What About Rodman Hall? A Recap: So Far, So What?

As we approach the Fall of 2018, and some decisions have apparently been made, some of which have been made public, many of which have not, I decided it was time to consider re visiting the ongoing relationship, it its deterioration or denouement, edit as you will, between Brock University and Rodman Hall Art Centre.

To facilitate that, I’ve made all of the articles (my lord, I didn’t realize there were so many) available here, on my own site, and created this post as a gateway to everything you need to know (that I’m able to share at this time, as many of you know there’s more, and know more, than I’ve been able to share, but may yet do so, in the Fall…specifically how some staff have been treated, and the pharisees at Brock, who say one thing and do another, in that sphere).

These can also be found at The Sound, but more light on this situation, more availability and information, is always good, especially to counter some of the past actions and attitudes from Brock University on this issue.

Some links are still external, and if these don’t work, just message me, and I’ll correct them.

It all started with an exhibition at NAC which I speak about here.

Not long after that show opened, I spoke with the consultant in question, Martin Van Zon, from Interkom Smart Marketing, on the air on CFBU, as part of the ongoing show I produced there, Niagara Voices and Views. That conversation can be heard here.

The first article was a teaser to direct people to The Sound’s website for the longer series, and was the only one from the initial series to appear in printed form. As the four evenings of consultations happened over two weeks, at the beginning of a month, it made more sense to post the series online, as they could be more relevant, in terms of immediacy of the events, and also for ease of sharing. At this time, too, the Facebook group that would eventually lead to the Rodman Hall Alliance was forming, so online seemed expedient for that, as well.

The second, third, fourth and fifth chapters, all dealing with the Interkom consultations, are at the previous links. There’s two more chapters, that focus on the Barlow Report and the presentation that Janis Barlow gave, at The Masonic Temple about the report and proces, that can be found here and here.

There was an update that came much later, which was more like a chart, with an image provided by Brittany Brooks. This was in response to the Rodman Hall Coaltion consultations in late 2017.

I’ll be resharing these links on my various social media spaces. As always, any who feel that they have information they want to share with myself or The Sound, regarding this issue, please contact us as you feel most comfortable. If necessary, confidentiality will be respected, as I’ve been happy to do all along this series.

As I have promised / threatened, a further update, perhaps where I offer some things I’ve known and have been reluctant to share but am feeling must be put out for public consideration, will be coming in the Fall of 2018.

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 1. What About Rodman Hall? The Exhibition at NAC

Several years ago, the University of Saskatchewan launched an “austerity” review. Various committees “evaluated” employees, departments, programs, etc. Oh, the anecdotes I could relate, before it imploded brutally, as many hateful things do. You may remember reading about it in the NP or Globe. Lawsuits are pending.

Now, during that “process” the College Art Gallery was deemed extraneous, all staff should be dismissed, and the University art collection should pass to Library Services. That committee lacked anyone with any gallery, museums or collections experience: it did have several from, ahem, Library Services. They’re probably unaware that the College had been recently singled out for heady praise by the outgoing editor of Canadian Art as one of the finer University galleries in Canada.

Considering that the gallery and storage spaces were barely a decade old, and very good ones, this was a questionable suggestion. Amusingly, the current U of S president recently got a puff piece hand job in the local paper, talking about how much he “values” the University art collection. Like most foul politicians, he assumes we’ve forgotten his verbose Op Eds in the same rag in support of the aforementioned austerity hypocrisy…
But what’s that got to do with here?

Let’s examine the recent rumblings out of Brock University about “redefining” its relationship to Rodman Hall Art Centre. For those unfamiliar, Brock took on Rodman in 2003, for the token fee of two dollars, and the agreement that no assets or holdings would be sold off for 20 years. An article in The Standard last spring (2015, not 2023) cited VP Finance and Administration Brian Hutchings saying that Brock is “looking to reduce its subsidy by 50%” and where Rodman fits in Brock’s orbit is being “studied.” An announcement was recently made of hiring an external consultant.

But note that charged language of austerity: “subsidy?” The same article mentioned surprise on the part of Peter Partridge at this declaration: what is less obvious than the “bean counters” (using NAC Director Remus’ caustic naming) is whether any consultation has happened with wider stakeholders than the “citizen’s advisory committee” of which Partridge is part. And we saw many “consultants” at the U of S, of the LEAN variety…

Since the initial declaration of the potential abandonment of Rodman by Brock, it has been all quiet….or muffled, if you will. Some of my forays into this have been met with refusals to comment, those declining to decline comment, and those whom don’t respond at all…

And let us not forget this is happening in the unpleasant shadow of the university’s recent (almost criminally negligent) handling of a case of sexual harassment, that seemed more about message and damage control than a respecting and respectful community.

Now, some of you are surely saying: “Wasn’t this supposed to be an art review? What tangent is Gazzola leading us on, now?”

Let us go then, you and I, to Niagara Artist Centre’s current exhibition What About Rodman Hall?

To paraphrase Stephen Remus, Director of NAC, it is intended to initiate — if not, perhaps, forcefully broker — genuine dialogue about Rodman’s future. This must include voices like BFA Honours student Liz Hayden (currently exhibiting there, as part of a collaborative educational project between MIWSFPA and Rodman, in #trynottocryinpublic) stating that “the loss of Rodman Hall would be a loss not only to art students, or the arts community, but to every resident of the area. “Imagining the City” without it is too dreadful to contemplate.”

The exhibition statement: “The place of the Rodman Hall Art Centre in our community is once again the subject of deliberation. Brock University, which in 2003 pledged to be the sole operator of the art gallery for twenty years, is now reconsidering the terms of its supporting role…Why is it that our community leaders have not always recognized the value of having a strong, well-resourced public or university art gallery like Rodman Hall? A large and diverse collection of art work has been assembled for the exhibit. Some of it is obviously aimed at creating controversy; all of it is thoughtfully created and provocative.”

Donna Szoke’s Let Me Stand (a “postcard” of balsa wood) implores “let me stand on your shoulders so I can see into the future.” Perhaps you saw her recent exhibition at Rodman, with equally incisive text.

Geoff Farnsworth’s painting is sarcastic: titled Proposal to Relocate Rodman Hall to Lundy’s Lane, it depicts his worry “that short term bureaucratic economic policy may rush one of the outstanding beacons of the…cultural Niagara hub…Lundy’s Lane [as a] low brow tourist vacuum with fast food and bargain basement strip motifs seems a fitting metaphor as repercussion in the event of this scenario.”

Melanie MacDonald highlights an aspect of Rodman — and thus the city and region’s history — with her painting Precarious. An apt title for a depiction of teacups delicately balanced upon one another. the metaphor is twofold: a literal reminder of how “through the first four decades of its existence, Rodman depended on its Women’s Committee…who met…over cups of tea and worked cooperatively to organize activities that would support the arts centre.” Further, “the teacups are stacked precariously to underline the delicacy and fragility of the many relationships between citizens and organizations. The colours are inverted…demonstrating how things seem to have flipped to a top-down, bureaucratic style of management from the grass-roots, civic-minded activities of Rodman’s origins and formative years.”

Other artists of note include Carolyn Wren’s delicate projection Longing, Sandy Middleton’s Ghosts in the Hall, Brittany Brook’s Everything I Saw: Marcie Bronson’s simple and direct 24 Titles evokes history in a manner similar to MacDonald, highlighting the labour and energy and sense of community that Rodman has “housed.”

Carrie Perreault (who also has a video work that’s a bit rude in raising an undeniable point) dominates a wall with Don’t Make Me Spell It Out in Macaroni And Paint It Gold. The media here are various and inclusive: there was a somewhat funereal performance the night of the opening reception, too.

Let’s step away from NAC, for a moment: I want to share some information, from a source I decline to name (well, several, to be honest). It’s been postulated that Rodman will be “given” to a “newly formed non profit” in the summer of 2016, whose mandate will be to then sell the parkland and building. This money will then be the base of a larger fundraising campaign to build a new public gallery, downtown, on the site of the current police station. Several questions have been raised by my sources on this front: isn’t this redundant, in light of already having a public gallery, in Rodman? Where will further monies, re: building and operational funding be coming from? I’ll mention Saskatoon again, and the situation with the Remai Modern there, with budget overruns and the tussle and tug of city, community and governance, and ask why this is being considered as an option for here.

Stepping back into NAC’s exhibition: there are selected quotes from past Rodman Directors on the back wall. The words of Shirley Madill (2008 – 2011): “Rodman…is more than a building and grounds. It embodies the visions of its founders, a collecgive group of individuals who understood the need for and led the way for an art centre for the community of St. Catharines. Directors and Curators that followed continued this vision and collected and showcased Canadian Art. Its history (and future?) is embedded in place.”

This exhibition — like the title implies — should be the beginning of this conversation, not the end, like a decision handed down from on high (a bad pun, for Brock, especially considering the aforementioned relationship of the downtown to the MIWSFPA, through “Art in the City” and how that seemed to mark a more collaborative relationship). Now, the university has just hired “Interkom Smart Marketing earlier this year to develop next steps in their study of Rodman Hall’s future. Martin van Zon and the team at Interkom [are] now reaching out to stakeholders in the community to examine what the future of Rodman Hall may look like.” So, make your voice heard: start by visiting the show at NAC, and ensure the community is respected as a stakeholder here. Don’t be afraid to yell loudly, to ensure ignoring you is difficult.

The multi part series chonicling Interkom’s four evenings of “consultations” on the “future” of Rodman Hall, and the concept of the Art Gallery of Niagara begins here.