A curious series of events have just transpired this year that is putting yet another cultural asset of the City of Cornwall in peril.
First the city cut the funding to its public art gallery to zero in a boggling budget process that saw three councilors cite conflict of interest and one vote against funding after not attending the presentation from the art gallery.
The gallery has been historically drastically underfunded.
When Lift Off folded this year, even more bewildering, Councilor Bernadette Clement (Liberal MP hopeful at the time) announced that she couldn’t support that $12,000 or so because of governance issues at the gallery.
That was really odd as she had supported flawed governance and some bewildering activity there for every year that she’d been on council prior?
The gallery asked for specific marketing help from the city and Economic Development for events which were not replied to. Again, over 60% of art purchased from the gallery is from non residents; IE Tourists!
Recently the gallery presented to council with an update on the years events.
In less than one year the gallery had in fact updated its charter, updated its membership process and options, essentially cleaned up the gallery, put on several shows including visits from iconic Canadian Cartoonist Aislin and most recently legendary music photographer Barrie Wentzell.
It also improved every measurable numeric metric from attendance to art sold.
During that presentation Councilor McIntosh decided to read a copy of Cornwall Living magazine. Now in many places that would be chastised live. In this case nary a word was said other than some snickering.
Councilor McIntosh works for the Seaway News which is owned by TC media which publishes…Cornwall Living magazine. (with a dollop of support via Economic Development)
Some have suggested that “Mac” holds a personal grudge against this scribbler. He’d written for the Standard Freeholder for decades until his very last story, written about yours truly, landed the paper into a lawsuit and complaint. (which we received a cheque for).
Is there a place for such public places of private malice at City Hall? Apparently there might be?
TAG President Wyatt Walsh wrote a letter of complaint to City Hall.
That letter was you guessed it; leaked to the Seaway News where Councilor McIntosh currently has a column. Likewise it suggested that the mayor would not apologize and sure enough at the last council meeting there was no apology nor an apology published as requested by Walsh.
In other words City Hall leaked an official letter of complaint that it not only was ignoring and did not respond to, but ala Ryan Gosling, essentially was gloating.
Only in Cornwall?
Mr. Wentzell was informed of some of the politics surrounding the gallery and not only donated $5,000 worth of new prints for the gallery to sell as a fund raiser, but also has joined its board of directors to try and help save the gallery which is about to celebrate its 30th Anniversary on Pitt Street. How many other locales have survived that long downtown?
The City also refused the gallery’s request to have the event promoted on the city’s facebook page and social media.
What would a reasonable person answer as to why the City seems so hell bent on killing its only art institution?
Some of the local media taking their cues from City Hall have actually attacked the gallery; chiefly the Seaway News, and Standard Freeholder editor Hugo Rodrigues actually writing a column trying to argue that the gallery isn’t a public art gallery which was the weirdest bit of writing that Hugo has scribbled since taking over the reigns.
Neither outlet wrote about the Wentzell show with the Freeholder having a reporter call the gallery, but then not respond to multiple return queries. Press releases were sent to all regional media. Even YAC, which is supposed to be an arts council and to which TAG is a member did not promote the Wentzell show.
With Lift Off and Winterfest dying last year, and now Ribfest and Aultsville Theatre allegedly in trouble this year can Cornwall really afford to kill or force the gallery to move to nearby Brockville?
The Arts are usually the first to suffer in fiscal crunches which Cornwall is going through like many other communities. Even SCM has been said to be struggling this season with some staff offered vacation time or to take time off according to some insiders at the facility.
But can a community really thrive or grow without supporting a vibrant arts community, and where are the area artists themselves? Where are their voices?
Having people at the peak of their craft visiting our city and seeing such shenanigans isn’t great for spreading the word about our Cornwall. It’s not productive nor does it build up the community.
And ultimately it will up to the community if TAG is to make it to its 30th Anniversary this year. It’s up to those at Council to make some magic happen, for the business community to support their gallery, and for the artists themselves to start to work together and save the only real gallery that many can display in around the region.
The gallery held off on a National fund raising appeal because frankly, it would make our community look bad.
The Wentzell fund raising exhibit is live Wednesday to Saturday’s from noon to 4 PM at 168 Pitt Street in Cornwall.
Disclosure: Jamie Gilcig is on the board of TAG Cornwall and did not write this piece on behalf of the board or the gallery.