Something my lovely ex wife complained about Cornwall was a lack of inclusion for we outsiders. I’ve lived here 12 years now and still am an outsider. I speak with some that have lived here over 25 years and they feel the same.
Our first year my wifey tried to volunteer us at a local food bank with no reply over three attempts, not even to hit us up for a donation.
The problem with communities like this is that there are a lot of really nice people. Then there are people like Rick Shaver. If you are on his wrong side then the Kinsmen aren’t your fans, the Chamber of Commerce too, etc.
If you are competing with Rick it can get even uglier.
Over the years I’ve been blocked from participating in groups and even charities because of the cliques in Cornwall.
When Sylvie Lizotte, former director of our public art gallery came to me for help last Summer it was odd, but it wasn’t the first time that someone that had been nasty to me or CFN had come for help. People know that our door is open and we generally get results. We did for her, but more on that shortly.
Again, we live in a funny town. When I lived in Los Angeles as a struggling newbie to the film biz it was an interesting dynamic. As one old timer explained to me, you always have to be nice because you never know who’s on their way up or their way down and people can help or hurt you in either direction.
Academy member and very cool actor, the late Brock Peters, mentored me one afternoon with some great advice. When I moved to Cornwall I saw a strangely coiffed man shooting some video and tried to strike up a chat. I shared that I’d done a bit of filmmaking myself only to be snubbed. Cornwall.
When I started this online newspaper I was told I was nuts by my friends. Cornwall was too illiterate and simply not sophisticated. CFN was designed to be a strange hybrid of Huffpo & Perez Hilton. That we became number one in this market within our first two years shows that I may have been onto something or simply that the competition was caught flat footed.
I was “facewashed” from the get go. I’d offer 100 banners for $25 and have doors slammed on me. We did get some of the biggest local advertisers and even the city itself, but like any good thing jealousy and competition can get nasty.
I think I’m rambling…..
So last Summer I was shocked when Sylvie Lizotte came to me for help. She complained that Elaine MacDonald had taken over TAG with her protege Carilyne Hebert. The board included Carilyne’s mom and other NDP supporters.
Ms Lizotte had gone through a lot of board members over the year. I myself did a story about some of the strangeness that had occurred. She brought me inside info and plead her cause not only to me, but just about anyone that would listen.
At one point I sent Elaine MacDonald an email asking if I had to write a story about what was going on? I’m not sure if that email was a factor or not, but she and her cabal essentially resigned with her signing off at the AGM in January via letter.
At that AGM, which was very very pathetic, almost nobody turned up. It was Ms Lizotte and a group of supporters she’d assembled for a new board with a few stragglers like her boyfriend.
All that were nominated were acclaimed. There was not a dissenting vote or boo, not even a hiss. Those complaining now just had to show up and they could have taken over the gallery with about ten votes. Focus Art? YAC? All they had to do was show up. They didn’t.
As a filmmaker, film historian, and lover of the arts I was happy to be able to try and make things better. I even offered to do two courses to make money for TAG, one on screen writing and one on acting.
Sadly the make up of this board at that time were mostly people with an agenda, from political aspirations to conflict of interest. As Sylvie herself had said more than once, “Some people join the board just to have their own show.”
Two of those nominated that night weren’t even in attendance with one not ever showing up to a single meeting, not even by phone!
What did become clear was that there were a lot of issues and reasons why TAG was the way it was.
What was scary was our permanent Art Collection and our Bingo.
TAG essentially got enough money from the city to cover Sylvie’s salary and Bingo covered the rent & lights. There never seemed to be much money left for actual artists which I felt was wrong.
I have one mandate once I stepped through those doors and that’s TAG’s sole role is to support Artists and the Arts in the Cornwall Region (and to me that includes Akwesasne & the Counties).
Slowly board members resigned and were replaced. Sadly one died. We went from seven to our current five with myself being the only member from that night.
At a certain point it was unanimously decided that Ms Lizotte had to be terminated.
That was something that some on council like Denis Thibault had called for since the first year that CFN started back in 2009.
It’s never easy terminating someone; even if they are deserving of it. We went to an HR specialist and consulted. We talked with a lawyer. We were told that no matter how good a case we may have there’s always a contingency lawyer that might give it a go which two media outlets have had some hay with recently.
In this case we ended up with the same legal letters that the previous board had received. There had been a long history of board members being threatened with litigation.
You have to remember that we board members are volunteers. Who needs that drama? It’s easier to quit.
This board didn’t quit. It stepped up and did what needed to be done. We spent over 300 man hours doing a preliminary investigation. We turned records over the CCPS (who have yet to do anything about it). We have been slapped by council who chose to cut our funding to zero after we did what should have been done over a decade ago. And while we have been sued our Board of Directors Insurance was renewed with no increase of premium and we’re being represented by a top Toronto legal firm that specializes in Labour Law at no cost to the gallery.
We did this while never closing the gallery for a day after we finished our initial inventory. We did this by passionate board members and volunteers laying it on the line even though many in the arts community itself abandoned TAG for their own agendas.
We watched an alleged Arts Council turn its back on the gallery and essentially pander and compete for the dollars necessary to keep TAG going.
We watched Councilor Bernadette Clement, who wants to be your Liberal MP actually state that should couldn’t support our governance after supporting flawed and corrupt governance at the gallery for each of the years she’s been elected. With a new up to date charter and membership structure what was it she wasn’t supporting? We asked her that via email cc’g Justin Trudeau and the next day she came to the gallery to ask what she could do to help. We have not seen or heard from her since even though we clearly shared. One local journalist said that because of what she did he won’t be supporting her in the next election. (No it wasn’t me)
We made a choice to keep things going. We didn’t let a single person down. We hosted kids even though we had zero revenue for that period. We are now in the midst of our second show in three months and are having a major event in the Fall with legendary Cartoonist Aislin coming to Cornwall which will also support local cartoonists like Frank Burelle.
What is the message that that sends to the community and elected officials when the support is lacking or that certain artists play politics?
Recently we sent out two press releases for our NEW FACES show. Todd Lihou, who works for Rick Shaver didn’t give us a mention, but he was publishing a hatchet piece about the lawsuit that Ms Lizotte launched against the gallery and two board members for wrongful dismissal.
We asked the city to promote the show and our fund raising event on the city facebook page and choosecornwall.ca page, but nada even though three councilors had agreed to participate. We didn’t get a single email reply for our request for sponsorship that we sent to Economic Development & Council.
While some have pointed fingers at yours truly the issues of lack of support for the arts in this community goes way back before I moved here and will exist long after I am gone.
It’s time for those that really care about the arts to step up. Without our public art gallery there never will be an Arts Centre. Trust me on that.
The only way to develop our Art Economy is to promote artists and do what we can to help them earn enough money to thrive and thriving artists are like rabbits.
One of the biggest problems in Cornwall is youth retention and as important as jobs are more youth complain about not having enough to do.
A vibrant downtown public art gallery is a great start.
TAG needs artists to step up. They need to leave their drama and politics at the door and focus on art and moving forward. The door at TAG is open. It’s up to them to step in. The excuses, the stories, the old issues will not help anyone.
It’s up to you.
Jamie Gilcig – Director of Communications per TAG Cornwall – Disclosure, this letter is my personal opinion and is not on behalf of the board of TAG Cornwall or any of its directors.