I have been wading through a history of artist-run centres (ARCs) in Vancouver by way of a lineage of texts in dialogue with one another: beginning with Keith Wallace’s “Artist-Run Centres in Vancouver” published in Vancouver Anthology, to Reid Shier’s “Do Artists Neet Artist-Run Centres?” and Michael Turner’s “Whose Business Is It? Vancouver’s Commercial Galleries and the Production of Art“ both published in Vancouver Art & Economies, to Keith Wallace’s “Artist Run Centres in Vancouver: A Reflection on Three Texts” published in Fillip 12, to, finally, Reid Shier and Michael Turner’s “Upon Further Reflection” published in Fillip 14. These texts span 20 years and provide a glimpse at the contentious role of ARCs in relation to broader spaces of exhibition and economy, and how this role has changed ideologically and practically as commercial galleries, museums and ARCs have inflected each other. For the time being, the last line in this conversation comes from Shier: “Perhaps the question it [historicization] sets up is how current Canadian ARCs move forward without an illusion that there will be other institutions like them ever again.”
In and of themselves, Canada’s system of ARCs are a special rarity. We are very lucky to have federal, provincial and municipal support of these centres (and individual artists), but Shier’s claim points toward two miserably far-fetched possibilities: arts councils are unlikely to see the dramatic increases in funding that would allow them to take on new clients, and arts councils are extremely hesitant to ditch clients whose use-value to artists and communities is largely felt to be expired. I do think that the ecology of artist-run centres in Canada could be differently structured to better serve artists, and it is a shame that we cannot have sane conversations about the appropriateness of closing doors.
In “Upon Further Reflection” Turner takes issue with Wallace’s suggestion in “Artist-Run Centres in Vancouver” that perhaps ARCs did not imagine themselves to be permanent structures. I cannot speak to the founding ideology of these places, but I can say, from having worked with some of them, that there is little discussion about graceful endings, unless funding has reached a point where carrying on is simply not an option. And maybe I wish there was.