Give the art gallery to people who need and want it

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The gallery of student art — you would think it’s purpose would be self explanatory. Instead it’s a long standing issue at the University of Manitoba. Time and again, the gallery is hijacked by student groups and UMSU to present us with nothing I, — or any self respecting half-educated student should — call art.

What I am referring to is the GoSA exhibit from Nov. 2-8 and the slough of student group “shows” arranged for the rest of the year. These shows have no place in the gallery; they are not art — end of argument.

You aren’t artists UMSU; what you’ve made isn’t art and you are depriving hardworking artists at the university of an important opportunity exhibiting and exposing their work. Every time UMSU has a “show” in GOSA or awards the gallery to a student group, it keeps hardworking artists who need the gallery out.

When asked, Travis Lycar the current GoSA coordinator, his opinions about how the gallery is used, he said, “It’s important to let the student body know that the space is an UMSU service and not just a elitist gallery of “Art.” It is there to represent student groups, services and student art. It is still an issue for some people, and they need to be informed so that they can untie their shit that is tightly knotted.”

This is true; the gallery is there to serve all the students — not just those kooky art students. To keep that system fair there is a very professional application process in place so that the gallery grants exhibitions on the merit of the work.

However, Miriam Rudolph, last year’s GoSA co-ordinator, expressed a distaste for how the gallery was used. “Each party argued for a different purpose of the space. I asked UMSU for the mandate and documents from when the gallery was put in place, but no documents could be found.” Rudolph said that student groups and UMSU do not need to apply or show any documentation to exhibit in the gallery. The mandate listed on the UMSU website says GoSA is there “to promote student art and design work at the University of Manitoba,” not to plug union objectives and student group event listings.

Giving UMSU and student groups unhindered shows takes opportunities away from emerging artists, who need these shows for their CV (an artist’s resume; their life blood for applications, jobs and grants). Without GoSA, most graduates would be applying to graduate programs or necessary government assistance with little more than the annual art school open house on their CV. “I understand that it might be a problem for UMSU to make the space solely into a student art gallery, since their interests are much broader. At other universities it is generally the art schools themselves that provide student galleries, but the School of Art at the U of M has only Gallery 111 — a professional gallery,” said Rudolph. It’s true, at the U of M art school there are few student exhibition spaces and even fewer opportunities to use them. GOSA is supposed to provide that opportunity.

What has been exhibited during UMSU’s Day of Action, or most student group shows, would not pass for art in any gallery, classroom or anywhere, period. Mindless, didactic, politically obtuse sludge has no place in our student art gallery. Even after their GoSA show, UMSU hijacks Degrees’ starving artist’s gallery for a repeat viewing of their tripe, once again taking food out of the hands of people who need it.

If GoSA is a gallery run by and paid for by students, why is it being subverted to serve groups who really have no vested stake in art, or the opportunities that an exhibition lends them? It’s akin to giving student parking to bicyclists. The copy centre’s copies shouldn’t have a watermark about poverty. If GoSA were to close down, who would demand it reopen? The student groups, UMSU or artists?

No one asked for you to make a shitty attempt at “art,” UMSU. We do ask you to provide us with an excellent, and fairly-run gallery so to further our careers and artistic practices.

“Since the gallery space belongs to UMSU, UMSU has the right to do anything they like with it.” said Rudolph. But you don’t see new ads for Winnipeg’s rapid transit as an exhibition at the WAG, even though the gallery is funded by the city. You don’t see people demanding their crayon drawings on the WAG’s walls because they are Canadian citizens, either.

So what should UMSU do? I say, listen to what the artists at the university are saying, and make GoSA for art. When you want to do a show about say, student debt, poverty, women’s issues or any number of relevant topics, don’t ask that related student group to slap something together — put out a call for artists. This is what they are there for, waiting for. Get them to write an application for a GoSA show, a real application, in a fair, democratic system that serves art based on merit, not on a sense of entitlement. Run the gallery like a real gallery, one that caters to the real needs of student artists. Shows more like the current UMSU offering, the public sculpture design competition, are a step in the right direction.

Likely, you will ignore this, UMSU, because art can be marginalized here in Canada where art education is so lacking you think bad photos and slogans constitute art. It is so lacking that you don’t know a Cezanne from a paper cut. Hopefully, if the concerned student body write letters to UMSU, it can start to change their minds about the purpose of the gallery, and turn the tide for another generation of politicians, and maybe then the Canada council’s budget won’t be cut in half again.

Ben Clarkson is an editor at the Manitoban and an alumnus of the U of M school of art.