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 8. One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

While interviewing members of the new Rodman Hall Coalition these past few weeks, hoping to offer an update of what’s happening as 2023 nears, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that a positive sense informed most conversations. In talking to representatives of the coalition, with members from both the Rodman Hall Alliance, the previously mentioned Art Gallery of Niagara ad hoc group, under the aegis of Tom Goldspinks (asked to shepherd the group as chairman, both for his experience running the TAG Art Gallery but also his significant governance experience), there seemed to be faith that Brock University was (finally) cognisant of the larger picture. Granted, concerns regarding sustainability, and that the community here no longer has the option to be spectators, but need to be actors, and that there’s serious work to be done, were recurring themes. Even debates around the term “divestment” suggested that many at Brock wanted to support Rodman more effectively, rather than rush towards a divorce.

Then, on April 18, Brock responded to an applicant for the Director position at Rodman (which has stood vacant, in one sense, since Stuart Reid resigned nearly a year ago, but has really meant more responsibility without appropriate reward for acting Director / Chief Curator Marcie Bronson) with the following: “Due to recent internal movement and reorganization at Brock University, we will no longer be pursuing a search for this position.”

Realistically, any steps required towards redefining Rodman Hall, post (or in a new relationship with) Brock, will require strong, informed and community – engaged leadership. This suggests further tone deafness, bordering on the benign negligence and incompetence that was rife in the Interkom “consultations”, and that can be seen as a pattern, since 2003.

The Mendel Art Gallery / later Remai Modern in Saskatoon went without a proper director for an extended period as the former became the latter, and this caused major issues with finance, planning, priority and employment that were harder to fix and were preventable. But I’ll quote the source again: “Unbelievable that the university believes internal admin shifts will meet the requirements of the situation to transition the art museum from it to the community. Unbelievable that when so many of us are contributing our volunteer efforts towards a successful transition, the University cannot support our [efforts] by a full staff complement. Unbelievable that the Acting Director/Curator continues to be unsupported by the university’s decisions.”

However, to cite one of the members of the RH Coalition, it’s good to remember that Brock (the “unaccountable 13th Floor”) reconsidered before, with the Interkom debacle. So, let’s focus on the more positive aspects of what the new group is trying to do, and what it means – and what it demands – of the larger community, the cultural and civic stakeholders. At the time of writing this, Tom Goldspinks was meeting with Tom Arkell regarding this decision (Arkell is a coalition member, as well, but appointed by Brock). Updates (as always) are forthcoming.
Its regrettable, however, as at least one coalition member has spoken of resigning, if no director is hired….

The coalition has three committees, and these are essentially concerned with establishing both the status of Rodman Hall at this time, and potential models for what it will become. Elizabeth Chitty is heading the legal / governance committee, and has already begun research of alternate models for community run galleries, as well as exploring models of governance for RH, post 2023. Giulia Forsythe and Liz Hayden (whom began the Save Rodman Hall petition last Fall) are responsible for community outreach, to restore and strengthen what Goldspink refers to as the fabric between RH and the larger community. David Vivian, Director of the MIWSFPA is heading the financial committee: Brock and RH have been intertwined for some time, and working out actual costs, genuine expenditures, etc., without the inflation or confabulation that was a hallmark of the Interkom evenings is in the hands of Vivian, here.

This coalition’s goal is that by early 2018, a board of directors will be in place, with a governance model that offers a stepping stone to what Rodman will be, and these can be presented to a community that needs to step up if this asset is to be preserved and grow.  Issues of membership, accountability – and the major question of sustainability – are being resolved, and input is not only desired, but required (rodmanhallalliance.ca is still the best place to sign up for updates).

Perhaps another question is whether the diligent efforts of a community are again being waylaid by a lack of transparency at Brock University. Perhaps this is a further challenge, with fires continuing to be lit under spectators whom must be actors, and this is the latest opportunity to be players, and not on the sidelines. Perhaps – as came up in several conversations – if the community values Rodman, this is the latest challenge, to be met.


After the Rodman Hall Alliance consultations in late 2017, I put down my notes and thoughts in a playful map, with the assistance of Chris Illich (Publisher, Managing Editor of The SOUNDSTC) and Brittany Brooks, an artist who works in music as well as visuals, known as Creature Speak. That can be seen here.

As well, an overview page that links out to all the chapters of What About Rodman Hall? can be seen here, and it also has other content, such as a conversation I had with Martin Van Zon when I was News Director at CFBU for Niagara Voices and Views.

 

Part 7. Experienced, and Expunged, Voices

It’s appropriate if this chapter on Rodman Hall and Brock University echoes the previous, by citing the voices of those present at the meeting at the Oddfellows Temple in downtown St. Catharines, facilitated by the Rodman Hall Community Group. Jean Bridge, Elizabeth Chitty, Elizabeth Hayden, Sharilyn J. Ingram and Sandy Middleton are an impressive “ad hoc” volunteer group. It would be a disservice to list their accomplishments here, but you can see it online at rodmanhallalliance.ca/about.

One woman, during the question period at the end of Janis Barlow’s presentation (augmented by Professor Sharilyn Ingram’s encyclopedic clarity on certain terms and history) encapsulated the evening best. After the dour (and periodically dishonest) negativity of the presentations of Martin Van Zon and Interkom that suggested that anything other than the “new” “Art Gallery of Niagara” would result in a horror almost Lovecraftian in its breadth — and vagueness, ahem — it is “good to see that there are many options for Rodman that are positive and viable, and that there’s major interest — and potential financial support — from a variety of community players and groups in Niagara”, and beyond.

The presentation by Barlow was succinct, and a variation of one given by this same group to the Capital Infrastructure Committee (CIC) at Brock. It was a little more than an hour, and yet contained more genuine information, as pertains to Rodman’s history, attendance, dependant classes from various educational institutions, provincial and national accolades and recognition – and financial options (perhaps most important in the current climate) than all four of the Van Zon evenings.

The evening promised — and delivered — the following:
“This event is an opportunity to learn about what has come to be known as The Barlow Report. At recent community consultations conducted on behalf of Brock University, it appears that this report — titled Rodman Hall: Planning the Future, a preliminary planning process — has been disregarded, despite it having been approved by Brock Board of Trustees in September 2015. The Barlow Report offers a clear alternative to the controversial notion put forth by Brock’s consultant that a new art gallery to replace Rodman Hall should now be considered.

The report proposed to cultivate partners for Rodman’s four core businesses (public art museum; learning centre; historic site; public gardens) to sustain future operations, develop an endowment, and safeguard Rodman’s assets and enable fundraising through establishment of a community property trust. This event is an opportunity to listen to consultant Janis Barlow review the report, ask questions and engage in a community discussion about its recommendations.”

Meanwhile, the ground has shifted.

Not long after Rodman Hall Community Group (RHA)’s forum last December, Brock University informed Martin Van Zon and Interkom they would no longer be requiring his / their services as a consultant. Perhaps “Brock” was displeased with the poverty of Interkom’s “research”; the abrasive, aggressive ignorance perpetuated in their “name”, so to speak; the revelations that there might be a conflict of interest and intent as regards the Art Gallery of Burlington; or that “nothing has been decided” has become a sarcastic rejoinder for many. All are believable cause for ending this embarrassing exercise in disrespect and delinquency. Perhaps it would be too ungracious to suggest a recouping of the consultation fee, as it’s arguable that work commissioned was not accomplished (and it could be put towards the cuts already made by Brock in Rodman’s budget…).

Further concerns that came to light from the RHA speaking to Brock’s CIC was that the CIC was unaware of the facts, and seemed to bend some (“Stuart [Reid, former Director] said he couldn’t implement the Barlow, and the board agreed”, which ignores that a three year plan cannot be implemented in three months… and there seemed to be a desire by some CIC members to “blame the media” for “rumour mongering” — are my ears burning? — but it was made clear to the CIC that this was another example of the disconnect — nefarious or simply ignorance — between themselves and what Van Zon spoke (for them?). Again, several RHA volunteers — notably Ingram — corrected these self serving misperception when they spoke to the CIC).

Its unclear at this time what this means for the Art Gallery of Niagara (agniagara.ca is still online, but without any listing of those involved, and as previously detailed here in The Sound, Interkom hosts and maintains the site… so it is unclear if the AGN is any more, or anything more, than a confused, problematic endeavour of one or two individuals… It’s worth noting that the RHA has expressed a willingness to work with any and all whom have Rodman’s best interests at heart, including the AGN).

But let’s put the expensive Interkom debacle behind us: if you go the RHA page you can watch several videos of the meeting, and hear what Chitty, Barlow and others whom are part of “the community of citizens, academics, artists and students that support the Rodman Hall Art Centre and its continued existence as a public asset” have to say. The videos are broken into sections, such as “Sharilyn Ingram, member of the Rodman Hall Alliance, provides context for the Barlow Report” or “Janis Barlow outlines and compares financial framework of Rodman Hall with other Ontario regional galleries.”

RHA also didn’t sugarcoat that Brock seems keen to divest itself of Rodman (I must be cynical and suggest that the outrage at what was proposed by Van Zon has served to galvanize a community that was a bit sleepy, and thus Brock’s acolytes of austerity have what they want, anyway). However, unlike the scolding rebukes made by one of the AGN cabal at the Niagara Artists Centre, RHA sees the six years to 2023 as an opportunity — and a challenge — to enact the partnerships and plans the Barlow report suggested (another video at their site is “Janis Barlow reviews opportunities and plans for community partnerships to sustain Rodman Hall”, which includes research and genuine guides for Rodman. This again highlights how Van Zon’s idea that a downtown gallery could be built for an almost criminally small amount, while ignoring issues of operating budgets for a new, were akin to — quoting a local entrepreneur — “rainbow shitting unicorns”).

RHA offers a challenge, to not solely keep but to improve Rodman Hall; and a plan that values heritage and the community players that are strongly invested in Rodman, and its variable history of grounds, local history, education and contemporary art. Email them to ask what’s next, and what needs to be done to make that happen, and make Rodman thrive.

Part 8: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, can be read here.