Pointing to the Art World’s Possibilities: A Speculative Future – Rhona Wenger & Sandra Mercuri, Grimsby Public Art Gallery

Over the past year, as galleries across the country have had to hold their daily operations in check due to quarantines and lockdowns, a space for some serious reflection opened up. Akimbo has partnered with Galeries Ontario/Ontario Galleries and asked the curators of eight public museums and art galleries to speculate about their future through the lens of what needs to be done to be access driven, anti-racist and anti-colonial. We proposed three initial questions and gathered the responses in text and video.

For this week’s instalment, Rhona Wenger, Director, and Sandra Mercuri, Education and Media Coordinator, of the Grimsby Public Art Gallery provided their answers.

 

  1. Who is an artist whose work points to future possibilities?

Maggie Groat

We are excited by the number of young artists from diverse backgrounds who have messages to relay and refuse to be limited by definitions based on technique or genre. Maggie Groat of St. Catharines is one who stands out for me. I had the privilege of working with her many years ago when she was a summer student at the gallery and since then have seen her thrive, grow, and become an established artist. What stands out in her practice is the incredibly sensitive way she incorporates her own experiences – her background as a person of mixed Indigenous and settler heritage, motherhood, environmental awareness, and more – into subtly suggestive imagery and structures that achieve the perfectly precarious balance of providing just enough information and guidance to encourage further thought. She is also grounded in her own community of origin, having chosen to return to the Niagara Region after completing her studies. This location in itself makes a profound statement about her perspective and is appealing to a gallery like GPAG, which is both regional and specifically community oriented.

In more general terms, we can imagine that working with artists who create performance pieces and work in virtual and augmented reality art would bring an invigorating level of variety to our audience experiences and would appeal to a younger audience demographic. Because of our regional mandate, it is exciting to have an emerging artist like Jordyn Stewart based locally and engaged in this type of work. Past exhibitions that have been particularly engaging for our audience have included interactive elements, direct storytelling, and often a diversity in means of presentation to engage a variety of tastes and learning styles.

 

  1. What belief systems, theories, and new knowledge could revolutionize your institution?

Defining a writer or theorist who influences my thinking about where we are headed in the arts or my curatorial practice is difficult. In my own reading, I am drawn to novels that address contemporary issues, including many by racialized authors. Art, both written and visual, is a conduit for powerful ideas and conveying important truths. In a sense I am gaining my understanding of a diversity of experience via something akin to the tradition of storytelling. Refreshing and alternative viewpoints are also found in writings from other areas of study. A book I read a few months ago that stuck with me was Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery. It addresses environmental degradation as a fundamental factor in the development and devolvement of different civilizations over many ages of human activity. I have no idea how (or if) the ideas presented in that book will manifest themselves in my professional practice, but I found them profound and important, so they will affect my outlook to some extent.

 

  1. What creative initiative could your art gallery do to shape your future programming?

Given the possibility of unlimited resources, we would continue to ground our activities in access to original art and the creativity of a diverse range of artists – diverse both in who they are, their personal backgrounds and stories, and in their chosen media for expression – but simultaneously expand those access points to increase engagement and draw in a more diverse community.

At the gallery level, creating a digital connection package of multiplatform expressions that continues beyond the works on display would expand our audiences and continue conversations started by our exhibitions. Playlists, booklists, quotes, and activities that help visitors create space and time for the art to ignite their imaginations and stimulate new connections: all these possibilities offer the opportunity for aesthetics to linger long enough to become the fluent language that expresses the truth that art is an integrated life experience.

The neutrality of a gallery space can further social growth through inner and outer dialogues. Art and the community that grows through the gallery has the potential for nurturing the ideals of equality that challenge our cultural values of meritocracy. Social conversations need safe spaces to allow for advancement. Art can allow a space for the vulnerability of humanity, for the opportunity for connection, and to expose us to deeper thoughts.

Within the gallery the additional engagement could create enriched connections between people – staff, volunteers, and visitors. We need opportunities to interact in safe, meaningful dialogue that allows for the sharing of ideas. Ultimately all this interaction would occur as readily outside the gallery as within. Public art installations and activities in key community locations would draw people into the collective art experience. Dynamic expressions could be provided by a portable projection unit that could create temporary art displays at any number of large community events throughout the year. Working with digital artists and providing technical support to regional artists could shift the gap of who our artists are and encourage our audience to be personally invested in the invisible creative community they engage with.

 

The galleries featured in Pointing to the Art World’s Possibilities: A Speculative Future are part of the Galeries Ontario/Ontario Galleries research project Data Shy to Data Driven.