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What About Rodman Hall? Part 3 of many: A Failure of Transparency and Trust at Brock

By Bart Gazzola

Rodman Hall makes Brock look so good. It would be a very silly mistake to get rid of it…you don’t buy something great and then throw it out.
– Katie Mazi, (Brock Alumni, 2015)

I went to Brock for four years from 2012-2016. The majority of my final year was spent at Rodman Hall for the 4F06 Honours Class. The studio spaces, as well as the gallery not only helped the students get their foot into the realm of the contemporary art world outside the academic setting, it allowed us to spent some time with a place of utmost importance to the history of St Catharines. Being at Rodman Hall I took the time to look at its history, the history of its original owners, and ultimately the entirety of St Catharines. I fell in love with this city through Rodman Hall…
– Miranda Farrell (Brock Alumni, 2016)

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 “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.
– Elizabeth Chitty (artist, educator, activist)

It may be odd to begin an account of the four evenings of the Future of Rodman Hall / Future of A Regional Art Gallery “consultations” with an anecdote from the final of that quartet of frustrations, erroneous assumptions and shoddy methodology proffered by Martin Van Zon and Interkom Smart Marketing. But sometimes a small fragment reveals the whole.

On that evening, a student inquired about the conflict of interest of having two members currently on the board of the “proposed” “art gallery of Niagara” while still sitting on the advisory board of Rodman Hall (John Mann and Peter Partridge, respectively).

A relevant question: being on the board of Rodman Hall, whom are still, so far as is known, under the directive of the Board of Trustees at Brock whom approved the Rodman Hall: Planning the Future A Preliminary Planning Process Report (colloquially known as the Barlow Report, as it was assembled by Janis A. Barlow & Associates) last year (renovations, fundraising, partnerships all pursued to foster and enhance Rodman Hall) and yet also on the “board” of the “art gallery of Niagara” whose agenda is to “receive the collection of Rodman when it closes” and to try to begin a new space in the downtown is obviously conflicting. The latter depends on the failure of the former, and suggests an undermining of a publicly espoused, and Board approved, directive.

When asked about this (for the fourth time in as many evenings), Van Zon became angry, criticized the student (this final evening was aimed at answering students’ concerns and questions) as being an “embarrassment” to the “community” for daring to question the integrity of this cabal that has been less than “transparent” (to use Brock V.P. Hutchings’ lofty promise) than many expect.

No answer, just offended rage: Catherine Parayre, Humanities faculty at Brock, felt it necessary to remind Martin – acting as a representative of Interkom Smart Marketing, in the employ of Brock University – that Brock has a policy of respect and consideration that transcends his role, and that’s a mandate of the University itself (which “offers all the benefits of a young and modern university in a safe, community-minded city with beautiful natural surroundings”…).

More tellingly, Van Zon never answered the question.

That simply made that evening like the others, where, citing local entrepreneur Garrett Zimmer, there was confusion at the lack of data (“why are we here, with no information to respond to?”). The ignorance of the assumptions that Van Zon presented were weighted heavily towards an “option” that leads to the end of Rodman and a “new gallery” that is so naive in his projections that many asked if he had intentionally underestimated costs for this favoured “option” while scaremongering for the Barlow Report / “second” option. Essentially, three “options” were presented: an easily dismissed “status quo”, an option for renovations and fundraising in the current site, and the “art gallery of Niagara”, when Rodman closes.

The day after the last “consult”, I’d contacted the current Director of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts with a variety of questions regarding this process (we had spoken the evening before, with David Vivian expressing concern over Van Zon’s presentations so far). In formulating my questions to him, the main interrogation of this entire process coalesced.

Is this process, as enacted by Martin Van Zon on behalf of Interkom Smart Marketing, at the behest of Brock V.P. Hutchings, credible, trustworthy and one that inspires confidence in both its methodology and the facts and options presented?

The answer of many who spoke at these sessions (whom are significant stakeholders within the cultural, historical, heritage and – my favourite phrase from one evening – the “ordinary citizens” or parents whose children treasure Rodman’s staff and programs) is a clear and unequivocal “no.”

When Stephen Remus, Director of Niagara Artist Centre spoke at the first of the “consultations” regarding Brock University’s re evaluation (Interkom Smart Marketing’s term of choice. Others called it divestment or abandonment), he was blunt. He occupied the role of a Cassandra: he didn’t say “I told you so”, but stated he’d opposed the original arrangement between Brock and Rodman from 2003 as he didn’t trust Brock to do the “right thing” then, and is unsurprised now that machinations seem to be in play to break the spirit of the agreement, if not the letter.

It’s important to privilege the voices in this debate, as in this process defined by Van Zon and the Board of Trustees at Brock, words like “sustainability” and “stakeholders” are anything but transparent, and seem to be pre loaded with definitions that exclude more than explain.

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