Pick of the Day: Mind the Gap!

I wrestled a bit with the piece I wrote on Mind the Gap! for the Nov. 5 issue of prairie dog. When I dropped by the Dunlop's main gallery the week previous, I had every intention of doing a more conventional review that would recount how the curators Amanda Cachia and Jeff Nye had travelled the highways and bi-ways of Saskatchewan in search of talented young artists, talk a bit about their purpose in doing so (to dispel the notion of Saskatchewan as a cultural wasteland where nothing much happens), then briefly discuss the work of a couple or three artists in the show.

I took a quick look at the exhibition, then fell into conversation with the gallery facilitator. I was born and raised in Saskatchewan. Unlike thousands of my contemporaries who fucked off once they were done university, I never bailed on the province. Instead, I stuck it out through thick and thin. There are things I like about Saskatchewan, obviously. I wouldn't have stayed here otherwise. But there are plenty of things that drive me nuts. The facilitator and I talked about how it was an interesting moment in Saskatchewan's history. Until Rod Gantefoer's Nov. 19 budget update anyway, and its projected $1 billion shortfall, the province had been on the economic upswing. No longer was it a poor sister of Confederation. But at the same time, over the last 20 years or so, there had been a definite shift to the right in political thinking with a subsequent hardening of attitudes on a host of important issues like the environment, crime, human rights, urban sustainability, poverty and the social safety net. Judging by the poor quality of our political representation in Ottawa, and in many sectors of provincial and municipal politics, we are definitely out of step with progressive thinkers in the rest of the world.
During our conversation, the facilitator and I talked about how, while the province may have no longer been an economic backwater, it still had a long way to go before it shed its reputation as a gap province. Really, what did Mind the Gap! prove? That there's good art being made in the province. I've been writing on art for 20 years now, that's not exactly a newsflash for me. I also know that the bulk of the cultural activity that occurs here is due primarily to the hard work and dedication of artists and other workers in the cultural sector who toil for peanuts to subsidize "the arts". Not only that, time and time again we've had to fight like hell to preserve what little cultural life we actually have here: remember the struggle the MacKenzie Gallery had in the late '80s to move to a modern facility with proper environmental controls where the art wouldn't rot on the walls; or when Queer City Cinema came under attack by the provincial Conservatives in 2000 for promoting "porn"; or when the RPL Board voted to close the Dunlop Gallery in 2003 to save money; or the over 15 year struggle to win approval for Status of the Artist legislation and improved funding for the Saskatchewan Arts Board to reflect the growing importance of the arts to the province; or the campaign late Conservative MP Dave Batters (Palliser) waged in 2007 to censor Canadian films by denying tax credits to films deemed non-family friendly?
I could go on. In fact, the day before our Nov. 5 issue hit the streets, Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost made headlines with a petition in the House of Commons to revoke funding for the international chapter of Planned Parenthood on the grounds that it supports the right of women to make choices about their reproductive health. Check out Stephen Whitworth's editorial in our Nov. 19 issue for his thoughts on that travesty.
As I noted in the article I did write on Mind the Gap! survey shows like this do not lend themselves to a conventional review. Thirty artists, maybe six or seven different media, no unifying theme or subject. Instead of just doing a lame-o Leader-Post type recap I elected to question its basic premise. To a certain extent, I agree Saskatchewan does get a bad rap in Canada. But in many ways our reputation as a gap province is richly deserved. Having had the pleasure of writing for prairie dog for over ten years now, and knowing firsthand the struggles we've had to endure over that time simply to survive as an independent media outlet in what essentially is a small town where the modus operendi for success is: to get along, you go along, and if you don't, you're dismissed and demeaned; I stand by what I wrote.

As a survey show, I have nothing against Mind the Gap! It offers a useful introduction to the work of many young artists who I'm sure we'll hearing much more from in the future (pictured above, by the way, is an image from a dream-like video by Amalie Atkins). So by all means, check it out. It runs at the Central and Sherwood Village galleries until Jan. 3.

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