Victoria artists find success! (back east, that is)

July 3, 2008 at 11:45 pm 2 comments

CBC British Columbia reports on the recently announced finalists of the RBC Canadian Painting Competition. A look at the list reveals no Victoria artists on the list of candidates from Western Canada; in fact, all five finalists from the West call Vancouver home.

However, at least two of the artists have strong Victoria connections. Patrick Howlett is a recent UVic Fine Arts grad now working out of Fredericton. I got to meet Patrick a couple of years ago but he and many of his MFA classmates have left Victoria to pursue opportunities in Eastern Canada.

Toronto-based Martin Golland, a finalist representing Central Canada is another former Victorian. Martin and I were part of a three-person group show back in 2006 at Victoria’s Open Space Gallery entitled “Domestic Bliss“.

In addition, in the last month artist and former DRA board member Ingrid Percy has recently taken up residency in Newfoundland, while my former upstairs neighbour, painter Neil MacCormick now calls Montreal home in order to be closer to North America’s cultural capitals.

None of this is terribly unusual for a full-time professional artist. Part of the job requires chasing down essential artist residencies, teaching opportunities and visiting artist sessions. Being close to a major gallery that can consistently show your work is another big plus.

In today’s global society, artists will increasingly be calling many cities “home” as they flit across the globe building their careers. One thing that surprised me when visiting Berlin in the summer of 2005 was seeing the number of Western Canadian artists living and working there. Our challenge as Victorians will not only be persuading the grads of the local art schools to stick around for a while, but convincing artists from other cities to come to Victoria to pursue their careers. Housing affordability, lack of large studio spaces, a flat art market and isolation from the art hubs of New York, Toronto and Los Angeles further challenge local artists.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. davin  |  July 9, 2008 at 10:37 am

    This ties into a number of issues in nonobvious ways, one of them being building height restrictions that Victoria has faced in the past (and continues to?). It seems to me that the only people interested in restricting building height are those who already own homes and property. They are simply not facing the challenge of first-home ownership in a city where the average wage or salary doesn’t make a chip on the iceberg of what a house or condo costs, so it’s not a big deal to them that lower building heights drives prices further upwards.

    However, to the artist or musician, it certainly is a big deal. While mainstream career-oriented jobs struggle to qualify for home ownership here, the prospect of meeting rent from month to month is the primary concern of the artist or musician – the idea of owning a home here is a far off, distant joke, cruelly played upon this generation by the ones preceding.

    The only artists or musicians that remain are ones who have already made it and are retired, or are on their way somewhere else shortly, somewhere with taller buildings and cheaper rent in some areas. More people are making it there, there are more opportunities in the scene in galleries, shows, events, more of a community so it attracts more of itself. I have often thought of this kind of inevitable movement as a form of gravity and have given the idea of moving away from my home, Victoria, to a bigger – more culturally capable – city, such as Montreal, for some time.

    Being born in this city, and having lived here for 30 years, it makes me a little sad that I will not be able to live here because our parents generation was busy flipping property while we were busy getting our education and paying for it with whatever jobs were available to us. But the reality has long sunk in and it’s a question of which city to move to at this point.

  • 2. Yule Heibel  |  July 9, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Ah, interesting point(s), Davin! I’ve been wondering where to park this interesting article, which I came across on the comments board over at Penelope Trunk’s “Brazen Careerist” blog, and you’ve just created the perfect place for it!

    Check out Debt-squeezed Gen X saves little, which was in USA Today on 5/23/08. You’re right in the demographic of Gen X, which is the first generation to face a lower standard of living than the generation before it. Yep, artists are particularly hard hit, and I think your observations on the restrictive nature of zoning and building heights/ densities here hits a couple of nails on the head, as do the observations on salaries (which are lower in Victoria).

    Combine that with the difficulties generally faced by GenX, and you’ve got the an unfortunate “perfect storm” for Victoria, with its high real estate/ cost of living.

    From the USA Today article:

    At age 30, Bryan Short has, by any standard, achieved professional success since graduating from Boston College and law school at the College of William and Mary. Yet despite his job as a Washington mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer, he’s nowhere near as financially secure as he expected to be by now.

    He and his wife own one car and rent a 500-square-foot studio apartment. More than one-third of his take-home pay is gobbled up by repayment of college and law-school debt. Children are unaffordable right now. And retirement savings? They’ve barely begun.

    And so on. Pretty sobering stuff….


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