By Bart Gazzola
While interviewing members of the new Rodman Hall Coalition these past few weeks, hoping to offer an update of what’s happening as 2023 nears, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that a positive sense informed most conversations. In talking to representatives of the coalition, with members from both the Rodman Hall Alliance, the previously mentioned Art Gallery of Niagara ad hoc group, under the aegis of Tom Goldspinks (asked to shepherd the group as chairman, both for his experience running the TAG Art Gallery but also his significant governance experience), there seemed to be faith that Brock University was (finally) cognisant of the larger picture. Granted, concerns regarding sustainability, and that the community here no longer has the option to be spectators, but need to be actors, and that there’s serious work to be done, were recurring themes. Even debates around the term “divestment” suggested that many at Brock wanted to support Rodman more effectively, rather than rush towards a divorce.
Then, on April 18, Brock responded to an applicant for the Director position at Rodman (which has stood vacant, in one sense, since Stuart Reid resigned nearly a year ago, but has really meant more responsibility without appropriate reward for acting Director / Chief Curator Marcie Bronson) with the following: “Due to recent internal movement and reorganization at Brock University, we will no longer be pursuing a search for this position.”
Realistically, any steps required towards redefining Rodman Hall, post (or in a new relationship with) Brock, will require strong, informed and community – engaged leadership. This suggests further tone deafness, bordering on the benign negligence and incompetence that was rife in the Interkom “consultations”, and that can be seen as a pattern, since 2003.
The Mendel Art Gallery / later Remai Modern in Saskatoon went without a proper director for an extended period as the former became the latter, and this caused major issues with finance, planning, priority and employment that were harder to fix and were preventable. But I’ll quote the source again: “Unbelievable that the university believes internal admin shifts will meet the requirements of the situation to transition the art museum from it to the community. Unbelievable that when so many of us are contributing our volunteer efforts towards a successful transition, the University cannot support our [efforts] by a full staff complement. Unbelievable that the Acting Director/Curator continues to be unsupported by the university’s decisions.”
However, to cite one of the members of the RH Coalition, it’s good to remember that Brock (the “unaccountable 13th Floor”) reconsidered before, with the Interkom debacle. So, let’s focus on the more positive aspects of what the new group is trying to do, and what it means – and what it demands – of the larger community, the cultural and civic stakeholders. At the time of writing this, Tom Goldspinks was meeting with Tom Arkell regarding this decision (Arkell is a coalition member, as well, but appointed by Brock). Updates (as always) are forthcoming.
Its regrettable, however, as at least one coalition member has spoken of resigning, if no director is hired….
The coalition has three committees, and these are essentially concerned with establishing both the status of Rodman Hall at this time, and potential models for what it will become. Elizabeth Chitty is heading the legal / governance committee, and has already begun research of alternate models for community run galleries, as well as exploring models of governance for RH, post 2023. Giulia Forsythe and Liz Hayden (whom began the Save Rodman Hall petition last Fall) are responsible for community outreach, to restore and strengthen what Goldspink refers to as the fabric between RH and the larger community. David Vivian, Director of the MIWSFPA is heading the financial committee: Brock and RH have been intertwined for some time, and working out actual costs, genuine expenditures, etc., without the inflation or confabulation that was a hallmark of the Interkom evenings is in the hands of Vivian, here.
This coalition’s goal is that by early 2018, a board of directors will be in place, with a governance model that offers a stepping stone to what Rodman will be, and these can be presented to a community that needs to step up if this asset is to be preserved and grow. Issues of membership, accountability – and the major question of sustainability – are being resolved, and input is not only desired, but required (rodmanhallalliance.ca is still the best place to sign up for updates).
Perhaps another question is whether the diligent efforts of a community are again being waylaid by a lack of transparency at Brock University. Perhaps this is a further challenge, with fires continuing to be lit under spectators whom must be actors, and this is the latest opportunity to be players, and not on the sidelines. Perhaps – as came up in several conversations – if the community values Rodman, this is the latest challenge, to be met.
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.