Blackwood Gallery’s recent art exhibition, The Elements of Influence (and a Ghost), featured work by French artist and choreographer Julien Prévieux including Forget the Money (2011/2017), a project that traces the invisible circulation of currency through embezzlement and corporate crime. Its themes prompted a half-day professional development forum to discuss the best practices for working with dancers, choreographers and presenters in a variety of contemporary art contexts.
Playfully referencing the title of Prévieux’s artwork, Don’t Forget the Money! was held March 4 at e|gallery, Blackwood Gallery’s sister space at University of Toronto Mississauga. Moderated by writer, curator and educator Alison Cooley, thirteen members of Toronto’s art community — artists, dancers and curators — gave five-minute flash presentations on their own experiences navigating the unique labour processes within the artistic discipline of dance.
The point of greatest consensus was on the need for a recommended minimum fee schedule for performers, as there is for visual artists. To this, several performers, including Michael Caldwell, Francesco Gagliardi and Bee Pallomina, added logistical concerns around contract negotiation, the marketing of dance in alternative spaces and performance historicization. Performer, presenter and OCAD Professor Johanna Householder echoed these sentiments in her representation of Clive Robertson’s 1987 Artist’s Oath. She encouraged forum participants to stand, wet their finger, raise their hand in the air and recite the mantra, “I will never, never ever, forget that there is nothing creatively rewarding about not being paid.”
Another key issue was the unequal representation of diverse styles, forms and ethnicities within performance. Artists including kumari giles, Jessica Patricia Kichoncho Karuhanga and Brandy Leary discussed how opportunity and compensation might be divided more equitably, with curators Emelie Chhangur, Kim Simon and Bojana Videkanic speaking to the need for adjustments in curatorial methodology.
Creating productive relationships between artists and institutions was also seen as important. Karl Beveridge, Catalina Fellay-Dunbar, Molly Johnson, Sally Lee and Greig de Peuter spoke about their work in cultural advocacy and proposed various strategies for establishing sustainable collaboration in the future. The prevailing recommendation was that, when talking about money, artists, dancers and presenters alike should not be apologetic but seek to maintain a collective, open dialogue. Lee, executive director at CARFAC Ontario, proposed that performers additionally work toward developing a sense of solidarity akin to that in labour unions so that institutions may hear performers’ needs as one loud, collective voice.
Following the forum, Blackwood Gallery Director and Curator Christine Shaw concluded: “It was wonderful to gather together with so many people invested in these issues of cross-disciplinary collaboration in art, dance and performance. Opportunities to assemble for public discussions on pressing matters in contemporary cultural production are rare, and it is our hope that this event inspires others to do the same.”
Don’t Forget the Money! is the first in a new series of forums presented by Blackwood Gallery called Working with Concepts.