A lot of good people have been hurt this year trying to save the City of Cornwall’s public art gallery. From years of historic corruption, poor governance, and a lack of support in a community that is very very weak artistically the final insults to decency were delivered this week.
It’s entrenched why this community can’t shake it’s horrible reputation, and the inability for much to grow locally with entities like Money Sense magazine consistently ranking Cornwall at the bottom of their ranks for business which extends to the arts, as the arts are a business.
This week another board member was threatened. It was not the first time. We’ve seen members including yours truly have their “day jobs” threatened which has led to at least three good people resigning during this past year.
Likewise, certain actual art groups have conspired, only once the gallery’s legal issues were expertly resolved, to take over the board and control of the gallery. The fact that these groups do not have a terribly successful track record and little to no history of actually supporting the gallery doesn’t seem to factor in.
Charitable status is not easy to attain in 2016. Likewise, when seeking funding, a thirty four year old charity is a valuable resource.
Two former board members who now sit on council, Elaine MacDonald and Carilyne Hebert left after committing illegal acts and under threat for exposure and lawsuit. While there they played roles in the creation of what is known as YAC.
It was typical Cornwall politics. Create an entity to replace one that you can’t control. Instead of protecting our institutions, tear them down which is why Cornwall is so behind compared to nearby Brockville.
In a single year TAG saw a huge change over in board members, the termination of its long time Executive Director, a $500,000.00 lawsuit from the same director that was resolved without ever reaching court or the gallery itself having to write a cheque. In that same period of time it created an up to date charter, new membership structure, Artist Guild structure to assist artists who are focused on earning money benefit, as well as put on four major exhibitions including Aislin and legendary photographer Barrie Wentzell.
It did this with its funding cut to zero. The city refused to even profer the Lift Off dollars after its signature tourism event folded for many of the same reasons, corruption and poor execution.
The city of Cornwall refused to support the gallery to the degree of even refusing to place its events on the city’s facebook page. It was as though certain people at City Hall thought they were running a private business instead of simply employed by a municipality that is there to serve all of the community; not only those that people like Bob Peters or Kevin Lajoie “like.”
Communications to Council also proved ineffective.
This week so a few new lows. TAG was not notified of its date to present for funding. If not for someone at City Hall letting us know on the side we would have missed our presentation, not that it apparently mattered as the fix seemed to be in.
We contacted Debbie Caskanette at City Hall and asked if she had sent our notification to our firstname.lastname@example.org email which she confirmed. When we stated that we did not get it and asked to have our slot changed we were refused. A subsequent email to CFO Maureen Adams showed the notification was not sent to TAG and that the city had a bounce back email yet made no further attempts to contact TAG.
We had scheduled a meeting to gauge the public support to save the gallery which was originally scheduled for this past Monday. After complaints by Councilor Dupelle we switched it to the next day. After all if there was interest by some on council to attend that was hopeful. Our presentation, that we were not notified of, was dated the same day as the new date so President Walsh and myself rushed to a 5 PM presentation before zipping back to the gallery to prepare for our meeting.
Our meeting was met with a small group of about eight people picketing (there were nearly forty others inside), which included a woman that was trespassed after swearing and being abusive in the gallery in front of a small child and two artists over our former board member Kimberley Cameron. Heather Smith was also on the board with Elaine MacDonald and Carilyne Hebert.
Mary Anne Pankhurst, an artist of reknown herself, at a meeting to promote a column she was to start called “The Art of Everything” was actually verbally assaulted in the same manner by Ms Smith. Heather had also wrangled with former Board member Eric Covington over a glass show they were to have together at the gallery. That show disintegrated and resulted in Mr. Covington leaving TAG as a board member over not only his conflict of interest, but his leaking an internal investigation. He had also left the board of YAC prior to joining TAG, and actually actively petitioned our funding agencies for 2015 and 2016 to not grant TAG any funds. He also spread straight out falsehoods about the gallery still having litigation (it doesn’t) and about having out of quorum meetings (which we did not).
Mr. Covington also wanted to merge his glass works with TAG so it would have charitable status.
This week he sent an email to CFN minority owner Reg Coffey. Mr. Coffey has no role at the gallery, and simply is co-owner of CFN.
“There is an artists boycott of anyone who empowers a certain on-line personality and your business is on the list.
Too bad since you have good coffee at a good price.
Priests Mill Glassworks
16 Mill Square, P.O. Box 85
Alexandria, On., K0C 1A0
Again, you have a disgruntled former board member clearly bearing his grudge at ultimately the expense of the gallery.
Ms Smith did not support or show at the gallery after that show in spite of the board offering to set up an alternative glass show. She complained about being trespassed to President Wyatt Walsh who once he confirmed her actions, simply suggested she submit an apology and request to return which she refused. Clearly anyone picketing to defend her actions has some very peculiar morals and standards.
(photo : facebook)
Rose Desnoyers, Sandra Taylor Hedges, and other members of Focus Art were part of the protest group.
The group clearly had a mandate as Focus Art, which campaigned for YAC, had conspired with some of the protesters to “buy” memberships to takeover the board of TAG. It’s President Linda Geisel conspired with Kimberley Cameron to set up a “secret” board meeting to discuss it. Focus Art, instead of asking Ms Geisel to step down, grouped up to picket the gallery. Ms Geisel was present at the picketing.
In this excerpt from a facebook chat between Councilor Hebert and Kimberley Cameron they discuss some of the minutiae of what Councilor Hebert thinks YAC and Focus Art are for, and then calls yours truly and the board “dirt bag.” Again, this is an acting city councilor. Ms Hebert is also on the Outside Agency Committee that decides on funding.
Hebert states that she feels the former ED was a dirt bag too. She mentions the application for her clear conflict of interest in which she, Elaine MacDonald, and the Mayor ended up using the City’s lead legal rep, and somehow found a judge who did not declare that he had been partner in a law firm that currently was representing (at the time still a city councilor himself) Brock Frost and who had represented several other clients who had lost to CFN in court. Clearly Judge LeRoy should not have been presiding over that case. Ironically he’s been named to Judge the City vs Whistleblower Diane Shay. Freeholder editor Hugo Rodrigues sat in the courtroom that day and neglected to mention the good Judge not declaring his former partnership.
While Ms Hebert talks about an art centre there is clearly zero funding for it. The first plans were done in the 90’s. Nothing was done since.
This year the City of Cornwall has hired an architectural firm to do a feasibility study for an art centre. Ironically the city has no building which makes hiring an architectural firm boggling? Likewise they have left TAG out of the process even though TAG has the only real art archives in the city going back to 1977! A reasonable person would ask why?
Likewise, funding for charities is far easier to get than start ups, especially 34 year old charities. Why block out the gallery? Why not roll the gallery into an arts centre if there was a serious plan?
The city’s spent all of the revenue from the Progress fund on its share of the Benson Centre. In fact the city’s share exceeds the revenue and most likely will for about a decade. There clearly are no funds for an art centre.
A reasonable person might posit how a community could support an arts centre if they can’t support a public art gallery?
Historically TAG and the arts have been under supported in Cornwall. There was so little care from the arts community itself that TAG was allowed to float for twenty years without any growth while the city killed its Arts Coordinator position after the disastrous Cornwall Comets hockey fiasco.
The City has an Arts & Culture committee that did not champion the gallery nor even visit it other than one member setting up a meeting between YAC and TAG where YAC’s president Betty Healey took aside the President and attacked yours truly. YAC still owes TAG about $1,700 for not completing work that it denied until Trillium was involved.
YAC as an entity had less than 40 members until it made its membership free, which basically disqualifies it for a lot of funding. They have yet to actually support the gallery or call for the city to support the public gallery which again is an odd position for an entity that is supposed to be an Arts Council? Likewise it asked for funding in 2015 to pay for its Executive Director Bruce Davis and instead terminated his position. Mr. Davis voiced complaints about how he was handled by the Board.
The City not only didn’t stop YAC’s funding, but gave them a raise in 2016 with David Murphy being quoted in media as stating:
“We saw the need,” said Coun. David Murphy on his support for the initiative.
“Last year we didn’t know how effective it would be and one year (later) they’ve proven to be pretty effective,”
While Murphy praised YAC for “being effective since infancy (it began in 2012)”
Murphy said the funding for YAC will also benefit more types of artists than those who focus on visual arts.
“YAC is the model for the future,” said Murphy. He explained that YAC was created partly to bring more artists together.
“If we have one unified voice, we could end up with the best possible outcome toward building an arts centre,” he said, comparing this issue to the process the sports groups undertook in the mid-2000s that led to the building of the Benson Centre.
One would wonder what City Mr. Murphy is living in? Could all that energy spent from chasing his former female students at St. Lawrence College have impacted his faculties? Could spending so much time saying yes to Gerry and Marty Benson have diminished his ability to assess information and come up with accurate conclusions?
YAC, including this year essentially sends out email blasts, and set up a few exhibitions (but would not do so at the public gallery in 2015) and the only grant they had some success with was the lighting at TAG which they failed to complete. What on earth is Councilor Murphy talking about? (and he wants to run for mayor in 2018?)
There was no group like the Benson Centre committee working for an arts centre like YAC. It’s farcical and frankly embarrassing to those that don’t swallow the hooey from the likes of Carilyne Hebert and David Murphy.
In 2015 TAG hosted the Catholic School Boards student exhibit with over six hundred children attending. It provided a free setting for artists to display work and the public to view work. The City is spending $97,000 in 2016 to fund Aultsville Hall which provides an expensive location that is under served. It also rents some space to YAC which is not ideal for arts or for public accessibility.
TAG is downtown which is ideally where you want an arts centre of any sort.
So the question is why the conspiracy to shut down TAG? Is it only because of personal issues with elected officials?
The media played a role in this too. The Seaway News, and Cornwall Newswatch seem to only cover attacks on the gallery as they pander to City Hall for ad dollars. The Freeholder has written some bizarre things too. The article quoted above with the quotes from Mr. Murphy did not contact TAG other than attempt to reach President Wyatt Walsh when the writer clearly knew who the Director of Communications is. Likewise the Freeholder chose to not run an interview it conducted prior to the meeting to save the gallery. Why would that be? How can the public come to the defense of its gallery if they are not informed, and why wouldn’t these media outlets share the upcoming meeting?
No, it’s bad 80’s TV drama and petty small town politics at their worst.
Should that mean the end of the historical charity? Should it see people’s livelihoods threatened as has happened to board members?
Ultimately TAG will die not because of the corruption at City Hall, but because of the conspiracy of silence of those that clearly know what is going on. While Councilor Murphy and his Outside Agency committee may have focused on eight protesters, who clearly had an agenda, he didn’t mention the nearly 40 people inside the gallery that night who nearly unanimously wanted to save the gallery, albeit with many different thoughts on the process.
Ultimately because the local arts community is so fractured and political its failed to pull together which is a community tragedy. Do people like Tracy Croxall Davies, Kimberley Cameron, or Jacqueline Milner really warrant public dollars or the time and resources of those that would volunteer to be on a board? Especially when most of those protesting don’t even live in Cornwall?
Could that be why our best and brightest rarely give their time to serve the community in this manner? To only see their work or good names mired in lies and ugly politics, or see their livelihoods threatened?
Council has the final word on Mr. Murphy’s recommendation to cut funding to its public art gallery, but it may be too late to save after the petty politics of this past week.
Even if people did work together the arts scene is so weak that it would take a good decade of strong work to get to the point to even consider the type of investment that a true arts centre would cost.
I end this piece with the words of our former executive director Sylvie Lizotte, who honestly, while not perfect, deserves an honour for lasting as long as she did dealing with these people (she went through an ordeal with Councilor Denis Thibault who had no love for the gallery or Ms Lizotte. Mr. Thibault, in charge of the Eastern Ontario Training Board, also refused to help the gallery get funding to hire an arts student work in the gallery)
Would you want to deal with this sort of nonsense if you were considering trying to save an organization?
Essentially you have a fractured and weak group being led by corrupt politicians to wage personal grievances with public dollars. Is that a community one could be proud to live in?
And that dear CFN viewers is why at our next board meeting I will be recommending that we close TAG Cornwall.