Jamie Hilder is an instructor in the Critical and Cultural Studies Department at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. His critical and creative work engages the intersections of economics and aesthetics. He has exhibited work in North America and Europe, and has published texts in Public Art Dialogue, Contemporary Literature, and Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art. His book Designed Words for a Designed World: The International Concrete Poetry Movement, 1955-1971 was published by McGill-Queen’s UP in 2016.
The history of artists’ spaces in Vancouver since the 1960s is, in some ways, a history of bureaucratic forms. The artist collective Intermedia struggled with the imposition of a board of directors by the Canada Council as a condition of funding. Iain and Ingrid Baxter’s N. E. Thing Co. embraced the model of the corporation while adhering to the structure of a patriarchal family. The Western Front and other artist-run centres pursued an owner/operator format as a stabilizing strategy in order to hold space. And independent spaces, through necessity, organized themselves around and through precarity. How these artists’ spaces emerge, survive, dissolve, and re-emerge is imbricated with issues of affordability, national and provincial arts policy, and shifting expectations of what art can and should do. In his excellent history of the Vancouver-based Kootenay School of Writing (KSW), Jeff Derksen cautions that “a history of an artist-run space can unfortunately become a history of its governmental funding” (288). Such an emphasis on funding structures, particularly in the case of the KSW, he argues, can diminish the agency of artists and writers in their collective response to the material conditions created by shifts in cultural policy. But I want to argue that there is a valuable history of artists’ spaces in Vancouver that can only be told through an analysis of the role that public funding has played in sustaining, constraining, and forming art practices and subjectivities over the past half-century.
Canadian Literature issue 235, Concepts of Vancouver: Poetics, Art, Media, is available to order through our online store.