The Art Centre Elaine & Carilyne Want to Build on Lies in Cornwall by Jamie Gilcig NOV 5, 2015

Yes, I know, I’ve got emails from many of you complaining that I haven’t been writing as much here on CFN these past months.

The truth is since January of this year I’ve been spending 40-60 hours per week trying to save our 33 year old institution that is our public art gallery here in Cornwall.

The background is simple.  I was asked to help by the former executive director and did which resulted in me being invited to join the board at the AGM.

That AGM was attended by less than 20 people.   That’s it.  With over 30 years of history and all the noise about the importance of the Arts in Cornwall essentially nobody showed up with the exception of the new board and a few members and family.

Actually a few of the new board members were not even present that night.   Of the seven board members elected that night I’m the last one standing; sadly one even passed away.   There are now four board members at TAG.

The make up of the board at the AGM were mostly failed political candidates.  One had a daughter that had just finished a Summer gig for the gallery.  One, after leaving the YAC board invaded TAG under a cloud of conflict of interest.  By the time Eric Covington was done irreparable damage was done to the gallery including his openly campaigning to have our funding cut for 2015, which it was.

I watched open and flagrant disregard for the rules of order and in some cases the laws of the land.   We even had one former board member, sell lemonade and water at the Garlic fest of which the proceeds were supposed to go to the gallery; not submit the cash as she left under a lot of pointless drama.

This hot mess arose after Elaine MacDonald and Carilyne Hebert nearly destroyed the gallery.   I was asked to come on board in fact because the executive director/curator was fearful for her job and after providing me with evidence of gross wrong doing I sent Councilor MacDonald and Carilyne Hebert a short email.

Hi Elaine & Cari,

Do you want to chat before I do my story on what is allegedly going on at the Art Gallery?

It’s my job to offer  you the opportunity to speak.

Not sure what happened, but essentially the board all put in their letters of resignation shortly thereafter without a single member staying on.

During my time at TAG I was tasked with instigating an investigation which after over 300 hours of work yielded a plethora of damaging quotes and contents from Ms MacDonald and Hebert who both are on City Council now.

What’s most insidious is after not being successful in molding TAG into their vision, whatever that may be, they simply decided to partake in this bizarre and delusional exercise of creating an art centre in Cornwall.   An exercise that may have actually started while they were President of the Gallery?

Essentially it feels like two little girls who didn’t get their way so they want to burn down the house and make a new one?    That so many have bought into this nightmare is simply a reflection on the community and in particular the artists themselves.

Cornwall has never been a very artistic community like many other mill towns.  Hockey yes, art?  “For girls and fags. ” is a quote I’ve heard many times as offensive as that is.

There has been talk of an arts centre for over 30 years with no results.    TAG has somehow survived on bread and water rations from the city and bingo.

Imagine spending $160K per year on the barely open museum, $100K on renting St. Lawrence College’s Auditorium, yet only spending $56-$70K for an art gallery open year round that was home for hundreds of kids per year to use and is the largest tourism attraction in the downtown core?

Even more sad have been the art groups themselves for allowing that and under utilizing their gallery.

Politicians manipulate the art groups as they fight for crumbs from council.    This year it was YAC essentially backstabbing TAG as pathetic as that was to watch.  What was more pathetic was council having fun with it giving YAC cash to pay for an executive director they didn’t have and would subsequently announce the position was abolished.   YAC also cut its membership to FREE essentially meaning that there is no real membership.

TAG had its funding cut to zero including a request to get about $15K from monies targeted to Lift Off.   Instead the city essentially gave TAGs stipend to fund a study for an arts centre led by Ms MacDonald and Hebert.

Only in Cornwall could two councilors state a Conflict over TAG deliberations and then openly campaign for funding for an arts centre that they clearly are seeing as a replacement for the gallery.  Elaine even at council where she declared a conflict kept speaking to the subject.   I kid you not.  It’s on the city’s webcast to this day.

TAG was left out of the consultation process for the art centre as well in favor of….YAC, again, we’re talking about a group with no real track record, no real success, vs a legal charity focused on the arts that has been on Pitt Street alone for 30 years.    TAG also has a new charter, membership structure and even with zero funding for the year managed to increase attendance and activity with our long time landlord even stating at one point that he saw more activity in one month than in the entire previous year.

TAG also brought in Canada’s most legendary political cartoonist for an exhibit which the city refused to support or sponsor as did all those wonderful people that sponsored a fund raising event for the art centre.

How can you build an art centre and all that comes with it if you can’t support your 33 year old public art gallery?  That defies logic.   While physics says elephants can fly we know they can’t.

Here is a release that Elaine sent out to area media, (why is a sitting City Councilor showing preference to any group or initiative in this manner?) while excluding CFN.   We will BOLD the key parts.

On Friday October 30th, the Collective for a centre for the arts staged a very successful gala to showcase the lifelong contribution of three giants of local amateur theatre. Edith Styles, Lionel Tessier and Tom Thompson. Among the three of them, Edith, Lionel and Tom served in every capacity, from actors to set designers to directors and producers and contributed over 200 years of drama, cabaret and musicals to grateful audiences. Their achievements laid the foundation of the flourishing theatre scene that animates Cornwall’s arts calendar today. The honorees’ ties to Vagabond Theatre and Seaway Valley Theatre Company are still strong and the good wishes and shared memories of the partygoers from those groups seemed to mean much to Stiles, Tessier and Thompson in addition to the formal awards presented on behalf of the city, the province and in Edith Stiles’ case, from the federal government too.

The gala was the third event organized by the Collective for a Centre for the Arts/Collectif pour un centre des arts, which established itself in late 2013 to engage the broader community in the long held dream of a multi-art culture centre. President John McMartin noted that work on the feasibility study for a centre has begun and called on everyone to celebrate that milestone and participate in the work of the study as it begins its community consultations. John believes the next step will be the release of the subsequent report, and hopes its release will coincide with the Collective’s next event, a Valentine’s Breakfast at the Navy Veterans’ Club in February 2016.

Attendance exceeded over 100 individuals and groups and entertainment was provided by the incomparable duo DJ Shellshock and Madame Mix-A-Lot. Prizes for costumes were provided by the evening’s sponsors, among whom are Benson’s, Cornwall Warehousing, Pommier’s Jewellers, Life’s Little Pleasures, Gordon Jewellers, Laura’s Fine Flowers, Physical Limits, Schnitzel’s, Best Western Parkway Inn and Conference Centre, Home Hardware, Carolyn Davis and Shoppers’ Drug Mart. The major sponsor was St-Alberts Cheese Co-Operative, through whose generosity each guest was given a trick-or-treat bag of fresh curds as they entered. The Collective draws great inspiration from St-Albert cheese plant, which overcame great challenges to rebuild after its disastrous fire. The arts centre will be a tremendous challenge, McMartin acknowledges, but he insists it’s time, long overdue in fact, for Cornwall to have a centre for the production, display and making of the various arts. Acknowledging the breadth and strength of artistic activity in the city, John quoted the Collective’s logo: “We have the arts. Now let’s build them a home.”

Kind of stunning, no?  Whose dream is it to have this arts centre?   Clearly the lack of historic support for our public art gallery shows no burning desire in the art community itself?     While the presser claims just over 100 showed up surely this is a pathetic number?   And who issues a release like this without stating how much was raised unless that number is …..embarrassing.

There have been studies going back to the 90’s which resulted in consultants making money, but no progress.

Disastrous fire?  The only artistic one was the damage caused by Ms MacDonald and Hebert to the art gallery itself under their watch as both took turns as President.    The gallery is still standing and actually functioned stronger in 2015 than in most recent years.  An example being that the Aislin show drew almost as much sales alone than all gallery sales for 2014.

Mr. McMartin should look at the gallery as it’s been a centre for the arts in our city for over 30 years.   If the standard of that centre isn’t to his liking is the solution really to take tax dollars to start over?

Surely he and anyone else that wished to could have been at that January AGM and elected people whose vision was akin to their own.  That’s how the system works.  Membership was only $25 per year.   For as little as $250 (ten memberships) a group could have simply taken over the board and started to to work towards their goals.

That’s a problem in our community compared to Brockville as an example.    Our institutions burn down or get closed down instead of supporting them or building them up.  That’s the culture of the community.  Even Rodney Rivette, a former member of the Cornwall Cultural Committee, expressed that thought to this scribbler; that TAG should close so that this group could move forward.

TAG has survived a lot of adversity in 2015.  We’re still standing and put in our application for funding for 2016.   We now have a stable board, new charter, new membership structure, our new Artist’s Guild, new funding programs,  and a clear vision; yet artists themselves are sadly the galleries worst enemies with gossip flowing about secret agendas and worse.      And in a town like Cornwall lies always travel faster than the truth.

There have been problems in the art community long before this board came along, long before past boards, and past executive directors were around too.

The only way the gallery survives or an art centre truly comes to be will be if artists themselves work together and put art first and leave their drama at the door step.     And that group has to be inclusive.    That isn’t happening right now. TAG has reached out to Focus Art as an example and they have refused to meet with our board.   There’s one studio that we have referred over forty people and refuse to not only support the gallery, but we hear feedback of them trashing us!

Any other option leads to the status quo.   And that’s not good enough.

You can leave your comments below.

Disclosure:  Jamie Gilcig, is on the board of TAG Cornwall as VP Director of Communications.   This piece has not been written on behalf of the Board of TAG Cornwall or the the Gallery itself.



  1. I may not know art… but I know two deadbeats that need to be kicked to the curb next time around at the polls.
    Carilyne Hebert has worn out her pass for girlish naiveté/immaturity… seriously, grow up.
    As for Elaine MacDonald, wtf is she doing still hanging around the political docklands… that has-been wannabe has missed so many boats Webster’s dictionary could have her name as a notation under “pathetic”.

  2. I love art very much and I love color and I do quilting, embroidery and other crafts and I wish that I could draw and paint. Many times I have seen people (mostly seniors) in the park where we walk painting such beautiful scenery and I say to my husband “if only I could do such beautiful work” and that is the truth. Jamie the vast majority of the people in Cornwall have no education and no refinement of any sort. Only a handful of people are educated but they have not been taught the good thngs of life. One thing that I have always said here on CFN is that I don’t like that Carolyn Hébert at all – more like the description that you gave about Frosty the Showman about like Herpes to politics well that is how I feel abot this woman in general – I said before that I had absolutely no trust in her and she was an opportunist and I proved myself right on about her. Cornwall is a funny place.

  3. Maybe i’m missing something but, How can TAG not be a public organization but the city gives them money? I understand it’s open to the public but they say they are a private function. Will the city give me tax payer money for my very own club house, and i say only my friends can come in? How does that work?

  4. Author

    Jerry like most public art gallery’s TAG is its own corporate entity. In this case TAG is a charity. We have a board and we offer public services as we have for over 30 years. Public gallery’s depend on support from the public or they cease to be. Their prime motive is not to “make money” but to nurture the arts in their communities.

    Arts are a big business and key to attracting tourism. For example over half of those attending the Aislin show were from out of Cornwall. Many of those that attended from Cornwall were former Montrealer’s.

    If you have no art or culture in a community you lose a lot. There are nearby towns like Merrickville that came back from the dead after embracing the arts and there are thousands of dollars spent on government studies showing the impact of a strong and vibrant art community.

    2016 should be the year when Artists themselves locally change the pattern that has held back the art community and start to work together and move forward. What I have seen and experienced while on the board of TAG frankly is embarrassing. As an artist myself I find it appalling at the lack of true community support for Arts in our city.

  5. Cornwall…. according to some no good for nothing. Most are uneducated. Those that are educated have not been “taught” the good things in life.

    Who shovels these untruths?

  6. Merrickville is a tiny farming community near Brockville and when I worked through the public service here in Ottawa one of my bosses lived there and commuted every day. When Mrrrickville has a pretty good arts facility that goes to show you that it puts Cornwall to shame. Cornwall stayed behind and not much has improved at all.

  7. Admin, before you respond to the Standard-Freeholders nonsense retort, count to 10 and let it go.

    It’s plain fact that TAG is the art gallery in Cornwall, the only one serving the community’s artists and residents — something that City Hall is unable to do.

    That Cornwall City Council doesn’t like the way it’s run and thinks it can do better, is just nonsense. They can’t clean their own house when needed, in fact it took the residents of Cornwall to start that cleanup last election. And TAG should be left in their hands.

    TAG is a non-profit, and it may need funds from the city that, after all, it is serving. Now if Council can get over their huff, that TAG hasn’t collapsed, they should get on with helping it serve the community, not try and run the show themselves. Oversight of the books would be enough.

    Cornwall City Council needs to stick to the performing arts it knows best… tragi-comedy and farce. And if they held their meetings at Aultsville theatre, maybe that charity case would turn a profit.

  8. Author

    Simon this board has cleaned TAG. We instituted a new charter, new membership structure and took it forward under extreme condiditions including having our funding cut to zero and a major lawsuit.

    We discovered some historical nightmares during the process. Our doors have been open and 100% supported any artists that came through those doors including one artist who posted on facebook that our funding should be cut and then asked if she could paint in our window.

    The city could have taken over TAG any time over the last decade, or two, or three. They cut their own Art Coordinator I was told over the hockey mess when the City lost money in its investment way back.

    TAG’s only mandate should be for the arts. If the community, and that includes city hall, refuses to support that mandate it’s a dark smear on any hope for building a toursim and culture economy in this city and region.

  9. The $300.000 they are talking about putting into a new fluoride plant, I would rather see go into an art gallery. For art and to richen our local culture. Just my little opinion.

  10. Author

    Me too Jerry!

  11. Art is something that comes out from your soul and your heart and is a part of you. I wish that I could create something on canvas that is completely blank instead of following the colors or design of someone else. Art and music makes the mind work and usually people are better at math and other difficult things because it makes people think. About fluoride in the water it is a poison. I don’t know if you people heard but Montréal is going to dump billions of litres of human waste into the St. Lawrence River. Somebody spoke about that earlier when I went on to read on different posts. Fluoride will not kill all that bacteria. You talk about wanting to clean up the environment and this is done and under Justine Trudope’s watch.

  12. This problem in Montreal with the dumping of the raw sewage was originally approved by the Quebec government and Stephen Harper and his crew, not Justin Trudeau. Not that I agree with it being done. . Certain sewers began diverting untreated sewage away from an aging interceptor and directly into the river began just after midnight on Wednesday morning, work that will continue for one week. The release of untreated waste water is necessary in order to complete repairs on an aging interceptor tunnel that feeds sewage to a treatment facility as well as to relocate a snow chute. This is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations.

    And for those who think this is an isolated incident Quebec Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau said Quebec municipalities said his department’s data reveals Quebec cities conducted 45,000 sewage dumps in 2013 alone.

  13. Art is an education and music is an art and good for the soul. People who are educated know what I mean and it is a feeling of expression. One day I was thinking of making something historical with my quilts but I would have to trace patterns from books since I don’t have art instruction. Mom took art in school as a young girl and she had amazing talent. I wish that I had her talent. I would have loved to make a historical quilt on Canadian history of our French forefathers who came to Canada to settle in New France. This has been something that I would have loved to do. I mentioned that to my fellow quilters one day and some have attempted making their own such quilts.

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