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Thursday, May 29, 2008

15 years: Arts and activism

In honour of The Coast's 15th anniversary, our panel of seasoned experts and promising up-and-comers dish on 15 years of Halifax arts, music, comedy, film and style.

Posted By on Thu, May 29, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Andrew David Terris is an artist, consultant and activist who remembers when there was only one good restaurant in Halifax. He's lived in the city since 1982. Sonia Edworthy and Sarah Evans are the driving force behind Anchor Archive Zine Library and Arts Centre. They've both lived in Halifax since the late '90s. They sat amid the artwork at Eyelevel Gallery on Gottingen to share thoughts on Halifax arts, culture and community. They ended up talking about turnover, the arts council and the upside of poverty.

Describe the Halifax arts community.

Sonia Edworthy: Something I've noticed is that there's always a lot of turnover. There are a lot of artists coming, working on things, contributing and then leaving. And so, even as someone who's only been here for 10 years, I find myself sharing histories with people a lot. You have to catch people up with what's happened.

Andrew Terris: We keep re-inventing the wheel.

Sarah Evans: Yeah. Someone will come and say, 'I've got a great idea for a free school.' And we'll say, 'Alright, here are the last few times this has happened.'

Terris: That was my experience, too. A lot of my activism has been centred around things like trying to get an arts council. It seemed to me that when you looked elsewhere, having an arts council that was making serious grants to artists was a way to go, so artists could earn a living here. And it lasted five years and then the current premier, bless his heart, shut it down.

How did the arts council disbanding affect the community?

Edworthy: I've been fascinated with the arts council getting disbanded. It has affected friends of mine who were working on applying to it and also it was a very public kind of event. A lot of these funding changes happen and we don't really know what happens, but when a whole council gets disbanded, it's news.

Terris: It was a big signal to the whole community.

Edworthy: In a lot of other cities they're just shocked that Nova Scotia doesn't have an arts council.

Evans: When we started dreaming up an art space that we wanted to have in the city, we looked at other places that were similar across Canada. We both travelled a lot and would visit places and think this is kind of what we're looking for, what Halifax needs. But it was always, 'How do these people do it?' And in a lot of cases it was, 'Oh, we have this funding body or a really good relationship with this foundation...' And we were like, 'Well, there's nothing like that here. So it's not transferable at all.'

Edworthy: Being in Nova Scotia and trying to make a living you have to be really resourceful and almost self-employed in a lot of ways. With the Zine Library and Art Centre we were trying to make something work and stay here. We wanted to have a reason to stay in Halifax and just make what we wanted happen here.

Evans: It's been a whole process of figuring it out. When we first started we lived there and so it didn't cost us any money. And then slowly we moved out. Since then it's been figuring out how to replace ourselves and pay the rent. It's been a process. And I don't know if we had tried to apply for funding in the beginning, where we would have done that. Or how we would have even dreamt up with what we ended up with. I think it wouldn't have existed the same way.

Terris: This is the upside of poverty, if you will. It forces you to use your imagination and I think that kind of stuff is really important. Because once you start getting into the establishment, even with an arts council, you start getting into these bureaucratic institutional structures and it all becomes very formalized and there's a certain amount of creative freedom that's always lost.

Twenty-five years ago, I'd say the DIY stuff was setting up organizations like VANS and the Designer Crafts Council and CFAT and AFCOOP. A lot of those arts or artist-run organizations were started 25 or 30 years ago and that's where the energy was going. But now you have that established, and there are more artists and more of a critical mass, and more room for the DIY stuff.

Edworthy: I really think there's a need for all levels---doing it yourself and having those institutions that support the in-between activities, organizations and individuals producing artwork and events. Some of the organizations that we have relationships with appreciate the fact that we're so underground and off the radar, because we can just pull something off in a week and not have any permission.

Terris: That's total creative freedom, it's really important.

Edworthy: But I think the more so-called bureaucratic system there is and the more and bigger funding bodies there are, the more DIY activity there is, really, because it all supports each other.

---Erica Butler

Read more! Listen more!

Read the full arts and activism interview here.Audio wextra: On DIY vs Government funding, then v now and the cultural geography of Halifax.

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