AGN and Town to partner – at least for 2018

In 2017, the Art Gallery of Northumberland (AGN) engaged Laridae Communications Inc. to conduct a community engagement project which concluded that the community clearly values the AGN and wishes to support it. However, Laridae concluded in July 2017 that the organization continues to face structural and chronic sustainability issues that must be addressed if the AGN is to remain viable over the long term. In November 14, 2017, Laridae led a discussion with the Board and two representatives of the Town of Cobourg regarding strategic themes and priorities. Twenty one priorities were developed that called for a review of how the organization was run, an assurance of sustainable funding, a reduction of costs where possible, an improvement of benefits to the community, a  restoration of the AGN’s reputation and quality, an improvement in communications and a strengthening of volunteer management and more.

AGN Logo
AGN Logo

The Town and the AGN agreed that the AGN has tremendous cultural and tourism potential for the Town and the greater region but that the “long-term operational and financial viability of the AGN are contingent on the implementation of fundamental changes at the AGN”.

So the Town agreed to provide more funding in 2018 than in 2017 ($160k vs $95K) and would agree to continue with enhanced funding IF the AGN “demonstrates commitment to develop a professional Business Plan and implementation strategy”.  This is spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Council approved at the Council meeting on May 22. The AGN describes this in a Press Release issued May 25:

By the end of 2018, the AGN will deliver “a business plan that will clearly define a mandate, governance and organizational structure and a sound financial model. The MOU has also established a clear communications and progress reporting plan.”

Required Specifically by the MOU (summarized)

Mandate – Within the Board, staff, membership and broader community, there are many conflicting opinions on the mandate and vision of the AGN. Therefore, the mandate and vision must be reviewed and revised to provide clarity for future operations.

Governance – There are different types and categories of art galleries as well as various models of governance. The AGN needs to evaluate these options carefully against a revised organizational mandate and potential operational partnership with the Town of Cobourg.

Organizational Structure – Based on the recommended new mandate and governance model, core programs and services need to be identified along with a draft organizational structure and key roles and responsibilities to deliver those services.

Financial Sustainability – A key component of the Business Plan will be a financial strategy mapped to the organization’s new mandate, governance and organizational structure. This will include an approach towards sustainability through grants, fundraising/sponsorship, program fees and membership.

Communications – The Business Plan shall include a Marketing Strategy that incorporates branding and community engagement.

What does this mean?

Although the AGN seems to be operating successfully, there is doubt that it will remain viable over the long term.  Some hard decisions need to be made – one recent one was to transfer the Port Hope “store” to Northumberland 89.7 radio so it is no longer a resource drain on the AGN. They need to decide on what their mandate is and to all be going in the same direction.  The Town will provide financial support but only up to a point.  They seem to be saying “Show us that you can run as a viable business and that the benefits are worth the cost.”  To form your own view of what’s happening, read the MOU and AGN Press Release in the links below.  Or go to their AGM on Tuesday, 29 May at 5 p.m. at the AGN in Victoria Hall.

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Wally Keeler

The other method is commercial. The exemplars of this gallery are the Carmen Lemanna and Isaac’s Galleries. They brought forth Canada’s most creative artists; Ian Carr-Harris, Robin Collyer, Ian Carr-Harris, Vincent Tangredi, Shirley Wiitasalo, General Idea, Michael Snow, William Kurelek, Graham Coughtry, Gordon Rayner, Jack Chambers, Joyce Wieland, Mark Prent, John Meredith, Robert Markle and Gathie Falk.

The AGN and AGO are retrospectives of art, not promoters of cutting edge creativity.

Tim

It was the Carmen Lamanna Gallery and, curiously, you’ve failed to mention all of the artists who originated in London, Ontario: the painters Greg Curnoe and Ron Martin and the sculptors Murray Favro, Robert Fones, David Rabinowitch and Royden Rabinowitch. I think they might also qualify as “most creative”.

Wally Keeler

Red herring. I didn’t fail to mention them. I simply named a few to illustrate. I was inclined to name those individuals who had association with the Peoples Republic of Poetry.

Wally Keeler

Critical Mass ( https://criticalmassart.com/ ) is an association of Port Hope artists. In recent years they have put on displays and performances of art in the public domain. They have engaged the public in art experiences to an extent that the Art Gallery of Northumberland has not. Critical Mass is infectious insofar as drawing in art students and enriching Port Hope’s cultural scene. They now hire students. They were responsible for the Before We Die installation, the Walton Street Slide, and last year the Mini Mega Print ( https://youtu.be/D-O5y39saIU ). This is top notch creativity by artists themselves, managed by artists. This is the model of creativity that the AGN could cultivate except that it is a government funded institution which contaminates it with mediocrity. Why taxpayers seem to think there is value in funding mediocrity is beyond me.

Duane

Full disclosure: I was a member of the AGN board from 2012-2016, the board that exposed the wrong-doing that led to pressing charges against the former director. A couple of comments on what has been written here: Tim – the finances and the day-to-day running of an art gallery are the responsibility of the gallery’s executive director, not its curator. At the moment, due to financial constraints, the gallery has no curator; the role is handled by the exhibitions committee. Not the best way to curate exhibitions, but it will have to do until the gallery has enough financial stability to hire a curator. I take as a personal offense your statement that I should not be allowed to serve on the AGN board in the future. The board I served with was the one board that asked questions and managed its way through the deceptions and lies, and figured out what the former director was up to. Please explain how I and the other members of my board have failed the people of Cobourg. gerinator – In trying to understand the financial model that would be appropriate for the AGN, I researched the finances of other Ontario public art… Read more »

Kyle

My compliments for having the courage and integrity to ask the tough questions and uncover what was really happening at the AGN.

cornbread

Perhaps the people who want the “Arts” should be responsible to pay for their “Arts” rather than expect the general population to mostly always continue to subsidize their interests. Some interests require more that volunteers…they need big donations from the interested people.

Cobourg would have been better served with $250,000 going towards repairs to our pier, not to the AGN.

cornbread

And another $90,000 going into a cultural study this year. When will it end?

Tim

This proposed cultural study is an abomination and should never happen. We really are a Town of Idiots to put up with this endless squandering of money. Enough!

Walter L. Luedtke

An excellent exposition of the necessity of public investment in the arts.
Thank you Duane.

Frenchy

Your pal Wally doesn’t seem to agree with you about government funding.
From his posts below:
“The silliness continues. You actually think that a government funded art institute is good for creativity. LOL.”
“The govt-funded institute that you seem to hold to, is all too often mediocre but that’s what taxpayers get and deserve.”

Wally Keeler

Frenchy continues to contribute nothing to the discussion of art or the AGN. Typical taxpayer.

Wally Keeler

John Taylor brought Stephen Cruise to exhibit his stuff in Cobourg. This was back in the early 70s. The reception was full of the local stuffed shirts, with the exception of Peter Kolisnyk. It was a wonderful exhibit. One of the pieces was a crate full of blonde bricks with the phrase “In Advance of the Occupation” painted on each brick. The bricks were then wrapped in barbed wire. I befriended Cruise and he donated a brick to the Peoples Republic of Poetry. The Gallery was brave to exhibit Stephen Cruise in those days. He has become an accomplished artist and lo and behold, he was chosen to design Victoria Square’s art. The Kolisnyk’s were well-informed of cutting edge art and presented great shows at the gallery. They were at war with mediocrity.

Tim

I’m glad you mentioned John Taylor who did great work for this Town, both at the art gallery and working tirelessly with Lenah Fisher to save Victoria Hall. The main priority of the AGN should be to mount shows that present the very best contemporary works of art that they can get their hands on. A local art gallery should be a place where young people, especially talented young people, can go to learn what’s happening on a national level. John Taylor did it and the Kolisnyks did it and I know that they were constantly at “war with mediocrity.” If a curator determined to mount three shows like this each year and interspersed each of them with shows of the best historical works in the collection, and perhaps one annual show of the best local artists, the AGN would become a magnet for young people and an inspiration for everyone. Too often local galleries are co-opted by “local stuffed shirts” as you put it and people who think their wife or their niece is a talented painter. The AGN should be run as a serious art gallery for a change, not some vanity project for the most aggressive locals.… Read more »

Wally Keeler

Your suggestions suffer from textcessive mediocrity.

Tim

Mediocrity? Half the time I don’t know if you’re writing comments or humming a mantra.

Wally Keeler

Yes, mediocrity. Most of your comments suffer from textcessive bland gland debris. But your suggestions for the Gallery to get ahead are mediocre. That’s all, mediocre. And somewhat ineffective due to a insufficient imagination and creativity. The gallery does have potential, but nothing suggested here will help them much.

Dubious

Wally, since your abilities are vastly superior to the mediocrity of the other posters, are you willing to provide a viable plan for the AGN? If not, please refrain from criticizing those with actual thoughts.

Wally Keeler

The silliness continues. You actually think that a government funded art institute is good for creativity. LOL. Perhaps if you had thoughts that were creative rather than prosaically witless, you would see other alternatives to a government funded institute. Poet Hope has a marvellous and creative plan for art in their community. That is superior to what we have in Cobourg.

Wally Keeler

Parallel galleries, Dubious. That is where you can find cutting edge art in its infancy. Stephen Cruise had his first show outside Toronto in Cobourg. He was a young organic artist, and part of the stable of artists centred around A Space, the grand daddy of parallel galleries. The govt-funded institute that you seem to hold to, is all too often mediocre but that’s what taxpayers get and deserve. If you do not have any art specific suggestions please refrain from criticizing those who do.

Frenchy

A Space seems to be OK with government funding.
http://www.aspacegallery.org/?m=page&id=29

Wally Keeler

They are not an institution like the AGN or AGO. They are artist-run. They know much more about cutting edge creativity than institutions such as the AGN or AGO. And certainly more than you, Doobiush and most Cobourg taxpayers.

Frenchy

But they are government funded.

Wally Keeler

Sorry Frenchy, but I have neither the time nor motivation to educate you about the differences between the two systems. I favour the parallel system of art display. You seem to favour nothing. Taxpayers get a bigger creative bang for their buck from parallel galleries than from staid municipal galleries.

Tim

That ain’t necessarily so.

Wally Keeler

Taxpayers get a bigger creative bang for their buck from parallel galleries than from staid municipal galleries.

Dubious

Your comments appear to be misdirected. I wrote nothing, pro or con, about government funded art institutes. I offered no art specific suggestions nor did I criticize the comments of others on the matter. I merely suggested that you employ your vast creative resources to explain the best approach. Unfortunately, the result was another diatribe about mediocrity from the mediocre.

Wally Keeler

“I merely suggested that you employ your vast creative resources to explain the best approach. Unfortunately, the result was another diatribe about mediocrity from the mediocre.”

The implicit stupidity of ad hominem remarks can be easily revealed in the two sentences above. First, I am acknowledged to have “vast creative resources” yet at the same time, I am accused of being mediocre.

The mediocrity is so thick that Dubious came up with zero remarks on the subject at hand — the AGN. Zero, the ultimate mediocrity.

Insofar as “vast creative resources” are concerned, I had already demonstrated that you are incapable of creative ideas in a lengthy previous thread. It’s not a bad thing to have little or no creativity. It’s just the way it is. No doubt you have many other skills and talents much better than I have. BUT, you ain’t as creative as me and you never will be. Get used to it. When ya got it, flaunt it.

Wally Keeler

What is your actual thought Dubious? C’mon, put up.

Tim

You have a misguided love affair with parallel galleries, i.e. artist-run spaces. There are thousands of galleries in that category that are utter failures at showing anything really new or even vaguely interesting, just as there are thousands of commercial galleries that show the same old dusty stuff. It has nothing to do with government funding (as Frenchy points out even your precious A Space is government funded); it has only to do with the people in charge. Artist-run spaces are only as good as the artists who run them. And the same can be said for the AGN.

Tim

And incidentally, it is not the purpose of the AGN to function like an artist-run space or a commercial gallery. It has a collection and part of its responsibility is to show that collection and, when possible, to expand it. I believe it has an even deeper responsibility, especially to young people, to exhibit the best contemporary art. And where does it find that art? It borrows it from reputable artist-run spaces, the best commercial galleries and museums.

Walter L. Luedtke
Miriam Mutton

Excellent link Walter. I believe Mr. Kolisnyk designed the long standing logo for the Cobourg DBIA which was replaced a few years ago.
There would not be an AGN without the dedication and vision of people like Mr. and Mrs. Kolisnyk.

Wally Keeler

A short poem about Peter Kolisnyk written by James Clark, good friend and former Cobourg councillor and Superior Court Judge.

PETER KOLISNYK
I.M.

You walked from your room
into the dark
one last time,
raised your tired hand
& slowly drew a perfect single line,
slender & radiant,
across the night.

Sail far, kind & passionate friend;
your gift flung wide the borders
of your art,
let us see again.
Now your spirit fills
the room with light.
Huge, it ripens in silence
like a word.

Walter L. Luedtke

Not too sure whether the AGN is headed for the sunlit uplands.
First though, responding to my learned friend Tim, it is not Council’s responsibility to run the AGN , but its own Board of Directors. Yes. there is a Council rep on the Board, but that’s mostly a token given all the other responsibilities our lowly-paid Councillors have.
But looking at the website of the AGN, nobody has bothered to update the Board Minutes since 2015.
Sloppy!
And 21 priorities are probably 18 too many!
Also, the position of Vice-President is vacant.
Could it be that being on the Board is just a ‘social’ kind of thing?

Tim

Stop nitpicking. There is always a Councillor on the Board of Directors of the AGN and it is just another example of the utter incompetence of the idiots we have elected that in fourteen years no one noticed that there was something seriously wrong at the AGN. No one serving on the Board of Directors during that time should be on the Board of Directors going forward. They’ve all failed the people of Cobourg and they’ll only fail them again.

gerinator

As an AGN member I support it, view its works of art and would very much like to see it stay for a very long time. I agree with much of what Tim says but I do believe investment by the Town (by that I mean taxpayers) is needed in the short term, maybe less so as things improve. On another matter, somewhat related, I find it ironic that the Town requires of the AGN to “demonstrates commitment to develop a professional Business Plan and implementation strategy” when clearly the Town needs to takes its own direction, guidance with some of the Projects they’ve initiated. Who in the Town is capable of assessing the quality of either, certainly no one I’ve seen.

Tim

This Town has more business and strategic plans than the Chinese government. Perhaps if they used some of the thousands they waste on paperwork and professional consultants, they could spend that money on actually accomplishing things that need to be done.

Dubious

Perhaps repair the damage at Monk’s Cove rather than follow the consultant’s plans to expand the marina?

Jamie

Yes please.

Tim

How difficult is it to run an art gallery, especially an art gallery the size of AGN? It’s not the AGO. Hire a qualified curator with a track record for balancing the books, then leave them alone for a couple of years to mount shows and fund raise. It might be advisable to put a freeze on new acquisitions for a year or two. If they’re successful, re-new their contract; if they are not successful, kick them out and hire someone else. We had a curator in place for fourteen years who was eventually charged with fraud, theft and forgery. That says it all, and the fact that it went on for so long without the Cobourg Council noticing is an absolute scandal. We have had some impressive people running the art gallery in the past. Peter and Ann Kolisnyk come to mind. They made exiting and relevant shows and purchased important work for the AGN like a painting by Gershon Iskowitz, which is by far the most valuable modern work in the collection. Success has nothing to do with the amount of money the Town throws at the gallery; it has everything to do with the quality of the… Read more »