New Voices

What an inspiring evening hearing New Voices I just had!

I’m still trying to process a bunch of stuff:

A young lady I’ve seen have scary tantrums and whom I’ve also seen around town doing the kind of menial jobs that people with developmental disabilities are sadly so lucky to get when they can — this young lady turns out to be a beautifully soulful singer;

Artists with developmental disabilities hobnob at their music video launch with Miss Sarah Chan and her husband, the Mayor of Edmonton;

The head honcho of ATB Financial announces that his company’s downtown office building is lit up in purple in honour of an inner-city art studio where professional artists mentor artists with developmental disabilities, were artists with barriers of all sorts are given the opportunity to exhibit their work, where musicians and dancers from the larger arts community mentor the resident Collective;

And, I can’t shake from my mind the fact that an outfit “advocating” for the disabled shunned the wonderful institution that brings all these people together, from business, from politics, from the arts, and from the all-to-often-invisible disabled community — I can’t shake the memory that an organization claiming to advocate for the disabled rejected this wonderful, integrated, outward-reaching place as “segregated”.

No. This place, The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, which I’ve written of before, is a place of true integration. This isn’t a place of art lessons for “normal” people with a chair or two set aside in the corner for “special” people. No. The Nina Haggerty Centre is a place where people are helped to be a part of the larger community, of a larger community than most of us “normal” people ever get to be a part of. The Nina helps people to find their voices, voices they often themselves don’t know that they have.

And what voices they are!

Please listen to Angela Trudel singing words composed by her Nina Collective colleague Alana Gersky, and then listen to Angela singing her colleague Amber Strong’s words as Amber plays her own music on the piano.

Please listen. And hear.

I won’t name the agency that argued that the Nina Haggerty Centre was segregated. I understand their opinion has changed, perhaps in small part due to my online rants.

The Nina Haggerty Centre is all that is best about Edmonton and about Canada. It is about finding the beauty in each of us and helping each other to share and enjoy that beauty. Sure we screw it up a lot. Sure we are often tone deaf and we have bad days or years or centuries where we just don’t seem to be able to hear each other. Sure we’re hateful, impatient, hurtful, stupid and just plain tired lots of the time.

But when we get it, when we listen, when we just darn well work hard for what is right, and true, and beautiful. When we simply ask “what are you feeling?” and listen — truly listen — to the answers, especially answers from New Voices, we do pretty amazing stuff.

Yes, we make a mess of so much. But, do you suppose we can, like Nina Collective artist Yvette Prefontaine, keep on Searching for Hope?

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Summer Republic III

This past Thursday evening (July 9, 2015) I went to a show-opening reception at a small North-Side gallery in Edmonton.  The work, by a collective of artists, is a mixed bag of styles, subject matter, and media, but bright, summery tones of orange stand out around the four walls.

I bumped into (name dropping alert) David Janzen, one of Edmonton’s premier landscape painters, and his partner Sue.  Dave and I seem to get talking when we bump into each other, sometimes about art, sometimes about cutting grass.

I pointed to a large work that occupied one corner of the gallery, a deceptively simple looking monochrome wood-cut print in black hung beside the actual block from with it was printed.  A quirky aspect of the print is that rather than being rolled in a press, this piece was printed, once on paper and once on cloth, by driving a steam roller over the thing.  The result is an extremely limited edition print titled “Roadwork” by Aaron Harvey.

“I like that,” I said.  “It’s got a sort of Mexican Day of the Dead vibe going.”

Dave said “Oh yeah . . . (?)”

“Yeah.  The two figures are sort of skeletal and those look like sombreros on their heads.  And down at the bottom is the underworld, Xibalba, the Maya Land of the Dead.  And the two figures are the Hero Twins, Hunapu and Xbalanque, or maybe they’re One and Seven Death, the highest of the Lords of Xibalba. . . . .”

“What about those twisted amoeba-like things at the top?”

“Those are clouds and they’re reflected in the similar shapes at the bottom, just as the underworld must reflect the upper. And the crosses in the buildings reference the remarkable syncretism of Mexican ‘Catholicism’ . . . .”

Dave had another chip.  I nibbled baklava, hoping the nuts wouldn’t kill me.

“I like this one, too,” I said, pointing at Lora Pallister’s “Golden King of the Jungle.”

“What is it?” asked Sue. “A rabbit?”

“No, it’s a gorilla dressed sorta like Carmen Miranda.  Or a lion.”

“And that’s a big joint in his mouth,” said Dave.

“Or a piece of red licorice,” I suggested.

Dale Badger’s three line-drawings after Crucifixions by Dürer, particularly “Angels Collecting Blood after Dürer”, are brilliant.  Simply brilliant.

I spent a little time nibbling the snackies and then (name dropping alert) Rona Fraser (you may remember her as one of Avenue Magazines “Top 40 under 40” from a year or two ago) asked me if I knew of a good place to get beef ribs to barbecue (I don’t) which took us to the subject of black pudding and then Rona asked “Do you know a good place to get haggis?”

Well, obviously, I told her the best place in Edmonton for both black pudding and haggis (and meat pies) is (name dropping alert) Old Country Meats in Allendale across 106 Street from the Allendale School.

 

I suppose you’re wondering where this magical North Side gallery is, a place full of wicked good art, a place you can rub shoulders with top artists and hobnob with Top 40 under 40ers and talk with them about food and art and the Popol Vuh.  I suppose you’re wondering.

Wonder no more.

(name dropping alert)

This gallery is at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts.  If you are in Edmonton you should know about The Nina, you should go to the Nina, and you should learn what it is and what it isn’t.

The Nina is a mentoring collective.  It is not a sheltered workshop.  The Nina is a studio for artists working with barriers, not “art therapy” for the “handicapped”.  The art on display in the show I described above, Summer Republic III, has been created by Artists in a studio, not by disabled people in segregation.  They have been mentored by some of the top artists in Edmonton such as (name dropping alert) Jill Stanton, Caroline Gingrich, Brenda Kim Christiansen, David Janzen, and Artistic Director Paul Freeman.  The Nina Collective is made up of these and more mentoring Lead Artists as well as Apprentice Artists who are being themselves mentored in the art business (writing grant applications, etc.), volunteers, and the almost two hundred Artists with abilities, not disabilities, who are being mentored in art making.

The works in Summer Republic III have been chosen through a jurying process and represent the best of what the Artists of the Collective have produced over the last year.

The work is rich, it is evocative, it should be seen, it is Art.

 

Summer Republic III is on display at the Stollery Gallery at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, 9225 118 Ave, until August 14, 2015.

Go see it.

And drop into the busiest studios in the City while you’re there.

 

 

Scott Berry’s “Confusement”: Two Video Walk-Throughs and a Thought or Two

Confusement – The feeling of being stared at but no one can see who you are.
– Scott Berry

We hoped to collaboratively create an environment for the viewers to experience and make their own meaning.
-from the program accompanying Confusement

Scott Berry’s installation, Confusement, a collaboration with dozens of fellow members of the Nina Haggerty Collective, staff, volunteers and visitors, is a breathtaking mirror held up to each of us.  Anyone who has spent time with people who are “different”, who have “disabilities” or “challenges” or “special needs” is familiar with the double takes, the brief or extended stares, the uncomfortable smiles that inevitably are directed their way.  Berry has turned the tables on “us” with Confusement.

Here we are surrounded by thousands — possibly tens of thousands of unblinking eyes (and a few blinking ones). Voices are whispering around us, but its hard to catch any words.  Bits of music float by, scales on a piano.  A mirror faces us at the end of the entrance corridor – this is about us. Hands reach out from walls, ghostly figures (packing tape whole body casts of Collective artists) loom above us and around us.  Just before turning the corner into the heart of Confusement – a party of ghostly figures in conversational knots surrounded by yet more eyes – one is mesmerized by Berry’s computer video of floating lidless eyeballs, staring, somehow blinking their irises, unpredictably and uncannily.

For all the Lovecraftian spookiness such a description might imply, Confusement is not frightening.  It is certainly designed to confuse, to playfully unsettle, but also to amuse, pleasantly mystify, and stir us to beneficial thought.  These eyes mean no harm. These unknowable figures are busy about their own affairs.  The curtains of eyes are the environment we all move through every day, but some of us are forced to swim more deeply in that sea of benign, but too often unseeing eyes, the world of Confusement.

The day before the dismantling of the installation, I made two impromptu video walk-throughs.  They do little justice to the powerful effect of the vision of Scott Berry and the Nina Haggerty Collective.

 

 

 

Confusement was at the Stollery Gallery of the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts in Edmonton from February 12-27, 2015.

A Brief Visit to the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts

This afternoon we made a little trip down to vibrant 118 Avenue here in Edmonton to drop in on the Nina.  My daughter and I have been considering whether the Centre might be a good place for her to spend some time exploring and expanding her artistic side now that she’s finished high school.  The last few years of school were not a wholly positive period for her, so, I’ve been hoping that the more self-directed and open-ended atmosphere at the Nina would at once give her more pleasure and more growth than the structure of the previous period had done.

We started by taking a turn around the Stollery Gallery where some works by artists of the Centre are on display. When you go — which you should — take note of the brilliant superhero prints by David Canough.  The Gallery is the principal display venue for the Nina’s artists, although you will see their public art installations around town.  From time to time the Gallery also hosts shows by non-Nina artists as well.

Next we headed over to the bustle of the crowded ateliers.  About 35 of the Nina’s almost 200 artist/members were at work on fabric, painting, drawing, ceramics, printmaking and computer animation.  One day a week beautiful fused glass art is produced.  There is also a dance program at the Centre.  The large bright workrooms were filled with men and women of all ages focused intently on their art-making.

Artistic Director Paul Freeman began by showing us some of the computer and stop motion animation being worked on.  The Centre has a number of very nice and apparently very fast work stations tucked into a corner.  I mentioned at one point that the Nina needed more space and Mr. Freeman admitted he had been thinking about that.

Next we went back to the Gallery for a moment and chatted about some of our possibilities.  Happily for the Nina, Mr. Freeman was called away for a moment to thank someone who had dropped by with a donation.  More about that later.

By this time my daughter had quite obviously moved from doubtful interest to cautious excitement.  Off she went to check out the rest of the workrooms, ending in the yarn and thread festooned fabric arts room.

Mr. Freeman got us an information and registration package, including a fee schedule.  The annual fee (pro rated quarterly) struck me as absurdly low, but when one considers that most of the artists pay their fees out of their fixed AISH income, the fees are actually a hefty sacrifice made for their art.

After our short visit, it looks like we’ll be returning regularly to work at the Nina.  “I want to make a glass Binoo!” my daughter said as we walked down the street.  Mr. Freeman indicated that I would be welcome to hang around and that, as an artist, they might put me to volunteer work as well.  I certainly hope I will be able to, but . . .

The Nina Haggerty Centre is at risk of closing its doors.  At the moment they are about a month away from the close of a vital crowd-funding campaign which must be successful if the Centre is to retain its location.  If too few ordinary citizens step up to support the Nina, almost two hundred artists will quite simply lose their voices in a more extreme way than most artists can imagine.

Edmonton prides itself on its arts community.  The closure of the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts because of a lack of community support would be a failure for the city and a tragic loss.  And it would be a disturbing situation if our city’s community, with all its wealth, found itself unable to support the professional work of our almost two hundred artists with developmental disabilities.

Until recently, my daughter ended each day sadly asking “Can you cancel school tomorrow, Dad?”.  A few minutes ago she announced “I want to go to Nina Haggerty!”

I hope she can.

The Nina Haggerty Centre’s indiegogo fundraising campaign is very appropriately called “Keep the Love Alive“. Please help.

The Centre and the Stollery Gallery are at

9225 – 118 ave
Edmonton, AB
T5G 0K6

Update, February 19, 2015: Happily The Nina reached its fundraising goal, allowing a tremendous 12th birthday party for the Centre this evening. The Centre was packed with people, including at least two City Councillors and former Mayor now Cabinet Minister Stephen Mandel, all celbrating twelve years of art and the latest work of the Collective, “Confusement”, a phenomenal installation which is truly a collective work (I even got to contribute a tiny bit of paint splashing).

By the way: my daughter has sold one fired clay piece she made at the Nina and she did make a glass Binoo:
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