A Fall Update: What About Rodman Hall?

Well, ‘the time has come,” the Walrus said,”To talk of many things: of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–of cabbages–and kings–and why the sea is boiling hot–And whether pigs have wings.”

Why, yes, your intrepid #artcriticfromhell is ‘pleased’ to offer you an update on what is happening now regarding Brock University and Rodman Hall Art Centre. Allow me to explain my silly opening quote / metaphor; with those references to ‘kings’ – as in dismissive arrogant types – a Hutchings or a Fearon, even a Vivian, perhaps – that wish we’d just defer to our ‘betters’ on the topic of RHAC; ‘cabbages’ as in reheated bile in Brock PSAs that are opaque in their obtuseness, ahem; and ‘whether pigs have wings’ – no need to explain that one, I hope, since I’m sure you saw that flying pig, too, when Brock asserted they NEVER planned to sell RHAC to those developers, whom I guess would be working for free, cough cough.

But perhaps I should warn you, before we begin, as when The Sound broke the story regarding Brock – or the Hutchings Cabal, as it’s more accurate to term it such– planning to sell RHAC back in the Spring, Dean of Humanities Carol Merriman insinuated that we were ‘fake news.’ Mind, we weren’t the ones proffering mistruths so baldly, such as saying they’d supported RHAC strongly, when they’ve declined to fill three (3!) positions there in the last few years, emaciating the gallery through a process of ‘demolition by neglect’, to paraphrase Rebecca Caan.

Ah, forgive my skepticism: when I commented the other day that I was unsure if I should finish this update, or watch Evil Dead, a friend who’s involvement has been more in depth and nuanced then mine suggested the movie, as it has a clear end….

Since we last talked about Brock and RHAC, there’s been a few developments, several of which have been reported in The Standard, with varying degrees of (in)accuracy. The story has also been picked up at a national level by Canadian Art. They provided articles that both detailed the original ‘plan’ this past spring by Brock to divest itself of RHAC and ‘steal the collection for two dollars’ (Mark Elliot), but also the revised plan to hand over the space and the collection to a community board, with a more appropriate – and realistic, from both a financial and cultural position – plan for 2023. Several faculty have been adamant and insistent on making sure the university knows what it would be losing, and what the true stakes and real stakeholders are, in this debate. Praise to several of these, which includes Donna Szoke and Amy Friend.

Also this summer, St. Catharines City Council, at the urging of Councillor Carlos Garcia, and after presentations by former St. Catharines Cultural Coordinator Caan and former Councillor Mark Elliot (who, when he won the STC Arts Award for Making a Difference, repeated his assertion that Brock ‘stole’ RHAC and the collection for a toonie, and he will happily reimburse them – even with interest, so $4 – to get it out of their hands), struck a committee to gain information and break the Stalinist silence from the Hutchings Cabal at Brock. This is specifically regarding the most recent feasibility report by Alf Bogusky and Ann Pappert. City Hall, after all, offered support to the university regarding their MIWSFPA endeavour, and as pointed out at that same Council meeting, citizens of this city would be coming to them, not Brock, to ask why RHAC was shuttered and why we have no longer have a quality public gallery here.

They – again, unlike the Brock cabal – would not find it so easy to ignore questions and concerns, and would demand some accountability from Brock administration.

Some necessary praise: the students (Rachel McCartney and Sarah Martin, especially) at MIWSFPA have been amazing, in both protesting and making their voices heard, and not being interested in the refusal – whether ideological or just ignorance – on the part of said cabal to not take their concerns seriously. With protests at various Brock events to derail the spin, one of the reasons why myself, and others, are somewhat hopeful, is due to them.

The ‘new’ board that has recently incorporated with intent to have RHAC and its collection returned to them has several notable names with significant experience (one of them, Reinhard Reitzenstein, made one of my favourite comments during the Van Zon consultations, pointing out that neither Van Zon, or his AGN types, had any idea or experience for what they were talking about).

The relevant information from their PSA released in late June:

Rodman Hall Art Centre Inc. is a community-based not-for-profit corporation whose first orderof business is to develop a phased transition plan with Brock University to return the public art gallery back into community hands. This initiative is a constructive response to Brock University’s goal to reduce their financial obligation for the art museum. Rodman Hall Art Centre Inc. is dedicated to ensuring the future excellence of Niagara’s award-winning professional art museum, and to provide inspiring contemporary art exhibitions and public programs. RHAC Inc. intends to raise funds from a wide variety of sources, engage community volunteers and leverage the historical home and gardens to create a cultural destination for residents and visitors to Niagara.

Unlike, again, the opaque curtain that Brock employed regarding their decision, this RHAC Inc. update also offered biographical information and the relevant experience of their board members. These include Jean Bridge (Chair of RHAC inc., who’s both an artist and educator of long standing in the community, as well as the ‘founder of nGen Niagara Interactive Media Generator, now Innovate Niagara and the Generator at One’), Ken Lucyshyn (Executive Vice-President, Aggregates & Construction at Walker Industries Holdings limited. That company name may be familiar to you from the recent Niagara Pumphouse Walker Industries Art Competition) and the aforementioned Reitzenstein (internationally renowned artist, associate professor of Sculpture at the University of Buffalo. His past experience is impressive, having ‘served on the Boards of MacMaster University Museum of Art and the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and Grimsby Public Art Gallery’). In past conversations about RHAC, the fact that the grounds, as well as the gallery spaces, are a treasure to be preserved is acknowledged with the presence on the RHAC Inc. Board of Darren Schmahl (horticulturist and educator at Niagara Catholic District School Board and the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture.’ It is very edifying to have ‘an authority on the history of the gardens at Rodman Hall and contributor to their current design’ as part of this group). The group is rounded out by two excellent examples of the balance present in this group: Shawn Tylee (Manager, Corporate Affairs, Rankin Construction. He ‘brings a wealth of knowledge in Business Marketing, Strategic Planning, Client Relations and Contract Negotiations to’ the group. Again, this is important as Brock – with Van Zon, but this self serving ignorance has been repeated by others there, afterwards – has implied the ‘irrelevance’ of RHAC, while instructing them to not scuttle the MIWSFPA fund raising of the past decade, and then neither supporting nor replacing staff whom could raise and enhance RHAC’s public profile…) and Dr. Peter Vietgen. Vietgen is an ‘Associate Professor of Visual Arts Education in the Teacher Education Program at Brock University and the current President of the Canadian Society for Education through Art’.

All are experienced and informed choices to shepherd RHAC towards 2023 and being rid of Brock’s mendacity (as I must mention AGAIN that blaming Doug Ford for this ‘austerity’ is self servingly disingenuous, since Van Zon was jibbering about developers long before Ford as a premier was even suggested by the most absurd of comedians….).

This is a hopeful turn, and one that surely wouldn’t have happened, I suspect, if V.P. Finance Hutchings hadn’t departed for job with the City of Brantford. An amusing aside: a friend works at an auto shop, and described how, in the midst of changing Hutchings’ radiator that he was subjected to a gleeful monologue by the former Brock employee as to how glad he was to finally rid the uni of RHAC. Rather funny, when you consider the eagerness with which he and his lot blamed Doug Ford for the necessary cutbacks, though this all started several years ago before the idea of Ford as Premier was anything other than a bad joke. Amusingly, again in a painful manner, is that a similar ignorant wielding of a bloody axe under the misguided dissembling of austerity is ALSO what Hutchings was doing, aping Doug.

Is the RHAC and Brock saga over? Not bloody likely, your intrepid #artcriticfromhell would say. After all, a little over a year ago, many of us thought Brock would no longer foster plans, public or secretive, to ‘steal the collection and building’ (again, I praise Mark Elliot’s acerbic exactness). It is not inappropriate to be wary until 2023, and the building and collection are out of Brock’s grasp: but I must end with this. Is the cultural community willing to step up, in terms of support both financial and vocally, to ensure RHAC survives? We’re having this conversation again because a window to ensure Brock behaved appropriately was missed. Will we miss it again?

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.