One of the positive aspects of the current COVID crisis is that it is making us aware, on many levels, and in many different ways, of what we take for granted. It is teaching us, or reminding us, of what we perhaps value too lightly. Let us revisit the amazing and diverse role that Rodman Hall Art Centre plays in Niagara, with these considerations, now.
It has been relatively quiet since Brock put out a call for EOI (Expressions of Interest) regarding Rodman Hall, and we’ve heard even less since the deadline for these has passed. This isn’t particularly surprising, as Brock, even after the departure of V.P. Admin Brian Hutchings has continued with its opacity and intransigence regarding real conversations – and disclosure – regarding RHAC. Many of us within Niagara approach anything that comes from Brock University regarding Rodman Hall with at best skepticism, or outright disbelief, anyway. It’s good to remember, after all, that the travesty that were the Martin Van Zon ‘consultations’ were not really intended to be anything more than a token lecture regarding what Brock intended, and how that was derailed may be the only real lesson some of the administrative cabal at Brock have learned: say nothing until it’s too late for mobilization against the plan. Many of us, to connect this back to the EOI, remember when Van Zon, at the first abortive ‘consultation’ at NAC, wouldn’t name ‘intersted developers’, and averred, with no facts and excremental assertions, that the world would surely end if we all didn’t rubberstamp ‘his’ plan then….
This might sound a bit paranoid, but consider it’s been a little more than a year since Brock’s plans to ‘sell’ RHAC were scuttled by media attention and resulting public outcry. It’s also relevant to keep in mind that an administration that blamed cutbacks from the Ford provincial government for their plans to demolish RHAC through neglect – despite it all starting long before Ford’s election – is not a cabal that can be trusted. This piece from the Globe and Mail acts as a potential warning, for what may lie ahead.
That is one of the reasons I’m putting this update out here now: when COVID and self isolation has passed, will Niagara see Brock proclaiming, with crocodile tears, that more ‘austerity’ and ‘belt tightening’ is required, and that one of the items on the chopping block will be Rodman Hall?
So, this is less an update, than a request to be vigilant: there is a survey online from St. Catharines City Hall, asking some questions regarding Rodman Hall, and I suggest you take it. This is part of their ongoing interest in what exactly Brock University will be presuming to do, with RHAC, and the Task Force assembled by the city of St. Catharines offers information about itself here. This includes its membership and other important information as to whom you should be talking to, emailing and generally making sure they use their voice – and the powers that the city has – to ensure that Brock does the right thing, here. Otherwise, it is clear, based on past actions, that they will not, despite whatever pretty words they put out, while relying on people not checking to see if facts (a less than skeleton staff, three major positions not replaced in the past several years, despite job postings and interviews done) eviscerate claims that Brock has ‘supported’ RHAC.
So, take the survey: contact your civic representatives as well as your regional ones. Be mindful that when we can all leave our houses again, and gather in public spaces, it would be a dereliction of responsibilities and further dishonest spin from Brock if Rodman Hall was no longer there, for the community of Niagara. Like many, I miss being able to walk the gardens, or see the exhibitions on display: so it is necessary to ensure that those, and the many other important and crucial aspects of RHAC, whether taking place on site, or that are faciliated in other spaces and places, continue when we’re able to congregate again.
Be well, readers, and I find one of the things helping to nourish me in this isolation is considering what I’ll do – and where I’ll go – when it’s all over. Rodman Hall is high on that list, as I hope it’s on yours. A number of people have expressed feelings of despair and powerlessness now, and this is one small way in which you can ensure that needed community spaces like Rodman will not be ‘lost’ (or taken away from us) before we can truly appreciate them, again.
The City of St. Catharines survey will close on APRIL 13th, AT 4 PM. You can fill it out easily online, and I strongly encourage you to do so : the link is here. I’ll reiterate contact links for City Councillors in STC (here) and Niagara Regional Councillors as well (here). The Rodman Hall Task Force, through the City of St. Catharines, has its members listed here.
I also suggest another tactic: contact Niagara Artists Centre (NAC), as they are surely a stakeholder in this (their recent anniversary of inception Art-a-thon: NAC at 50 showed clearly that without RHAC, NAC would not be here). NAC staged an exhibition years ago, What About Rodman Hall?, and they are clearly an organization, both in terms of membership and staff, that would have a powerful voice to remind Brock about their resonsibilities in the community, when Brock chooses to invoke the idea of a ‘cultural commons’. More resources and information can be found at the Rodman Hall Alliance site, too.
The header image is a wonderful piece by Mary Ann Barkhouse, Settlement, 2012, which stands ‘guard’ just at the edge of Rodman’s grounds. It’s wonderfully colourful, with the plants and flowers around it in Summer, and looks stark and powerful in the Winter. I plan to visit it again, as soon as I can.
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.