis should be put on funding exports. Finally, they expressed their interest in learning about collaboration between associations and artist-run centres throughout Quebec and Canada, and the challenges they face.

Laurent Moszkowicz is co-chairman of the Paris-based Fédération des réseaux et associations d’artistes plasticiens (FRAAP) and in charge of Visual Arts at La Malterie, in Lille http://www.lamalterie.com/online/index.html. The city of Lille is in fact at an equal distance from Paris, Brussels, London and Amsterdam, a geographical and political situation that also favours European exchanges, of which he informed us. In operation since 1995, La Malterie is comprised of thirty studios, a gallery, a concert hall, residencies. Its international development began in 2004, when Lille was named cultural capital of Europe. Moszkowicz seized this opportunity to underline the limited amount of capital invested in a city that sets cultural activities within such a context, stating that “the available funding goes to institutions before going to community groups.”

Finally, we invited two representatives from Quebec public organizations. Carl Johnson, director of the Direction des arts visuels at the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ), spoke about the Plan d’action internationale (International Action Plan) created by the CALQ in 2005, which follows four axes: ensure the presence of Quebec work on the international scene; host work from abroad in a spirit of reciprocity; develop a more effective contribution of the CALQ to these actions; and finally ensure a synergy with other governmental partners. He also mentioned the studio-residency policy in several foreign capitals, such as Paris, New York City, London, Tokyo, Barcelona, etc. He lamented the fact that there is very little circulation abroad of exhibitions by artist-run centres.

Fabienne Bilodeau works in New York City at the Quebec Government Office where she is director of cultural services. She spoke of the importance and features of the New York scene from which Quebec artists are almost absent, despite the metropolis’ proximity to Quebec. She distributed a Guide pour les artistes qui veulent exposer à New York that is available on the RCAAQ’s website http://www.rcaaq.org/html/fr/developpement_international_details.php?id=10048. She mentioned that New York galleries accept curatorial proposals. She recommended that projects be developed with not-for-profit organizations and university galleries, even though they have no money for artists’ or exhibition fees. Outside of New York City, she indicated other interesting cities, such as Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta.

Discussion workshops followed each panel or presentation, from which came recommendations. The most significant were the following:

  1. Establish a code of ethics for the accommodation of artists in residence.
  2. Develop artists’ residencies in Montreal where they are practically absent.
  3. Set up a program of invitations for foreign curators and journalists.
  4. Increase exchanges with other areas in Canada.
  5. Improve financial funding from the CALQ for international events by making it long-term.
  6. Encourage the RCAAQ to pursue its international networking initiatives.

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