By Bart Gazzola
This dying October saw Interkom Smart Marketing further the process begun — by fiat, arguably — last February, of “re-evaluating Brock’s relationship to Rodman Hall Arts Centre,” on two seperate occasions; the first at the Niagara Artists Centre on Oct. 26, the second at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts at Brock University on Oct. 27.
Martin Van Zon (of Interkom) answers solely to the Brock Board of Trustees, and his previous report was sequestered therein, and any “consultations” report will suffer a similar fate.
This “evaluation” process has essential flaws (some obvious, like a two-day notice for “public consultations”). I thank Professor Sharilyn Ingram for acerbically demolishing Interkom’s “methodology”, on the second evening. Her gallery / governance experience is significant –unlike Van Zon, who’s not accredited as an arts consultant. This was highlighted by Janis Barlow, whose Barlow Report (Strategic and Business Plan, 2015) regarding Rodman Hall demonstrated significant depth. As she’s a highly respected arts consultant, this terminally fractures many of Interkom’s suppositions.
Perhaps the most disturbing, among many illustrating an intentionally distorted methodology, is the most obvious. Maureen McRae, the “moderator” of the first two sessions claimed “no decisions have been made.” Then Van Zon surmised Rodman’s shuttering, “replaced” by the “Art Gallery of Niagara” [AGN], an unaccountable cabal of “volunteers” (a website’s already online at agniagara.ca). Appropriate anger ensued: no one likes being misled. This seemed less a “consultation” than an ambush to many.
Further: Van Zon claimed the Canada Council and OAC would be defunding Rodman, but when asked whom he’d consulted (that word again) — no one, he confessed — he baldly fell back on “assumptions.”
The presentation Van Zon offered also included the images of Brock educator/artist Shawn Serfas, from his exhibition at Rodman. Serfas expressed concern regarding this, as it implied a support, or that he was privy (consulted, you could say) to this process. Like many, he wasn’t.
Assumptions, again, both loaded and unaccountable… (perhaps unsurprising) for lectures that privileged “developers” for Rodman’s land more than community / heritage, or how the “AGN” seemed eager to “receive the collection,” including works that are significant assets.
This was pervasive: conjecture and a poverty of hard data (or dismissal of valid research, like the Barlow Report), especially where it might interfere with the implicit agenda of the evening left everyone struggling with the idea of the “Art Gallery of Niagara.” Example: Van Zon criticised Rodman for “not fundraising”; until he was corrected that Brock had requested no actions be taken that would dilute Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts funding…
More: John Mann, part of the AGN’s faction, “scolded” the crowd regarding the severity of Brock’s “austerity” regarding Rodman. Yet, he ignored why few with significant experience to offer have been “consulted” since February. Fear mongering is an ugly term: but apt, here.
At the time of writing this, two more “consultations” are upcoming: this is simply a taste of a longer article to follow online at thesound.rocks. Other valuable sources (the experiential wisdom of genuine stakeholders whose motives are more collaborative and less fiscal) will be explored. The Sound invites feedback, at any point. We favour transparency: unlike others, we’re happy to identify all we consult…The definition of “sustainability” will be explored, in ways that don’t just involve boutique hotels.
Elizabeth Chitty gave a significant — appropriately angry — response on the first evening at NAC.
Her words: “The presentation at this ‘consultation’ presented three ‘options’ carrying no comparative data, based in the opinion and preferred option of the consultant. The methodology of this process appears to include largely [of] ‘research’ that has taken the form of in-camera meetings and private chats. A not-for-profit corporation was formed PRIOR to public consultation. The word, ‘sustainability’ is used with seemingly no understanding of standard professional financial structure for public art galleries. The preferred ‘option’ is that a local heritage site and public green space, which thousands of volunteer and professional hours have been poured into for decades, be sold to the private sector and a white cube be built downtown with mysterious sources of revenue somehow unavailable for capital improvements of Rodman Hall.”
We invite you to follow The Sound online for further details and more voices on the fate of Rodman Hall. If you wish to attend a ‘consultation’ they are scheduled for Nov. 2 and 3 at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre and the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts respectively. [S]
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.