Part 6. Planning the Future / The Barlow Report

This series has been direct in its criticism of Interkom. This isn’t “unfairly harsh” so much as a direct record of the concerns expressed by many individuals, whether speaking for themselves, or representing larger groups, over the four evenings of this “consultation.”

Thus, it’s a good point to return to the report put forth by Janis Barlow & Associates.

If it seems inexplicable that Van Zon would so often fall back on “assumptions”, it may simply be because he is not qualified (or was not hired, arguably) to compile a report like Rodman Hall: Planning the Future A Preliminary Planning Process Report.

That report “is the result of the work of a task force of ten from Brock and Rodman Hall under the supervision of Stuart Reid and financed by the Ontario Arts Council’s Compass program…and it is my understanding it was approved by the Brock Board.”(Janis Barlow, in conversation).

Even more enlightening, Barlow elaborated on the history that brings us to this moment:

Martin Van Zon sat in on a couple of meetings and pushed me to include a sale of Rodman Hall and a downtown building option in my report.  He felt that Rodman Hall was old, poorly located, too run down and represented the past…I facilitated a discussion at the task force on the value of Rodman Hall versus a new downtown gallery.  The task force was unanimously in favour of preserving Rodman Hall as a heritage site, an art museum, a learning centre and the grounds as a park and sculpture garden and pursuing long term options for expansion with a possible downtown satellite in the future. They talked about better leveraging the existing asset and the inspiration that Rodman Hall provides artists.  Remember, the PAC hadn’t even opened yet and we felt it would need a few years before another new arts centre was proposed for St. Catharines.

I also pointed out that Brock had turned Rodman Hall into a Brock resource (there was supposed to be a Community Advisory Committee but it was dismissed after Rosemary Hale stepped down as Dean of Humanities) and it will take some years for the community to “own” Rodman Hall again.  Martin had convinced some of his PAC donors that a new art gallery could be built for $10 to $15 million…In my experience, which includes working on business plans and feasibility studies for 10 Canadian galleries and museums, a new regional art museum to replace Rodman Hall would cost $25 to $35 million.  However, it is the operating costs of a new art museum that would be beyond our city’s means at the present time.

Several of these factors have come to be true: the city of St. Catharines is quite clear that it is unwilling to further fund any initiatives at this time (Mark Elliott stated as much, the first evening, at NAC). That’s understandable, as funding for various groups has been increased this past year, and the incredible accomplishment of the Walker and the PAC merit a few years to rest and replenish both the financial well and the will to do more.

More history from Barlow: “Rodman Hall’s committee members [whom Barlow listed off by name when she spoke at one consultation, displaying a transparency that Brian Hutchings might emulate] were also concerned that Martin, as the PAC fundraiser, could not be objective and was in a conflict of interest in promoting a new gallery building. He does not appear to have arts management experience either [my emphasis, not Barlow’s]….I argued with him that Rodman Hall was an important heritage property in St. Catharines, an important art museum in Canada, a unique public garden and a source of pride and identity to many St. Catharines residents.  Suggesting the sale of Rodman Hall to help finance a new gallery…would spark division in this community [again, my emphasis, not Barlow’s].”

This suggests another point of great concern around the legitimacy of this process.

“No decision has been made” has been evoked, repeatedly, by Van Zon, by the moderators of all four evenings, and by Hutchings in The St. Catharines Standard.

Have we been lied to, here, then?

But the next part is just as disturbing, for any concerned not solely with Rodman Hall but also with what this process implies about governance and integrity at Brock University. More from Barlow:

After my report was approved by the Brock Board in August, I was contracted to implement my plan…[this] was suspended in the fall of 2015 because I was told that Peter Partridge and Martin wanted to investigate downtown gallery options…The next thing I heard in February, 2016 was that Brock University had posted a $50,000 RFP for a Rodman Hall transition plan.  They advertised for consultants through Arts Consultants Canada.  I contacted Rodman Hall management and asked if they wanted to cancel my contract and they said yes.  I felt reassured that they were advertising through Arts Consultants Canada, feeling that they would get a qualified and objective arts consultant to re-examine the situation.

I knew some of the consultants who applied. [Barlow is the  founding President of Arts Consultants Canada which is dedicated to excellence in arts consulting through peer juries].  When Brock informed them another consultant had been selected, [they] asked Brock senior management for a de-briefing (normal practice) and heard nothing back…  Some weeks later, we finally learned that Martin (not a member of Arts Consultant Canada) had been chosen and it seemed obvious to the other consultants who had applied that it was a fait accompli.

Perhaps the final point is the most depressing: “Although I praised Brock’s previous administration for assuming responsibility for Rodman Hall and the former President liked the “tone” of my report, I believe that Brock is breaking faith with this community, their faculty and their students.  It is a very sad situation.”

The Rodman Hall: Planning the Future A Preliminary Planning Process Report (or as it’s commonly referred to, by myself and others, The Barlow Report) provides a wealth of hard data, not solely assumptions from someone who seems not to realize that there are things he doesn’t know that he is unaware that he doesn’t know.

If Van Zon is looking for solutions, or seeking solutions from the community, the work has already been done, and one might ask why time and money is being wasted going over the same ground. Unless, of course, the agenda is not the one that is, in fact, being espoused.

In an excellent (and aforementioned) article, Doug Herod indicated that these “consultations” may have had an unintended consequence: public interest and energy to preserve and improve Rodman Hall may have began to gel in response to what appears to be a heavy handed cabal aiming to divest Brock of responsibility.

Along those lines, a motion was brought forth this week (November 21) to St. Catharines City Council – and passed unanimously – to “ask [the] heritage advisory committee to consider the potential designation of Rodman Hall under the Ontario Heritage Act.” This is a logical and respectful next step from some of the issues about Rodman’s building and grounds raised by Adrian Petry, the Public Historian at The St. Catharines Museum, at one of the evening consultations.

But other sources have suggested several distressing theories, such as how Brock would be unable to sell the building and grounds, but could “gift” them to the “art gallery of Niagara”, that then could do so. This comes from the same person who warned of a proposed new gallery back in the Winter, and it seemed unlikely then. Yet here we are now.

There was also a “colourful” article, to paraphrase current MIWSFPA Director David Vivian, in the Burlington Gazette, that suggests that further machinations are in play, or that more is happening behind the scenes. It’s been pointed out – quite correctly – that this “conversation” between Brock and the Art Gallery of Burlington might be irrelevant to the Rodman Hall situation.

However, the nature of the process so far, and the mistrust and cynicism that Interkom and Van Zon have inspired, can’t be ignored, either. Is it incomprehensible to consider that the AGB conversation might include whether they might “receive” the Rodman collection? And whom is having this conversation on Brock’s behalf, and what is being promised, or bargained?

Speaking of “informed sources”, as the Gazette puts it, two others have passed on that there is significant pushback, from faculty at Brock, regarding the “yet to be decided” art gallery of Niagara: last week some Rodman Staff and Faculty were (finally) given the opportunity to meet with Van Zon, and present “around specific questions and subject items.” Whether that will derail this illegitimate process, or whether some of them declined, feeling that the decision has been made and this is nothing more than a charade they’d rather not be sullied by, is debatable.

Other sources have communicated that Van Zon and the AGN faction have spoken of the soon-to-open Remai Modern, in Saskatoon, as a model to be emulated, for a first class, top tier gallery.

That’s interesting, as during the last decade of my tenure in that city, I wrote often about that process, and know that many of the facts of that situation – just like Sarnia or Ottawa, also cited by Van Zon – are not easily, or honestly, applicable, to creating a “new” regional gallery in Niagara. Not the least of these was the flush of oil money that suffused the Saskatchewan provincial government there, or that for several years prior to the decision to “create” a new gallery, funding options regarding renovations were explored thoroughly.

Van Zon’s report is now in the clutches of Brock’s Board of Trustees. At the time of this writing, at least one group is being organized to insist that Brock keep its word regarding the Rodman Hall: Planning the Future A Preliminary Planning Process Report, which it adopted as official policy, and has offered no explanation as to why it has not begun engaging and enabling the community and staff to enact it.

There is an online group, on FB, called Rodman Hall Community. I’ve been told several open forums for distribution and discussion of the Barlow Report have been planned, to ensure an important part of contemporary and historical Niagara is respected. This group is being facilitated by Elizabeth Hayden, whom also was the driving force behind a petition in support of Rodman Hall (signatories included internationally respected gallerist / collector Ydessa Hendeles, and many others whom illustrate the wide and deep respect for the space and its history) that was presented to the university concurrent to the Interkom “report.” Rodman Hall Community is acting as a locus for ensuring not just the survival of Rodman, but that it thrives. More directly, the stated mandate is to “share information about Rodman Hall and its future”, something that this consultation has not been particularly adept at doing…

This is the last in this monstrosity of a series we’ve titled “What About Rodman Hall?”, but this discussion is far from done. Some other facets of this controversy are in abeyance, as more information is gathered, and more sources come forward. But allow me to offer some teasers.

A lively debate with significant criticisms (levelled at Brock and the facilitators of this process) of blatant misogyny in the dismissal of expertise (whether the treatment of Acting Director / Chief Curator Bronson, or that Professor Sharilyn Ingram seems to have been boxed out of this process, despite her diverse knowledge and experience, or, continuing a pattern of stifled female voices, that Janis Barlow’s report seems to have been discarded as soon as submitted) has been happening online, on Facebook. (I’m reminded of how, the last evening of “consultations”, Professor Donna Szőke, with surgical and succinct humour, spoke from the front of the room, acknowledging some implicit power dynamics in walking up to speak from the same space as Van Zon…).

Simultaneously, concerns over Acting Brock President Brian Hutchings’ history with the City of St. Catharines, as it pertains to the debacle of the Burgoyne Bridge audits and mismanagement, have been insinuated (the correlations between how the Burgoyne was bigger, more complex and more difficult than the city assumed, and led to various problems that might have been foreseen, or avoided with proper…consultation…is why it’s mentioned here. But as of this writing, it’s nothing more than speculation, in the face of a process that is not particularly…transparent. Perhaps this is nothing but unhappy coincidence.)

There is – significantly – more information to be parsed, more voices to be heard from, and this current process, initiated last year, is more complicated and tangled than it appears. And perhaps is not what it seems, or purports to be.

On November 28th, at 7 PM, there’s a talk at Rodman Hall: Legacy of Splendor “is an illustrated talk on the history of the gardens of Rodman Hall, both the garden of Thomas Rodman Merritt who built Rodman Hall, and the Walker Botanical Garden opened to the public in 1988. The talk is given by Darren Schmahl, who in April of 1987, as a recent graduate of the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture, was hired to supervise the initial planting phase of the project… This free talk is for community members interested in heritage, green space in St. Catharines, horticulture and the future of Rodman Hall Art Centre.” Many of the indignant voices raised to Interkom’s “assumptions” were / are people who know Rodman through this space and this aspect of its importance, to Niagara. They’ve been dismissed, it seems, as rudely as others.

In closing, some facts about Rodman, from the Barlow Report, to remind us what is at stake, and what we have in this region, right now.

Rodman Hall was the first and only art museum in Niagara to receive federal capital funding. It was designated a national exhibition centre for the Niagara region (in 1975) has maintained Class A status since 1975. Since 2010, the Gallery has received 7 OAAG (Ontario Art Association of Art Gallery) awards and two St. Catharines Standards Reader’s Choice awards. Growth in visitors has grown over four-fold in four years – from 6,000 to 25,000 per year. This “state-of-the-art school is a perfect complement to the distinguished historic art museum and collection. Together, they make Brock a Fine Art powerhouse in Canada.”

As I’ve cited it a number of times, in the last few instalments, here’s the Barlow Report, as it is colloquially named, and here is the original agreement between Brock University and Rodman Hall.

What About Rodman Hall? So Far, So What? can be read here.

Part 5. Assumptions, Not Consultations.

This latest chapter of Brock and Rodman began on Monday, October 24th, with a flurry of emails and FB event announcements, inviting various groups and individuals to the long overdue, and long promised consultations regarding the future of Rodman Hall.

That was not, in fact, what was delivered.

These meetings were misrepresented as seeking opinions when the evidence suggests that they were intended to whitewash a decision already made (one does not seek volunteers, to make their interest known at volunteer@agniagara.ca, if you don’t plan to proceed with the “art gallery of Niagara”, and if “no decisions have been made.” Further: if you email that address, Interkom will respond to you, not any of the proposed gallery clique…).

A very managerial format the first evening attempted to establish that “this is what is going to be happening over the next hour and a half” (it’s worth noting the technical problems at the beginning led to a joke about “postponing.” That fell flat with a few of us who’d already felt that this consultation was too long in coming and nothing but a pretense…)

No agenda was distributed beforehand. Rodman’s Acting Director Marcie Bronson indicated she was seeing this no sooner than anyone else. The notices regarding these “consultations” went out on a Monday, for Wednesday and Thursday evening events, and then two more the next week.

More contradictions: John Mann, of the AGN faction, stated how “important” all this is, and how Brock won’t fund Rodman past 2023, attempting to shame us all into the “changes” that “must” be made, and tried to stem the wave of anger and indignation at NAC. He was the last person to speak, the first evening, perhaps hoping to have ‘the last word’ to quell the heat of the response.

And yet, while threatening how we “have to consider the future”, two days notice is erratically given for a consultation that is short on data with a slanted employment – perhaps abuse – of facts and exclusion of contradicting or contrary information.

Further examples of the same: Van Zon repeatedly painted a picture of renovations and modifications at Rodman, specifically around disability access that are intimidating. Then Matthew Tegel, the prepateur / installation employee at Rodman, pointed out that he and past Director Stuart Reid had met with CORETEC Engineering this past summer, whom have significant experience in this realm, and the engineers were optimistic that compliance and timeline were exceptionally manageable, for a heritage building of Rodman’s stature.

Again, these facts were dismissed as inconvenient (Van Zon repeated his dire warning the next night), and again, a person with experiential knowledge had apparently NOT been “consulted”, even though Tegel is among the first circle worthy of consultation.

If this is such a dread situation, why have so few have been “consulted” so little, if at all?

One might also ask, in light of this, why the Barlow Report, with figures and facts, has been ignored since it was approved by Brock, as a plan forward.

Perhaps it might be easier if rubber stamps had been issued as people arrived at NAC, the PAC or MIWSFPA: the anger that permeated the room at both the NAC evening, but especially at the next night at Brock where Faculty were the core group, was coalesced around the growing awareness that what Interkom was selling was not what many were interested to purchase.

Van Zon inundated the room with a powerpoint that insisted on only three options for the future of Rodman Hall: the status quo, some infrastructure changes that were couched in untenable expense, and the plan that was obviously the favourite of Van Zon and the self appointed cabal that see themselves (even if the community does not share that confidence) as the core of the proposed Art Gallery of Niagara.

I could relate more of Van Zon’s propaganda here, but it seems more worthwhile to continue to relate that many individuals in the room, and significant players in the arts / culture / historical / heritage communities, dismantled certain aspects of his presentation as biased, sloppily researched or absent (such as operational costs for any new gallery. A bit odd, as operating costs are often harder to raise than any capital, as Sharilyn Ingram highlighted).

Even more: Van Zon’s assertion that Rodman had a poor history of any external fundraising, implying that there was “no interest” in the larger moneyed community to support the space. This completely ignored that Rodman staff had been counseled to not compete with Brock’s ongoing fundraising regarding the Walker lest it dilute the support for that project.

Further: Van Zon and the agn coterie (John Mann, Ineke Brinkman, John Lehnen) were rather bald in their positioning that the other two options that weren’t the new gallery would result in losses regarding Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council funding. This completely ignores that Rodman has received national praise from peers who comprise these funding jurors. Mary Anne Barkhouses’ Settlement, for example,“was made possible through the financial support of the Government of Canada through Cultural Capitals of Canada, a program of the Department of Canadian Heritage. In 2015, Settlement was purchased with the support of the York Wilson Endowment Award, administered by the Canada Council for the Arts.”

There was fear mongering worthy of the recent American election, wishing to ensure you don’t think too much, or consider too deeply. Looking through my notes from the segment of Van Zon’s presentation at NAC, that term – fear mongering – appears again and again. As this was the first presentation, in some ways it was the least tempered by dissenting community feedback, and in some ways exposed most clearly Van Zon’s positioning.

Van Zon attempted to graft examples such as a gallery in Sarnia (which does not need to compete with three larger areas in its fundraising or financial plans, as Rodman does with Buffalo, Toronto and Hamilton – a succinct reality raised by Rodman’s Acting Director Bronson) or an arts centre in Ottawa, whose position in the national capital region also offers untranslatable options regarding funding and location (not to mention tourism).

More: damning Rodman for not having significant outreach in the community when previous evaluations have indicated that underfunding and under employment as regards marketing and outreach has been cited as a clear cause of this (Oh, the irony of Interkom criticizing Rodman’s lack of public profile, when the consultants have been less than present in a community they’re “assisting”….).

Catherine Parayre again raised a significant point, whom asked why the staff have not been consulted, why we don’t hear their genuine experience of these people being cited, while decisions seem to be made already (to echo many from the NAC “consultation”) by people whom use the word “developer” as interchangeable with “stakeholder”?

This type of ignorance – and I use that strong word intentionally – is echoed in that the report that Interkom and Van Zon submitted to Brock this past Spring may or may not see the light of day – for any other “stakeholders” – if the Board of Directors at Brock deems us worthy. One suspects our “support” is wanted – by which means our compliance – but we are not to bother the “adults.”

The November report that Interkom will construct around “consultations” will have the same fate, Van Zon indicated, at the same time that he declined to name the “stakeholders” he’d spoken to, when directly asked. Its unclear if that would compromise relations with potential “developers” or some other corporate concern…

It was good to hear Marcie Bronson speak: her decade at Rodman, now as acting Director, and continuing her award winning curatorial endeavours simultaneously, gives her a breadth of experience and knowledge that has not been respected in this process.

There were comments (at NAC) about the money spent on this latest “consultation” while Bronson does two jobs for one salary. When I asked Bronson straightforward questions regarding when / how often she’d consulted with Van Zon, and what her overall impression was of this process, these questions were referred to Kevin Cavanagh, Director, Communications and Public Affairs. Again, it seems some are to be consulted, and others are not.

No response has been forthcoming from Cavanagh. None is expected. Bronson has been employed at Rodman for a decade, and that her voice is not being heard – or is being stifled, or ignored – by the consultant further invalidates this process for many here.

Further salient points also broke the bridge that Interkom, and perhaps the Board of Trustees at Brock, is attempting to sell. Amusingly, when asked why this meeting wasn’t happening at Rodman, Van Zon let the mask of “genuine consultation” slip in what seemed to be indicating that Rodman wasn’t a space for artists…but perhaps, for anonymous developers….

Sharilyn Ingram, past Director of the Walker School, was mentioned earlier. She has extensive experience with galleries and governance. She pointed out that Rodman’s Category A status had recently been reaffirmed (Van Zon had inferred it was soon to be surely lost), and that costs presented regarding infrastructure were inflated and not properly explained as being intended to happen in phases, to defray and stretch out the expense.

Ingram very ably destroyed the mythology of “sustainability” that Van Zon kept invoking, in fine austerity mode, that first evening. I paraphrase her brilliance: “If the for – profit world could run an art gallery they already would”, as she cited facts that no public art gallery is every 100% “self sustaining.”

Elizabeth Chitty also showed – literally, with a chart titled Statistical Profile of Art Galleries in Ontario: Based on the 2013 OAAG Data Exchange, Hills Strategies Research Group (below) listing off studies of sustainability and budgets with public art galleries, and in that moment offered more hard, researched data than Van Zon did that evening, or the next. Chitty’s ire at the bias and slipshod nature of Interkom’s presentation was evident in her voice.

This anger – this disdain – was evident at all four consultations: whether Ingram calling out Van Zon for being disrespectful to the Rodman staff the Thursday, or declarations that Brock “have mismanaged the mandate of Rodman” the following Wednesday or Clare Cameron asking about potential “real estate development capitalization by Brock” that same evening. Van Zon’s response to these? These are “my assumptions and mine alone.” It would seem that Interkom also offers no real solutions, to parse his own complaints…and it is questionable if he’s truly seeking any.

Reinhard Reitzenstein, from the University of Buffalo, an artist and educator who spoke to the international importance of Rodman, and who’s been involved with the Hamilton Art Gallery, and with the McMaster Art Gallery, gave shape to an elephant in the room on the second evening: the group that is self identifying as the art gallery of Niagara seems to lack the necessary experience to be making these decisions, or to be trusted with either the collection, or the fate of the building.

Bluntly, how they can be considered trustworthy when they support a consultant who is in error as often as he’s opaque is an insurmountable hurdle for many?

Example: the AGN site states “the AGN will assume responsibility for the Rodman Hall Art Collection, if and when it becomes available.” However, Non Profit rules, regarding maintenance or transfer of the collection, suggest otherwise: bluntly, while blathering about “keeping the collection accessible” and “protecting the collection”, none of the AGN cabal (and definitely not Martin) seemed aware that the collection will need to go to the next A level gallery nearby. That will likely be the Art Gallery of Hamilton, as an unknown, unaccountable group with no gallery storage, no building, no staff, no expertise and no accountability will not be permitted to abscond with such significant cultural capital.

This raises, again, the fact that Van Zon’s assumptions are not just sloppy, but potentially damaging to the community.

There are many other voices to cite: Susan Forsyth, at the faculty evening, commented that she’d hoped we’d be presented numbers, and when told she “could” do the research and forward it to Martin, responded that he apparently want us to do the work for him, and “the process seems to be as obfuscated as possible.”

The final two evenings, voices that regularly stated that they were not of the cultural community, but treasured the children’s’ programs, the outreach programs and the role that Rodman plays in an area of the city, for example, that recently has lost a park and other public spaces, were prominent. The history and legacy of the building, as a touchstone of St. Catharines and Niagara, and national history, was mentioned again and again. Some of these concerns and communities apparently never factored into Interkom’s report, as they only spoke of an “art gallery”; another way this region is not being heard by Interkom…

Catherine Parayre offered what could almost be a manifesto for many in the community, reading the following, on the second evening: “Dear Trustees, we do not trust you, with meetings all in camera, and with a “special definition of transparency” that too often happens at Brock, and it seems that the Board of Trustees wishes to jettison Rodman Hall.” Parayre went on to state that the trustees must be more accountable and that this “in camera” opaqueness is detrimental to all, and that Martin must do the actual job of a consultant and consult. This clearly evoked a point made in the Barlow Report: “Community members fear a valued property is not secure under Brock’s ownership.”

Part 6: Planning the Future / The Barlow Report is here.

 

Part 4. Can we have faith in this process?

Rodman Hall has also been an effective classroom setting. I have taken curatorial courses there, where we would walk down into the gallery and critically assess the space and the exhibitions. This first hand experience of curation far surpassed what could have been achieved in a standard classroom setting. One of my most valuable experiences [was] VISA 4F06 Honours Studio…This class allowed us to work closely with Rodman’s curator and director for their professional opinions and also to have one on one meetings with the exhibiting artists at the time such as, Althea Thauberger, Joy Walker and Melanie Authier. This class transcends beyond classroom experiences and allows you to move from student to professional working artist with guidance in an established art gallery. This class was an unbelievable experience with Rodman Hall’s setting being critical to the class and cannot be substituted.

After graduating from Visual Arts and moving into Teacher Education I began to see another side of Rodman Hall, one not only critical in an arts community but also in education. An experience I appreciate most was when I was hired as a Summer Studio Assistant for the summer art camps. This is an experience provided to Brock students and one that was especially valuable for my growth as an educator. Rodman Hall provides multiple student jobs, jobs that us students really rely on to move forward in our careers.

– Julia Chamberlain (Brock Alumni)

I am concerned that if we pre-empt what I understood to be a contractual or stated obligation to support Rodman Hall until 2023 that this would have undesirable consequences, especially given the aspirations of our students, staff and faculty as well as the community that it has been tasked to serve. Arts organizations need stability and to its credit Brock University stepped up in 2003 to support Rodman Hall, when others would not. The current consultation process asks, what will follow and what form will this take? While financial exigency is an overarching concern, Rodman Hall has already lost a Director and half of its internal funding for 2016-17. To reduce its budget any further is to risk the integrity of its existence and mission to serve the broader community at a desired professional level of activity. I am proud of what we have achieved and, in particular, of the tremendous benefits this has afforded our students who deserve no less than our utmost commitment. I strongly favour retaining our highly dedicated staff and committing to our excellent programming for the foreseeable future at the same time as we manage an orderly transition plan beyond 2023. To do otherwise is to undermine an important cultural and educational entity that historically has fulfilled an essential function in the Region. The national recognition that Rodman Hall has garnered over the last number of years for its programming speaks to its curatorial vision, commitment to both emerging and established artists and an enviable publishing record –impressive by any measure and testimony to the vital role Rodman Hall has played and continues to play. In my judgment this is an achievement that should be duly celebrated and as we examine the options for Rodman Hall’s future, managed with sensitivity, prudence, and appropriate support.

– Derek Knight (Associate Professor / Past Director, MIWSFPA, Brock University)

In many ways, the most interesting and informative aspect of attending all four of the “consultation” sessions presented by Van Zon was to see how some mistruths and assumptions were repeated each evening, despite being invalidated by attendees, repeatedly and sometimes irrefutably.

It was also interesting to gage how Van Zon responded to these disagreements. It can’t, in good conscience, be called it a report, as many facts were wrong, and to paraphrase a person from the third evening, Van Zon seemed eager to present – arguably inflate – costs for the second of his two options, yet was willing to omit and undersell costs for his third option, a new building, new gallery space and the abandonment of Rodman.

That last word may be a bit dramatic, as Van Zon didn’t address what would happen to Rodman, though “developers” came up quite often in the first two evenings, and a question raised at the third, about whether this is an attempt by Brock to capitalize upon rising land values in that area was – unsurprisingly – unanswered by Zon. That third evening again saw a plethora of questions, but few answers – though, amusingly, at one point Van Zon offered to answer a question after the session, away from the public scrutiny and transparency that Brock V.P. Brian Hutchings had assured us was Brock’s watchword in all….

The third evening was more reason over passion: again, to be expected, as a number of self identifying “ordinary citizens” asked about educational services provided by Rodman, and also asked about numbers and options beyond the narrow spin presented. The previous two, with members of NAC and Brock Faculty, the anger was to be expected, as it’s a standard response to being misled, and when questions are ignored.

It was rather funny – or perhaps insulting – to read a quote from Van Zon in the Standard the next day, whining that “many people attending the meetings are pushing for a renewal of Rodman Hall, but come without solutions to tackle the building’s financial hardships.”

Perhaps a good offense (like angry yelling) is the best defense, as when asked at the second evening (addressing Brock Faculty) if Van Zon had spoken with the Mayor, he dithered and seemed to complain about how hard it is to arrange a meeting, and in the end had to admit – a repeated response to many inquiries at every meeting – that he had not consulted, and this “was my assumption.” The follow up question to Van Zon’s professed ignorance was to appropriately ask what exactly he had been doing, then, since February? And what reality there was for feedback, when his report would be presented, in camera, to the Board of Trustees in mid November?

It might seem intentionally insulting how often the word “assumption” is being used in this piece: but that’s an echo of Van Zon’s repeated usage, without, it seemed, acknowledging that this is neither edifying to any community nor a good factual basis from which to determine how to best evaluate a community resource like Rodman Hall. He was, to cite the old trope, making an ass of himself, and an ass of us who had shown up expecting answers or research upon which to offer feedback. No wonder so many are so angry.

The person moderating the third evening was equally confounding, blandly repeating that she “didn’t know if that answer was in the room.” This confusion was different then the arrogance displayed at NAC (where the “art gallery of niagara” option took up the majority of Van Zon’s lecture), and less petulant than the first night at Brock (where he responded to funding questions that impugned the current director in a manner many felt bordered on misogyny…).

More assumptions: on two different evenings, Van Zon was called out for his fear mongering regarding Rodman’s funding security with the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council. Donna Scott, speaking at the PAC, cited her experience as board member with both, and stated they’re very “unlikely to cut” regarding building infrastructure, stating that the gallery “can’t move anywhere as interesting or beautiful as that [the current site].” This is – again – an example of repeated refusal to genuinely consult (Van Zon admitted to not speaking to anyone at the OAC or CC, a previous evening, but still attempted to push “lost funding” in later lectures).

If I may paraphrase Scott again: perhaps this is not about Rodman, but that the Board of Trustees needs to “solve the problems at Brock.”

But, as Van Zon admitted later in the evening, he answers to Brian Hutchings, and his reports are heading into the abyss of an “in camera” board that has a history of NOT being transparent, and making decisions (whether as bewildering as with Wendy Cukier not becoming Brock’s first female President or as insidious as some of the accounts around sexual assault policy) that leave the community feeling ignored and ill used.

And yet there is more, my readers. Part 5: Assumptions, Not Consultations can be read here.

Part 3. What About Rodman Hall?

Rodman Hall makes Brock look so good. It would be a very silly mistake to get rid of it…you don’t buy something great and then throw it out.
– Katie Mazi, (Brock Alumni, 2015)

I went to Brock for four years from 2012-2016. The majority of my final year was spent at Rodman Hall for the 4F06 Honours Class. The studio spaces, as well as the gallery not only helped the students get their foot into the realm of the contemporary art world outside the academic setting, it allowed us to spent some time with a place of utmost importance to the history of St Catharines. Being at Rodman Hall I took the time to look at its history, the history of its original owners, and ultimately the entirety of St Catharines. I fell in love with this city through Rodman Hall…
– Miranda Farrell (Brock Alumni, 2016)

The presentation at this “consultation” presented three “options” carrying no comparative data, based in the opinion and preferred option of the consultant. The methodology of this process appears to include largely “research” that has taken the form of in camera meetings and private chats. A not-for-profit corporation was formed PRIOR to public consultation.The word, “sustainability” is used with seemingly no understanding of standard professional financial structure for public art galleries. The preferred “option” is that a local heritage site and public green space, which thousands of volunteer and professional hours have been poured into for decades, be sold to the private sector and a white cube be built downtown with mysterious sources of revenue somehow unavailable for capital improvements of Rodman Hall.
– Elizabeth Chitty (artist, educator, activist)

It may be odd to begin an account of the four evenings of the Future of Rodman Hall / Future of A Regional Art Gallery “consultations” with an anecdote from the final of that quartet of frustrations, erroneous assumptions and shoddy methodology proffered by Martin Van Zon and Interkom Smart Marketing. But sometimes a small fragment reveals the whole.

On that evening, a student inquired about the conflict of interest of having two members currently on the board of the “proposed” “art gallery of Niagara” while still sitting on the advisory board of Rodman Hall (John Mann and Peter Partridge, respectively).

A relevant question: being on the board of Rodman Hall, whom are still, so far as is known, under the directive of the Board of Trustees at Brock whom approved the Rodman Hall: Planning the Future A Preliminary Planning Process Report (colloquially known as the Barlow Report, as it was assembled by Janis A. Barlow & Associates) last year (renovations, fundraising, partnerships all pursued to foster and enhance Rodman Hall) and yet also on the “board” of the “art gallery of Niagara” whose agenda is to “receive the collection of Rodman when it closes” and to try to begin a new space in the downtown is obviously conflicting. The latter depends on the failure of the former, and suggests an undermining of a publicly espoused, and Board approved, directive.

When asked about this (for the fourth time in as many evenings), Van Zon became angry, criticized the student (this final evening was aimed at answering students’ concerns and questions) as being an “embarrassment” to the “community” for daring to question the integrity of this cabal that has been less than “transparent” (to use Brock V.P. Hutchings’ lofty promise) than many expect.

No answer, just offended rage: Catherine Parayre, Humanities faculty at Brock, felt it necessary to remind Martin – acting as a representative of Interkom Smart Marketing, in the employ of Brock University – that Brock has a policy of respect and consideration that transcends his role, and that’s a mandate of the University itself (which “offers all the benefits of a young and modern university in a safe, community-minded city with beautiful natural surroundings”…).

More tellingly, Van Zon never answered the question.

That simply made that evening like the others, where, citing local entrepreneur Garrett Zimmer, there was confusion at the lack of data (“why are we here, with no information to respond to?”). The ignorance of the assumptions that Van Zon presented were weighted heavily towards an “option” that leads to the end of Rodman and a “new gallery” that is so naive in his projections that many asked if he had intentionally underestimated costs for this favoured “option” while scaremongering for the Barlow Report / “second” option. Essentially, three “options” were presented: an easily dismissed “status quo”, an option for renovations and fundraising in the current site, and the “art gallery of Niagara”, when Rodman closes.

The day after the last “consult”, I’d contacted the current Director of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts with a variety of questions regarding this process (we had spoken the evening before, with David Vivian expressing concern over Van Zon’s presentations so far). In formulating my questions to him, the main interrogation of this entire process coalesced.

Is this process, as enacted by Martin Van Zon on behalf of Interkom Smart Marketing, at the behest of Brock V.P. Hutchings, credible, trustworthy and one that inspires confidence in both its methodology and the facts and options presented?

The answer of many who spoke at these sessions (whom are significant stakeholders within the cultural, historical, heritage and – my favourite phrase from one evening – the “ordinary citizens” or parents whose children treasure Rodman’s staff and programs) is a clear and unequivocal “no.”

When Stephen Remus, Director of Niagara Artist Centre spoke at the first of the “consultations” regarding Brock University’s re evaluation (Interkom Smart Marketing’s term of choice. Others called it divestment or abandonment), he was blunt. He occupied the role of a Cassandra: he didn’t say “I told you so”, but stated he’d opposed the original arrangement between Brock and Rodman from 2003 as he didn’t trust Brock to do the “right thing” then, and is unsurprised now that machinations seem to be in play to break the spirit of the agreement, if not the letter.

It’s important to privilege the voices in this debate, as in this process defined by Van Zon and the Board of Trustees at Brock, words like “sustainability” and “stakeholders” are anything but transparent, and seem to be pre loaded with definitions that exclude more than explain.

Part 4: Can We Have Faith in the Process? can be read here.