What makes a community a community? Is it the neighbourhood in which you live? Is it your postal code? Is it the municipality that includes your neighbourhood? Is it one of the many online communities, like Facebook, MySpace or Twitter? Is it even possible to talk about community in a world where 24-hour news channels, blogs and social networking sites connect us as never before?

Community is shaped partly by the natural world in the area where you live. There are many examples on the ARTSask website of artists whose works reflect the geography and climate of the Canadian Prairies, for instance. But community is more than that; otherwise communities in Saskatchewan would be very much like communities in places like Australia or Russia that have similar climates and geography. While these places have similarities, they are also very different. The languages spoken, the architecture, the social customs, the political and economic systems and the creative arts in these communities have all grown out of history that is unique to those communities.

In addition, different cities have different personalities. Jen Budney, the associate  curatorAn individual or group, who conceives an idea for an art exhibition, selects the art works, plans how they will be displayed and writes accompanying supporting materials for the ideas presented. A curator can work freelance or be affiliated with a gallery, and serves as the link between artists and gallery.  at the Mendel Art Gallery (2008), notes that Saskatoon is sometimes called “the Paris of the Prairies” because of its sophisticated interest in the arts. This is partly due to the influence of the Department of Art at the University of Saskatchewan, which has helped to nurture the city’s interest in the visual arts, and continues to produce young artists.

The Internet has led to the creation of new communities that enable people around the world to connect with each other online. These online communities provide a place where people can explore their interests with other like-minded people. In just a few years these online communities have grown dramatically, becoming communities where groups of people can connect with others who have similar interests.

Even with the ability to research and see other parts of the world on the Internet, Budney believes it’s important for curators like herself to travel to other countries and visit other galleries, your art exhibitions and meet artists face-to-face. This is often the way curators make unexpected connections among artists, communities and histories, which is what Budney did while traveling in Australia. While there she saw works by local Aboriginal artists whose experiences in some ways paralleled those of Canada’s First Peoples.

 

The MacKenzie Art Gallery and community

Kate Davis, the director of the MacKenzie Art Gallery until 2009, says that it's important for public art galleries to informe people about the art history of the area in which the gallery is located. For the MacKenzie, located in Regina, the capital city of Saskatchewan, the gallery’s mandate includes collecting not only works from what is commonly referred to as the Western art  traditionTradition is the passing along of a culture from generation to generation, especially orally. Or, a custom or set of customs handed down in this way. The idea of heritage is related to that of tradition. Any activity — as a pattern of celebration, ritual, or other behaviour, etc. — is traditional once it is a precedent influencing comparable activities in the future. (Artlex.com)  and the works of artists who were primarily influenced by the art traditions of Western Europe when they settled in the province, but also the art history of the First Peoples. For Davis exploring the art history of First Peoples is one way of ensuring that the MacKenzie remains useful and relevant to the communities it serves.

Beyond the works in the collection, the mandate of the MacKenzie Art Gallery also includes taking works of art into communities around the province through an Outreach program that began more than 37 years ago and is still popular and relevant today. Each year selected works of art are carefully packed into a van, which travels to about 30 communities around the province, from towns near the international border south, to as far north as La Ronge and Pinehouse Lake. The artworks are sometimes displayed in local museums, but more often the exhibits are set up in school libraries.

The MacKenzie’s Outreach program also features guest artists talking about their work. Each year one or two artists will be sponsored to travel out to several communities to talk about their work, answer questions and offer demonstrations of their art-making processes. These programs are always very popular and successful in the small communities scattered around Saskatchewan.

 

The Mendel Art Gallery and community

The Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon also offers a range of programs to the community. “Building a sense of connectedness to the outside community is deeply important to us,” says Laura Kinzel, gallery programmer at the Mendel (2008). A sampling of the Mendel’s community programming includes gallery tours, partnering with local community schools for three-year terms, professional programs that enable the public to hear from artists and curators, an Art Caravan that brings art activities to families at community events and local gatherings and drop-in studio space at the gallery, where people are free to do some personal exploration. The Mendel also partners with a variety of organizations and institutions to host regular or special events.

Each year the Mendel also stages the annual School Art program, a high-profile exhibition that the gallery has hosted for more than 30 years. Participating schools in Saskatoon’s public and Catholic school systems submit a minimum of six artworks by students for adjudication by a three-person panel with one representative each from the Mendel Art Gallery and the school boards. About 200 works are chosen for the exhibition, which runs from April to June. School Art is one of the most popular shows the Mendel offers during the year.

Jen Budney - The Curator as Matchmaker
Ken Duczek - The Mackenzie Outreach Program
Things To Think About
  • What does community mean to you? Who is in your community? How do members of your community stay in touch with each other?
  • The assistant curator for the Mendel Art Gallery says that different cities have different personalities. What do you think this means? Can you think of two communities that have different personalities?
  • Imagine that you live in a community that has a gallery that stages an annual art exhibition. Imagine that you are an artist who is interested in being part of this event. What kind of artwork would you like to submit to the exhibition?

 

Online Activity
Studio Activity

How would you promote art to a community group?

For a complete list of art museums in Canada, go to Artcyclopedia or click here

For a list of art museums around the world (listed by Art topic) go to MuseumStuff.com or click here

References

Author unknown.  Artist and Community Collaboration: A Toolkit for Community Projects Common Weal Community Arts, Regina, Saskatchewan, 2006.

Author unknown.  Cultural Diversity and Museums: Exploring our Identities, Ottawa, Ontario:  Canadian Museums Association, 1994.

Kinzel, Laura.  Personal correspondence with the author, July 10, 2008.

Martin, Lee-Ann, ed. Making a Noise!: Aboriginal Perspectives on Art, Art History, Critical Writing and Community.  Banff, Alberta:  Banff International Curatorial Institute, 2003.

Author unknown.  Radical Regionalism, Local Knowledge and Making Places.  Exhibition catalogue.  Museum London, London, Ontario, 2006.

 

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning