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.