Well, ‘the time has come,” the Walrus said,”To talk of many things: of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–of cabbages–and kings–and why the sea is boiling hot–And whether pigs have wings.”
Why, yes, your intrepid #artcriticfromhell is ‘pleased’ to offer you an update on what is happening now regarding Brock University and Rodman Hall Art Centre. Allow me to explain my silly opening quote / metaphor; with those references to ‘kings’ – as in dismissive arrogant types, perhaps – that wish we’d just defer to our ‘betters’ on the topic of RHAC; ‘cabbages’ as in reheated bile in Brock PSAs that are opaque in their obtuseness, ahem; and ‘whether pigs have wings’ – no need to explain that one, I hope, since I’m sure you saw that flying pig, too, when Brock asserted they NEVER planned to sell RHAC to those developers, whom I guess would be working for free, cough cough.
But perhaps I should warn you, before we begin, as when The Sound broke the story regarding Brock – or the Hutchings Cabal, as it’s more accurate to term it such– planning to sell RHAC back in the Spring, Dean of Humanities Carol Merriman insinuated that we were ‘fake news.’ Mind, we weren’t the ones proffering mistruths so baldly, such as saying they’d supported RHAC strongly, when they’ve declined to fill three (3!) positions there in the last few years, emaciating the gallery through a process of ‘demolition by neglect’, to paraphrase Rebecca Caan.
Ah, forgive my skepticism: when I commented the other day that I was unsure if I should finish this update, or watch Evil Dead, a friend who’s involvement has been more in depth and nuanced then mine suggested the movie, as it has a clear end….
Since we last talked about Brock and RHAC, there’s been a few developments, several of which have been reported in The Standard, with varying degrees of (in)accuracy. The story has also been picked up at a national level by Canadian Art. They provided articles that both detailed the original ‘plan’ this past spring by Brock to divest itself of RHAC and ‘steal the collection for two dollars’ (Mark Elliot), but also the revised plan to hand over the space and the collection to a community board, with a more appropriate – and realistic, from both a financial and cultural position – plan for 2023. Several faculty have been adamant and insistent on making sure the university knows what it would be losing, and what the true stakes and real stakeholders are, in this debate. Praise to several of these, which includes Donna Szoke and Amy Friend.
Also this summer, St. Catharines City Council, at the urging of Councillor Carlos Garcia, and after presentations by former St. Catharines Cultural Coordinator Caan and former Councillor Mark Elliot (who, when he won the STC Arts Award for Making a Difference, repeated his assertion that Brock ‘stole’ RHAC and the collection for a toonie, and he will happily reimburse them – even with interest, so $4 – to get it out of their hands), struck a committee to gain information and break the Stalinist silence from the Hutchings Cabal at Brock. This is specifically regarding the most recent feasibility report by Alf Bogusky and Ann Pappert. City Hall, after all, offered support to the university regarding their MIWSFPA endeavour, and as pointed out at that same Council meeting, citizens of this city would be coming to them, not Brock, to ask why RHAC was shuttered and why we have no longer have a quality public gallery here.
They – again, unlike the Brock cabal – would not find it so easy to ignore questions and concerns, and would demand some accountability from Brock administration.
Some necessary praise: the students (Rachel McCartney and Sarah Martin, especially) at MIWSFPA have been amazing, in both protesting and making their voices heard, and not being interested in the refusal – whether ideological or just ignorance – on the part of said cabal to not take their concerns seriously. With protests at various Brock events to derail the spin, one of the reasons why myself, and others, are somewhat hopeful, is due to them.
The ‘new’ board that has recently incorporated with intent to have RHAC and its collection returned to them has several notable names with significant experience (one of them, Reinhard Reitzenstein, made one of my favourite comments during the Van Zon consultations, pointing out that neither Van Zon, or his AGN types, had any idea or experience for what they were talking about).
The relevant information from their PSA released in late June:
Rodman Hall Art Centre Inc. is a community-based not-for-profit corporation whose first order of business is to develop a phased transition plan with Brock University to return the public art gallery back into community hands. This initiative is a constructive response to Brock University’s goal to reduce their financial obligation for the art museum. Rodman Hall Art Centre Inc. is dedicated to ensuring the future excellence of Niagara’s award-winning professional art museum, and to provide inspiring contemporary art exhibitions and public programs. RHAC Inc. intends to raise funds from a wide variety of sources, engage community volunteers and leverage the historical home and gardens to create a cultural destination for residents and visitors to Niagara.
Unlike, again, the opaque curtain that Brock employed regarding their decision, this RHAC Inc. update also offered biographical information and the relevant experience of their board members. These include Jean Bridge (Chair of RHAC inc., who’s both an artist and educator of long standing in the community, as well as the ‘founder of nGen Niagara Interactive Media Generator, now Innovate Niagara and the Generator at One’), Ken Lucyshyn (Executive Vice-President, Aggregates & Construction at Walker Industries Holdings limited. That company name may be familiar to you from the recent Niagara Pumphouse Walker Industries Art Competition) and the aforementioned Reitzenstein (internationally renowned artist, associate professor of Sculpture at the University of Buffalo. His past experience is impressive, having ‘served on the Boards of MacMaster University Museum of Art and the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and Grimsby Public Art Gallery’).
In past conversations about RHAC, the fact that the grounds, as well as the gallery spaces, are a treasure to be preserved is acknowledged with the presence on the RHAC Inc. Board of Darren Schmahl (horticulturist and educator at Niagara Catholic District School Board and the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture.’ It is very edifying to have ‘an authority on the history of the gardens at Rodman Hall and contributor to their current design’ as part of this group). The group is rounded out by two excellent examples of the balance present in this group: Shawn Tylee (Manager, Corporate Affairs, Rankin Construction. He ‘brings a wealth of knowledge in Business Marketing, Strategic Planning, Client Relations and Contract Negotiations to’ the group. Again, this is important as Brock – with Van Zon, but this self serving ignorance has been repeated by others there, afterwards – has implied the ‘irrelevance’ of RHAC, while instructing them to not scuttle the MIWSFPA fund raising of the past decade, and then neither supporting nor replacing staff whom could raise and enhance RHAC’s public profile…) and Dr. Peter Vietgen. Vietgen is an ‘Associate Professor of Visual Arts Education in the Teacher Education Program at Brock University and the current President of the Canadian Society for Education through Art’.
All are experienced and informed choices to shepherd RHAC towards 2023 and being rid of Brock’s mendacity (as I must mention AGAIN that blaming Doug Ford for this ‘austerity’ is self servingly disingenuous, since Van Zon was jibbering about developers long before Ford as a premier was even suggested by the most absurd of comedians….).
This is a hopeful turn, and one that surely wouldn’t have happened, I suspect, if V.P. Finance Hutchings hadn’t departed for job with the City of Brantford. An amusing aside: a friend works at an auto shop, and described how, in the midst of changing Hutchings’ radiator that he was subjected to a gleeful monologue by the former Brock employee as to how glad he was to finally rid the uni of RHAC. Rather funny, when you consider the eagerness with which he and his lot blamed Doug Ford for the necessary cutbacks, though this all started several years ago before the idea of Ford as Premier was anything other than a bad joke. Amusingly, again in a painful manner, is that a similar ignorant wielding of a bloody axe under the misguided mendacity of austerity is ALSO what Hutchings was doing, aping Doug.
Is the RHAC and Brock saga over? Not bloody likely, your intrepid #artcriticfromhell would say. After all, a little over a year ago, many of us thought Brock would no longer foster plans, public or secretive, to ‘steal the collection and building’ (again, I praise Mark Elliot’s acerbic exactness). It is not inappropriate to be wary until 2023, and the building and collection are out of Brock’s grasp: but I must end with this. Is the cultural community willing to step up, in terms of support both financial and vocally, to ensure RHAC survives? We’re having this conversation again because a window to ensure Brock behaved appropriately was missed. Will we miss it again?
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.