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Union~Art


"The Texture of Memory"
C J Fleury,"The Texture of Memory"
"The Alchemy of ...."
C J Fleury, "The Alchemy of ...."
"It is impossible to give the soldier a good education without making him a deserter" (anonymous)
Tim desClouds, "It is impossible to give the soldier a good education without making him a deserter" (anonymous)

From May 2 to June 13, 2004
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 1, 2004 from 1 to 4 p.m.

Ottawa City Hall
City Hall Art Gallery
110 Laurier Avenue, West
Gallery open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Parking available and admission is free.
613-580-2424 ext. 28425

Can making art include more than just ourselves? Can art actually build community? (Suzi Gablik, 2003)

Key to this show is that each and every piece was created by a local artist in collaboration with a union member. By creating art together the artist and the unionist build bridges.

This show is part of an annual event called Mayworks, a multi disciplinary arts festival that celebrates the building of communities between artists and workers. Mayworks was born early in the 19th century in Scotland. It is now celebrated around the world and in cities across Canada including Ottawa, Vancouver, Toronto and Saskatoon. Ottawa's Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts is built on the premise that workers and artists share a common struggle for decent wages, healthy working conditions and a living culture. Mayworks' goal is to promote the interests of cultural workers and trade unionists and to highlight ongoing struggles for social and economic justice.

Labour art theory is simple - if you can get artists involved in your union's business it will help advance your cause. In this time of municipal and national struggles against a right-wing agenda of cutbacks and privatization, we need artists. Artists can provide a focus to local strikes and issues and bolster demonstrations against budget cuts, war and globalization. Unionists need to recognise the value of having artists tell our stories. At the same time, artists need to break down their own stereotypes about unions and see the deep, rich well of subject matter in labour issues. Unions are not just about money, strikes and work boots, they are also about childcare, healthcare and human rights.

In labour's proud history, artists have always been allies and voices for "the cause". In the thirties artist Joe Hill was assassinated as much for his labour cartoons and songs as for his efforts to organize miners. Visual artists in Canada such as Jack Chambers, Frederick Taylor, Paraskeva Clark and Henry Orenstein depicted the working class with dignity and strength. They have laid a foundation for a Canadian school of art in honour of the worker. Lawren Harris painted the devastated landscapes and people of Glace Bay in Cape Breton. Today we can see Hans Haacke exposing the Canadian Aluminum company in his "Voici Alcan" at the National Gallery; Toronto's Carole Conde and Karl Beveridge's photographic collaborations about the personal stories of workers; AG Smith and Susan Gold in London with agit prop sculptures; cj fleury working closely with legal activists or Municipal Workers in Ottawa; Mike Constable's Union Art Service in Toronto with puppets and banners commissioned by unions for demonstrations; and of course all of the Ottawa artists in this show.

"Community based art is as much about the process of involving people in the making of the work as the finished object itself. Context is also central; this art is situated in more public, accessible and resonant places, geared to a specific audience and a specific time." (Cohen-Cruz, 2003)

We need to support union-friendly artists. We can do this by encouraging them through arts events like Mayworks and by including artists in our union's strategic plans and demonstrations. Surprisingly, there are initiatives to have professional artists "embedded" in our workplaces for special projects. Even in this time of draconian cutbacks there are grants out there for this very purpose. For example, the Ontario Arts Council offers Artists in the Community/Workplace Grants, (see references). Or you can try the education budgets of local unions themselves.

Art can help to build community. This show is an opportunity to celebrate and support the concept of artists collaborating with unions and working people. It's a powerful idea that can only build a more rewarding work-place for all of us.

Don Monet, 2004

References and Resources

Beveridge, Karl and Johnson, Jude, Making Our Mark: Labour Arts and Heritage in Ontario, Between the Lines, 1999
Jan Cohen Cruz, An Introduction to Community Art and Activism, 2003 Community Arts Network
Suzi Gablik Art As Activism, 2003
CARFAC (Canadian Artists' Representation/le Front des artistes canadiens)
Headlines Theatre, Vancouver, Community specific, issue oriented theatre. Based on Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed.
The Union Art Service Cartoons, graphics on unemployment, pay equity, the environment, workplace health and safety.
Ontario Arts Council, Artists in the Community/Workplace Grants
Mayworks Toronto
Mayworks Saskatoon
Mayworks Ottawa

 

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