Self-Determination When Cash Rules Everything Around Us

Amber Berson
This essay is an attempt to take stock of the current reality facing the administration of artist-run centres in Canada, with the aim of beginning a discussion around how to possibly move forward. Artist-run centres were set up as alternatives to museums and private galleries. Today, they are vibrant community spaces that produce and display some of the most important artistic output in Canada, much of which eventually represents the nation on an international level.

rtist-run centres are also networks of artist-initiated activity that reflect the (often left-leaning) politics of their memberships. They proliferated in the 1970s, at a time of extreme social upheaval. Their creation was indivisible from the social and political realities of that era, and their subsequent histories tend to follow, and often react against, the social and political histories of their geopolitical locations. Their history and their position in Canada is cleaved to that of the Canada Council for the Arts and the provincial and municipal funding councils that have been created to further administer the funding of artists and art spaces in this country. At present, artist-run centres (and, consequently, many artists) are dependent on these councils for their continued existence. I have noticed that over time, and following changes in administrative policy at a national level, the language employed by funding bodies has shifted radically. I believe that these changes in language affect the language of the centres themselves, which, in order to access the funding necessary to continue their activities — including paying artists a living wage for their work — are shifting their tone and priorities accordingly.

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This article also appears in the issue 85 – Taking a Stance - Taking a Stance

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