Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Paul Bowdring, NLAC, and Arms Length Funding

Paul Bowdring

Now that the grants have come out (or not, as the case may be), I thought it may be timely to bring up several things that have been bothering me about the functioning of our dear provincial funding body.

For those of you who don't know, Bowdring, poet, novelist, editor and teacher, stepped down in disgust from NLAC, citing "government interference" as the chief cause of his resignation. Why this event hasn't caused a shit-storm of controversy amongst the local community is beyond me, illuminating perhaps artists' ignorance to the growing political machinations behind the Department of TOURISM.

It also illuminates the need for serious action to be taken by VANL (and the various other artist representatives in this province) for Arms Length Funding for the arts. What this means, of course, is that government bureaucrats will have no say on which projects get funded and which do not. As it stands, a representative from the department oversees which projects have been selected for funding, and essentially has veto power over projects he or she believes isn't in the best interest of the government. Many artists I've talked to don't even know what Arms-Length Funding is, leading me to believe that VANL has failed to educate artists about the issues they face in regards to their livelihood.

As for Mr. Bowdring, he deserves credit for being a stand-up guy. Thanks.


Recent talks with associates of mine who didn't receive funding for their project grants has confirmed a suspicion I've been carrying for a long time. Appointment to the granting committee at the Arts Council doesn't necessarily indicate an understanding of what visual art actually is. You may have been a hobbyist photographer for the last thirty years, but that doesn't mean shit if you know nothing about art history and contemporary art practice. Contemporary art is not simply defined as art being made today, but rather questions (conceptually, formally, etcetera) the assumptions and conventions under which art production has operated for the last 3000 or so years. That members of a jury in Newfoundland and Labrador have the arrogance to reject projects because they "couldn't decide if the proposed project was art or not", or because they thought the project was flawed "ethically", would be laughable if it weren't so fucking depressing.

What needs to happen in the selection of jury members for NLAC is a bias toward adjudicators who stress fairness and open-mindedness when considering proposals, and not those who adhere to an extremely narrow view of art making that excludes all other modes of expression aside from their own.

And also, I didn't apply for a visual art grant this time around, so it isn't just sour grapes on my part.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may have been a hobbyist photographer for the last thirty years, but that doesn't mean shit if you know nothing about art history and contemporary art practice.

I'm just wondering about this comment. I read it over a few times and wonder if you could clarify it. I'm Not trying to be sarcastic in any way, but I'm curious what your views are on this.

Are you saying people who do not have any idea of art history or any schooling for that matter should not get the funding over art school artist?

And like I said, I'm not trying to play up the comment, but just look into it a little more.


8:12 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

No. Some of the best artist I know didn't go to art school. In fact, I think much of one's time after art school is spent un-learning things picked up there. In that statement you quoted, I'm referring to adjudicators. But it's just an example.

10:48 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so glad to hear this, all of it.
frustrating?.... Not the f'n word.
that doesn't mean in my opinion that unschooled artists shouldn't get grants.
it means, ones that are trying to do something for the advancement of art in this province should. for the love of all that is holy, where is the support?
Can we get some educated persons on the
board as well? All i hear about lately is Newfoundlands image.... we are so proud to be Newfoundlanders.. ok we are happy about it... can we move on with it and pretend we exist along side others equally as great as us? And i'd like to question what is going to happen to the artists that don't get the support they deserve... There is difinately some talent here conceptual, formal, what have you, that will have to leave because they didn't want to support tourism... well the tour boat will soon be leaving and the artists that this province starves will be on it..

1:02 a.m.  
Anonymous Joseph B'ys said...

this is a good thing to be discussing. i heard about bowdring's resignation on WAM and read the letter in the Independent. Does it exist online anywhere? I think that distribution could go a long way in hackle raising.

Are you suggesting that every project grant has to be vetted by a party aparachnik?

When you write," As it stands, a representative from the department oversees which projects have been selected for funding, and essentially has veto power over projects he or she believes isn't in the best interest of the government." I've never heard this before and I don't think that Bowdring's letter says that either.

When I first heard about this on WAM a few weeks ago I felt that Angela let the minister off the hook.

and, in the spirit of full discosure, i got a grant this time round. I submitted the exact same project proposal as last time (where i got nada) with only the dates changed. The jury changes so I learn not to take it personally.

also, the issue of government arms lengthing and having a jury with half a clue aren't really the same issue and shouldn't be confused. The NLAC chooses the jury as far as I know.

Anyway, this might be the issue that gets this blog airborne again.

11:01 a.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...


Arms length funding basically means there is NO government involvement... aside from signing the cheques. Most of the other provinces in Canada follow this model. I just think it's a shame that it's not even on the radar.

12:52 p.m.  
Anonymous Joseph B'ys said...

thanks cfp but it still isn't clear to me how the government isn't doing this.

Bouwdring's letter refers to Departmental meddling in appointments to the board (which Hedderson pretty much admitted to on Weekend AM - he said that the candidates who were declined were the wrong gender and from the wrong part of the province).

I still haven't seen any proof, or heard anywhere but here, that there are Government types actually influencing what projects get funded.

Like I said before, there are a couple of different problems here. Funding of the Arts Council is a provincial and political concern while the funding of individual projects is a problem that shoulkd be addressed at the NLAC level.
And, if as you say, there are problems with juries being comprised of poorly qualified members then we should be greatful that the budget they have to allocate is so small. If what you say is true then more money would mean more bad art. And the chances of progressive or just weird art getting funded would not improve as aesthetics or appreciation for current trands in contemporary art have nothing to do how much money they have to spend.

3:30 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

please excuse my spelling.

3:32 p.m.  
Anonymous misterpig said...

A Couple of comments: A friend once told me that he used to make grand pronouncements about what art is until he was proven wrong so many times.

Um..Its common knowledge who was on this years jury.... were you making reference to Mannie Buckeit as a hobbyist photographer? And if you were, how do you know what his background in art is? How do you know he doesn't do it full time, how do you know he isn't well versed in critical theory?

one more thing I suspect you did actually apply for a grant......this time.....Am I wrong, you sound pretty pissed

11:47 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to put in a few words as someone who has served on a jury for NLAC before...
Firstly, there was no governmental representation in the room during decision making - if the government goes through the jury's decisions and then vetos projects we were not told about it. Secondly, I think the NLAC does try to choose jurys that are fairly well balanced in terms of their experience, age, sex, and their art practice to TRY and maintain fair judging standards for all applications. However, they can only choose their jurors from artists NOT applying for funding that session and sometimes it is a difficult thing to get a well-balanced jury.
Then comes the process itself. As a jury member you are given a large stack of applications and the funds to approve less than a third of them. It is a difficult, awful and heart-breaking task to go through a pile of promising submissions and have to eventually turn good work down due to lack of funding available, or its adherence to a list of criteria we are given to judge the applications by. In the meeting itself a war of personalities is bound to ensue with the most headstrong jury members taking the reins. There were many hearty battles waged between the members of our jury as to what work we felt really needed to be supported, with great variance of opinion, and in some cases a juror was worn down enough with arguing to eventually cave in and decide to support something they didn't really feel was meritorious to begin with...THAT's HOW IT WORKS, but I don't know that there's currently a better way for it to work.
I don't think calling someone a 'hobbyist' is really getting you anywhere...while their art, to you, is obviously not up to par, I am sure that they take it seriously and to dismiss them altogether means to dismiss that point of view altogether, which is exactly what you are asking them not to do to you. It is a shame that the visual arts jury seems to have turned down a lot of interesting work this year, but I don't know if that merits discrediting the members of the jury as professionals. Whether you like their work or not, I think starting with a basic level of respect will get you a lot farther than dismissing people outright.
You stated "What needs to happen in the selection of jury members for NLAC is a bias toward adjudicators who stress fairness and open-mindedness when considering proposals, and not those who adhere to an extremely narrow view of art making that excludes all other modes of expression aside from their own."
Certainly this is what I attempted to do in my position as a juror, yet the results were not 100% under my control as the decision-making process is, ultimately, about a group of people with disparate opinions coming to a compromise between them.
Maybe having more than 3 jurors on a committee would help broaden the opinion base and support other forms of work, but then again we would have to find 5 visual artists a year who hadn't applied instead of 3...

11:13 a.m.  
Anonymous misterpig said...

I would like to pipe in by saying There are factors outside of a jurys taste that influence the outcome of granting sessions. One in particular is the quality of the application. People can not expect to get grants (ever) if they are not professional and take the time to do it right. Working to put together an application for a half hour before the deadline will not get anyone money. Unfortunately in order to recieve money like professionals we need to behave like professionnals. Its part of the game.

12:15 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

I stand corrected in terms of government influence when it comes to the applications themselves. It was second hand information, and I went off without doing more research.


12:27 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

to Anonymous and misterpig: My communication skills must indeed be a little rusty, if what bothers you about my post is not that the jury actually felt brazen enough to judge work "ethically", but that I refer to a hypothetical member of this hypothetical jury as a (gasp) hobbyist.

and pig, I refer you to my comment of about ten months ago regarding the inevitability of someone saying I'm just jealous of others' success blah blah. That's lame.

As for your friend who used to make grand pronouncements about art... it's probably good for his health and the health of his associates that he stopped that habit.

12:39 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so you got 3 jurors judging for all the visual art to be funded?
and one of them is a hobbyist photographer? I certainly hope that the hobbyist isn't the headstrong one swaying the votes...anyone who calls themselves a hobbyist photographer shouldn't be judging in my opinion. I'm really curious about the credentials for jury members and if you need any..

6:51 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just a quick note about grand pronouncements in art.
the last century was about grand pronouncements. Knock them and knock the whole last century. There is nothing wrong about having a vision of what art is or should be. It has lead to some great art and has given you the ability to make or not make grand pronouncements. And all of it finds opposition. People afraid of being wrong generally don't take risks. The best artists of the last century were risk takers of the grandest kind. What are artists without strong opinions?

8:58 p.m.  
Anonymous misterpig said...

The problem with saying art "is this only" is that art doesn't seem to work that way. It has and always has had a way of eluding boundries.

9:40 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

of course eluding boundaries can be part of the pronouncement.....

11:57 p.m.  
Anonymous joe b'ys said...

who was the jury?

9:38 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There are factors outside of a jurys taste that influence the outcome of granting sessions. One in particular is the quality of the application. People can not expect to get grants (ever) if they are not professional and take the time to do it right. Working to put together an application for a half hour before the deadline will not get anyone money. Unfortunately in order to recieve money like professionals we need to behave like professionnals. Its part of the game."
This is very true and not to be underestimated. When trying to decide between a number of applications there is a list of criteria to judge them by, and the quality of the writing itself, the budget, the support material, all of this is taken into account. It's not good enough to have a great idea, it has to be presented in the right way.

Also, the criteria for being a jury member, as far as I understand it, is that you are considered a professional in your field by the field itself, and/or you have recieved grants from the NLAC as an artist before...

Hope that helps to clarify things.

1:18 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

professionalism is killing good artists
in this province.

2:16 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

anonymous 2.16: Can you be more specific? How do you mean?

5:00 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that is just a protest slogan.
You can use it if you like or agree with anything it might refer to. I can be widely interpreted.

8:16 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

So it doesn't mean anything? Gothca. Thanks for clearing that up.

11:22 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it could be interpreted different ways if anyone cared to. is there anything good or bad about being professional?
someone mentioned about professionalism above.
so that was my protest slogan against.
nice blog by the way...

1:36 a.m.  
Anonymous joseph b'ys said...

a few years ago Mike Flaherty and I organized a granting bee. we put out an open call to anybody who was thinking of applying for funding. we also invited a more experienced artist who had received funding at all (municiple, provincia, and national) levels to come as kind of mentor. we did this in Mike's living room over warm beer and snacks. very low key.

the city grants deadline was impending so most of the people had ideas for that.

a few good things happened. one- it made us all have articulate what our project was. two - it demystified the whole process as we realized that were all shitbaked and clueless about it. three - the support and advice from our peers as we fine tuned what we were trying to do was invaluable. four - all of us got grants.

the thing is that most people have bits of information. one can write but has shitty slides. another can't explain in langugae the visual activity they engage in. something like this can be very helpful.

it was very DIY but for me, that's the best way.

12:03 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey above,
that is good advice..

11:07 p.m.  
Anonymous Gillian said...

it's interesting to note that artists in Nova Scotia have operated with a lot more government involvement and are looking to move away from that model....

2:07 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

I know I may sound like an elitist but not only are the adjudicator's a problem, but the standards for those who apply for grants is a problem as well. All one need do to apply for a grant is get two letters of recommendation from more established artists. I mean, I think it's great in one way that restrictions are not so stringent, but really, why did I waste all that time and money in art school if all I needed to be considered a legitimate artist in NL was to have a couple friends of mine write me letters? In other provinces (not to mention for the Canada Council) one must have a demonstrable commitment to their art. That means a long (sometimes three years), documented art practice which includes exhibitions in peer reviewed galleries outside of Member's exhibitions, gallery fundraisers, and God forbid, restaurants and coffee shops.

Being an artist is the only profession where seemingly anyone who feels like it can lay claim to proficiency in the field in the name of "self expression", and our arts council seems to propogate, and even embrace this idea.
Swinging a hammer doesn't make one a carpenter.
As I understand it, having received a grant from NLAC is one of the primary requirements for selection as an adjudicator, which means that some years we have "artists" on juries who have never actually had an exhibition in which their work was peer-reviewed as defined by the CC and every other arts council in the country.

It's the blind leading the blind, and while I may never receive another grant from NLAC for having said this, it needs to be said. And then changed.

5:16 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right. You are an eliteist.

6:33 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

Would it make me more of an elitist to point out that you mis-spelled "elitist"? Just wondering.

8:18 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing about what you mentioned above.
I don't think recieving a provincial grant should be as tough as recieving a canada council grant. The only way to get shows is to start small and build up, but you need the support to come from somewhere. After you got support on the low end and had a couple shows then you can try your luck with the CC. It makes sense. Besides the CC hands out more cash usually, and i wouldn't be handing out that kinda cash here if it was up to me. I'm with you in the way that you gotta earn it. A type of dedication to the field i guess. think of awards - banks making investments.. and the cc doesn't wanna put 10 grand in the toilet which is the why for credentials. Craig makes good points that are not elitist...sp?
I hope craig is recieving grants... I doubt even if jurors (nlac)understand the why's?? of some art practices and that should never be a reason for rejecting a proposal.. most ingnorant people don't realize their ignorance... kinda like an insane person... but hmmmm... yeah... somethings gotta change with the nlac..don't know how to begin with it though..

9:23 p.m.  
Anonymous gillian said...

in general- I think the arts community in Newfoundland benefits from thoughtful, critical feedback- the kind stirred up by this blog. One of the things we need is a little more transparency as a whole and a little more awareness of how things work in the arts and arts grants community in St.John's, the province and the country. As a student of the textiles studies program we were made very much aware of the ways in which the Craft Council supported us- via study grants, juried exhibition space, being able to submit work to the their annual juried craft work as members. In the time that I spent studying textiles and now that I'm studying at NSCAD I have very little sense of what resources are available a) to student artists b)to artists in general. I have not yet had anyone explain to me how and why I would benefit from membership with VANL, or how NLAC works, or who I would go to besides artist friends if I was looking to put together a grant proposal for a first exhibit. I think that a lot of people could benefit if people in the arts community decided to organize workshops on the varying aspects of grant writing, what differing groups can offer. I think if something in this vein was undertaken the quality of the grant proposals would rise- there would be greater communication and sharing of resources- but also it would give people a chance to talk about what is working and what isn't and what can be done about it. There are students graduating every year from Grenfell's Visual Arts Program,from the Textile Studies program, and from the Visual Arts Program in Stephenville- do these students actually know what resources are out there in the event that they wanted to write a grant, an artist's statement, etc? Not all of them will go on to NSCAD, OCAD, ACAD or Emily Carr- but some of them will stay here and will be looking to get their work out there- how can we support them?

and in my humble opinion- now that I'm at NSCAD- there are quite a few people that aren't interesting and aren't made more so by going to art school. Meanwhile there are quite of few people who are quite interesting and were very much so before they came to art school.
I have met an awful lot of people who teach at NSCAD or are involved in the Halifax arts community and don't have near the sense of community that St.John's has.

11:32 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

quick question gillian,
where did the need to all of a sudden dog nscad come from?
do you have the impression that nl grads are being dogged and that is some retaliation.
art student doesn't equal interesting.
art student sometimes equals pretentious. and it can equal both the opposite. Everywhere! Did you go to Halifax to meet interesting people or get a decent degree recieving education?
Anyway, ones sense of community is anothers hell hole. Anywhere.....

4:22 a.m.  
Anonymous gillian said...

to quote craig "but really, why did I waste all that time and money in art school if all I needed to be considered a legitimate artist in NL was to have a couple friends of mine write me letters?"
that's where i saw the dog of nscad barking- just asserting that there are artists in newfoundland that are no less legitimate or more of something they already were because they decided to enlist in a BFA program.

by interesting i should have been more specific- what i meant to say was people engaged in making art work that is actually interesting-

7:31 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice back and forth folks.
I want to reiterate/expand the point that cfp makes, and to paraphrase Mick Jagger:
I played football all my life and no-one calls me a footballer, but you suck one cock...
The title (moreso than label) Artist as a self-identification is problematic in that there IS a hierarchy at play amongst 'the arts.'
In the Visual Arts world, those involved in contemporary art, when we hear of musicians, fashion designers, tole-painters refer to their work/passion/production as 'their art' there is a twinge of protest inside.
There is great benefit to come from involving onesself in creative pursuits, building communities and networks of artisans, hobbyists and craftspeople, lobbying for access to affordable means of support and services.
It is also important for those of us who engage in contemporary art production/dissemination/criticism to feel validated that our work is being represented and adjudicated fairly and accurately by the bodies designated to serve us.
One doesn't need to go to art school to become an artist, by any means, but to dismiss artists and cultural workers with the smear of elitism serves no-one, in this province or any other.
I work VERY hard at trying to keep myself up to date about what's happening in contemporary art, I've been the recipient of a grant for my most controversial and 'ethically complex' project as I was rejected months earlier for a project that the jury noted something to the tone of- we've never seen anything like that here. The grant I got funded for later that year was padded with 35 pages of reading material for the jurors on the history of performance practice in the contemporary art, on sex work and art production, some articles on relational practice and community-based practices. There are few people in the country whom I consider 'peers' in making work in a similar vein, but I would say there aren't many people I consider to 'know' that don't understand my work and its history and references.
When I say painting is dead, it's not a personal opinion- it's a peer journal review.
I appreciate the daunting task that cfp is undertaking here in creating a forum for people to talk about Art in newfoundland.
I also appreciate how hard it is to have your practice taken seriously there.
Hello from Montreal


12:51 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

when you say painting is dead? You didn't say it. so are you? Or is this what you have read?

2:14 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

something that i read. Communication is dead, both written and verbal. This is not a personal opinion because i don't think it is.

2:28 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a "Contemporary" jury especially put together so the "modernists" could apply for NLAC grants. Why not do up a petition CFP? - could solve a lot of woes mentioned on this the visual arts the NLAC could have the "trads" separated from the "comtemps"...finally. Hmm mbut then the Music jury would want that too?


10:05 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


just stumbled upon this blog, and please forgive me for that. i do come from another, albeit parallel, world (theatre).

i've served on a couple of juries nationally and provincially, so i thought i would offer up my comments, for what they are worth.

i can't speak for all juries, but...the juries i have served on have been guided by a generosity of spirit and an unwaivering attempt to be respectful of the art and the artists. in fact, program officers insist upon it. this is the truth of it folks; the juries i served on were truly excited by the new. it is also very true that the "new" is much more difficult to explain and articulate on the page. often a huge chunk of the projects that don't get funded suffer from lack of explanation, a poorly thought out and/or executed program description, and lack of articulated context. mikiki's point is very important; if the work is put in context for the jury, the jury, regardless of their make up, will be more apt to understand and fund.

the comments about educating the community on the role of the nlac etc. ...
once of twice a year the canada council will show in town, and have a well publicized information session for artists on grants and granting procedures. i have attended two. the first had five people at it (two of which were RCA staff, as it was held in the hall gallery) and the second had three. there are always attempts being made by the council and nlac to better educate artists on how to access the funding. it's in their (the granting bodies) best interest. more people apply, the stronger the case for increased funding and resources. despite their efforts, few artists show up.
that being said, the nlac is always a phone call away. the project officers at nlac and council are there on staff specifically to feild questions from applying artists and to facilitate the application process. take advantage of them.

i consider myself to be pretty successful securing funding. that being said i have been turned down as many times as i have been successful. don't belittle your practice or those who serve to support it by applying once or twice and then declare that the funding bodies won't support your type of work.

and if you don't like the juries, offer yourself up for one. they are always looking, around granting time. if you are a professional in your field, and recognized as such, you qualify. it's paying work (albeit not much) and a better education in how, and how not to, write applications is not to be found. the juries ARE selected to try to give a good cross section of practice, gender, region etc. so if you don't get on the first time, try again.

you're right. it is easier to get a provincial grant than it is to get a grant form council. in the theatre section about half (or thereabouts, i have to confess i'm not sure on the exact number here) the applicant projects get funding provincially. with canada council it is 1 in 6. council's criteria are more strict due to the sheer number of available applicants. far fewer newfoundland artists would be able to qualify for council's programs if the arts council did not allow for entry level grants.

i think this blog is great. i really enjoyed reading it. it would be unfortunate though if fervour won out over fact. in all of my deaings with them, the nlac seek to be transparent. while i don't doubt that paul bowdering's actions were legitimatly provoked (and i commend him for taking the stand) i also know some of those remaining with council (at the board and staff levels) and know them to be deeply committed to the community and its art. there are always two (three? four? eight?) sides to every story.

great blog all.
robert chafe

9:32 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

Thanks for your considered writing, Robert. Come back anytime.

1:42 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talking of Procurement I see now the recent Provincial Art Procurement for 2007 has wrapped up and had the nerve to include a potter on the jury! That's great eh? Think the Crafts Council would include a painter on their Craft jury for the Christmas Fair? What a farce!


1:35 p.m.  
Anonymous ms x said...

arshile...calling someone a potter... does that mean you tag them as a craft person? are you saying working in clay isn't an art medium?
the craft council has 2 visual artists that serves on the standards and juries the christmas fair.

5:56 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boring...get on to some real concerns...even your (CFP) Scope piece on sculpture only brushed against real things in public art...

1:10 p.m.  

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