A common thread through the LCBO, art openings, the g8/g20 and access to water:

Since I wrote about the wine being illegal at art openings in Ontario a little while ago, and there’s even more restrictions I have been informed of. It’s no secret that after years of kowtowing to the LCBO to pay and fill out no sale special occasion permits for art openings, I now fully support going “off the grid” with your art openings – if possible.

Being technically ADD, as most creative types are, means I am a bit dis-organized and distracted  at times but our kind have the super-power of lateral thinking and seeing the big picture of a situation, making connections between factors and relationships. I will attempt to demonstrate a connection I am seeing between the individual and the LCBO, the g20 and event venues. Seriously. Ok, here goes:

1) I have been informed by other gallery administrators that LCBO employees are “cracking down on galleries” and are now demanding a list of invited guests in advance. Their reasoning? That “it’s the same as a wedding – you would not have strangers off the street just showing up to drink the wine.” Um, ok. Hard to argue with someone who has a fundamentally idiotic and flawed perception of the issue at hand. Anyways, some employees are being ambitious enough to find a gallery website for “evidence” of advertising for an art opening and printing it out to show the applicant why they will not be allowed to serve guests wine at their art openings. Yep, good job. We live in a province where you have to line up at one of two corporate-controlled franchises to purchase spirits or beer, and the people who work there will stalk your cultural blog to prevent you from doing something that is slightly less old than prostitution – that is, drinking something fermented in front of something someone drew. Why has Quebec not degraded into a lawless, despot hellhole where they eat babies at art openings and there are burning husks of cars in the street? Answer: because they are too busy laughing at Ontario and deservedly so. Apparently, the way around this to provide a huge list of, say, 500 people so when an inspector shows up and sees 100 people then they won’t charge you. If they count 101 people and you provided a list of 100, then you will be fined.

Is it just me or is this sounding like a Kafka story? Like 1984? Like a fascist regime? Like The Unbearable Lightness of Being?

Where the hell is CARFAC in all of this? Anyways, I digress…but my main point is connected to the response to protests as described below…

2) The g8/g20 is in Toronto right now and they have achieved a surreal and existentialist state of bliss by granting a fence more rights than a human being. The police are everywhere – and not just downtown either. I’m in Parkdale right now and literally there are cops every few minutes going by outside. Apparently, I support people blowing up people with bombs if I don’t like this. They will intimidate, harangue and detain you if they don’t like the looks of you (starving artists beware!) and even though I know, you know, they know and everyone knows doing this is illegal it is accomplishes the goal of intimidation and locking you up for the duration of the g8/g20. And that is directly related to the following observation about corporate control of water…

3) My partner was telling me about attending some lectures related to issues surrounding the g8/g20 last night – at a concert hall where they have a strict “no outside food / water policy” and forced everyone to dump out their water before entering. More specifically during a really hot day they made water rights activists dump out their water from environmentally friendly containers.  Inside, there was expensive bottled water and a small and expensive selection of junk food. This is not unusual – outdoor festivals do this all the time and force you to shell out big bucks for water inside a tightly controlled environment. This disgusts me – it is one small step away from charging people for using a venue’s oxygen. They will hire people to search people to make sure no illegal water can be smuggled in. It is a basic necessity to survive and is required by all at all times of the day – by controlling and charging for it is vile and the worst example of what is wrong with our society, in my opinion.

So, what is my point with these three examples?

The connection here is the theme of the dignity of the individual versus the industry of taking away the individual’s dignity. No, I am not talking about manufacturing plants or smelting ore. I am talking about the artificial industries of control and regulation in all three examples. With art openings, the monopoly of beer and wine distribution continues to create a false sense of impending crisis and is creating more bureaucracy (translation – more jobs!) to control areas of culture they should not be interfering with at all by making absurd rules that are difficult to fight – it is an economy of intimidation and helps ensure a monopoly for many years to come.

In the second example, it is no secret that the industry of fear has spawned unreal spending on security and the military. By public protesting we have given a perfect excuse to spend more on more cops, wanna-be cops, fence makers, camera installers, sonic beam scientists, cop car contracts, lawyers, snacks for cops, pepper spray stores – oh the jobs and industry based on fear is truly awesome!

And finally, the control and security around people’s need to drink water is the absurd but logical extension of this kind of attitude. Not only do you create jobs by people stopping people drinking water in hot and crowded outdoor environments, but also support things like offshore drilling to keep creating plastic bottles and creating recycling plants and restaurants where the water distributors can meet for lunch with the festival/ venue management.

Which brings me to me final point – whose fault is this anyways? How did this get to this absurd point?

Well, the fault is entirely yours and mine actually. These degrading and humiliating industries that are based a very dim view of humanity have been allowed to grow and blossom because we let it arise. I imagine in other countries and even long ago in ours the three situations I listed above would be ignored en masse  and thus cease to exist and preserve a collective dignity. Perhaps some of the massive funds being gobbled up by the military, intelligence agencies, petty government bureaucrats and greedy food and beverage corporations would instead be diverted to such areas as health care, arts and education. Call me crazy, but that seems to be a better use of money and better tools for a healthy and dignified society.

So what do we do now? As usual, it is now up to artists, writers and the intellectuals to scream and scream about it until things slowly change. It’s not that free speech is technically a problem anymore, it is that the majority of our population lives in the suburbs and are far too distracted by shopping for new TVs, arguing with neighbors about property lines and entertaining the kids with Disney movies in the back of the minivan to pay attention to such un-fun issues – unless it was encapsulated in a hollywood blockbuster. Because arts and ideas are not supposed to be entertainment but unfortunately it has to be to have any real chance to change things.

The mob rules, people, and unfortunately I see no sign of enough people giving enough of a shit to engage in meaningful civil disobedience. People are taught to distrust other people – and to see money in education and arts as a luxury. But paying someone to stalk galleries on social media to see if there is a party going on, paying cops to drag youth off to jail for gathering in public and paying for oil spill clean-up is somehow a better use of our resources.

Less mass media and more going to galleries each week would probably solve this, but I am frankly not hopeful that things will improve anytime soon. I know I can be caustic on this blog, but my vision was to have a space where I could say things that perhaps other people wanted to say but could not for fear of reprisal or politics.

rethinking the institutional MFA – introducing the sMFA

What if the equivalent to a Masters of Fine Arts could be awarded based on peer recognition via social media channels?

We could name it The Social MFA. With the designation of a lower case “s” for sMFA.

We could structure the process so that it could be implemented and followed through by independent groups of people from anywhere. Galleries, organizations and artists from your community would be able to get involved.

It would be outside of any formal academic institution, and would also exist as an agreement between members of a relevant community. A sMFA should abide by rigorous standards of investigation, production and critical discourse comparable to as a typical, accredited MFA as demonstrated so on the candidate’s public website and monitored by various referees.

However, an sMFA receives its validation by crowd-sourcing critiques, responses, and assessments of the overall program via the public website of the sMFA candidate. The sMFA is also a two-year program, though there are no “semesters” or scheduled breaks. It is one year of study, while the second year is dedicated to studio work in preparation for the candidate’s Thesis Exhibit.

And it’s free.

And it’s a really challenging and unique program.

The Fine Print

Here are my ideas on how to structure an “open-source” style program for artists, such as the sMFA. Though I am sure that there will be improvements and variations along the path to suit different circumstances, with different social media educational initiatives.

The Application

The sMFA candidate must create a public website that contains the following elements:

1.artist statement


3.20 examples of your work

4.proposed areas of investigation

5.There must be the ability to comment and create new pages / sections / links as needed.

6.Any and all (aside from personal correspondence) aspects of program progress, documentation and discussion must take place on the website, or be posted to the website in a timely manner, or be linked to in a prominent and clear way. All content must provide the means to be commented upon by the public.

7.Recommendations – as many as you like, and in whatever form you see fit.

The Program of Study

1.There are no predetermined areas of study in the sMFA such as painting, art history, interdisciplinary, etc., nor is there formal recognition of such distinctions in the awarding of an sMFA.

2.The candidate designates seven (7) organizations, entities, individuals, objects, documents–or any other definable areas of significant interest, relevancy and influence–as the “7 areas of interest”.

3.Consent from, or direct contact with every one of the 7 is not required* for valid inclusion as part of the investigation of the applicant’s MFA thesis. However there must be a measurable and logical interaction between each of the 7 and the applicant, as directly relating the process and practice of that applicant’s MFA thesis.

*one of the 7 will sit on the sMFA mentor committee of 3 and must be fully aware, consenting and able to participate in the MFA Thesis Exhibit critique.

4.Applicant will provide a one line (less than 140 characters) sentence that describes this connection for each of the chosen 7.

5.Assignments and directions will be supplied for one year on an ongoing and informal manner by the sMFA mentor committee, based on the sMFA candidate’s application.

The sMFA Program mentors, administrators and referees.

1. The sMFA mentor committee is composed of three individuals. One of these three is chosen by the sMFA candidate and is part of their 7 areas of interest, while also acting initially as an advocate and primary mentor for the candidate within the sMFA program.

The remaining two mentors are to be chosen by a neutral, established gallery or similar organization, that will act as referee for this one particular task. This entity should have a physical and public presence in the community.

If accepted by the candidate and all three members of the proposed committee, then this group becomes the official sMFA mentor committee of the candidate for two years. The committee must convene 6 times, for at least 2 hours at a time, over this time span. The 2 non-7 committee members may choose to disband or appoint replacement members at any time, but there must be at least 3 for all 6 meetings.

The incarnation of the sMFA mentor committee will recommend exhibits, research readings, media, events and studio projects for the candidate at every session upon review and discussion of the candidate’s progress and direction.

2. The sMFA administration is entirely crowd-sourcing and volunteer / freelance contract based. Areas of support could typically include providing exhibition space, studio, technical support, performers, materials, publicity, etc. Acceptance or interest of any potential sMFA administrator is entirely up to the candidate, though the mentor committee may provide suggestions in areas useful to the candidate.

3.The Referees are literally any member of a community relevant to the individual artist, who comment and discuss the sMFA program on the candidate’s website or social channel. Pertinent criticism, questions, information, suggestions and support as publicly commented to the sMFA’s online presence qualify an individual as a referee. It is realistic to expect a variety of perspectives from qualified referees that may be contrary to each other. The referees, along with the sMFA mentor committee, are essential components of what is essentially a social jury, that validates the efforts and process of the candidate and program

Requirements for graduation:

1.The sMFA mentor committee can choose to disband or not proceed with convening for the sMFA thesis exhibit.

2.The sMFA mentor committee decides on the make up of the three person sMFA thesis exhibit committee. One of the three members must be from the sMFA mentor committee.

3.The thesis exhibit must be public and have a physical and public presence in the community.

4.The candidate is to have a three hour live, oral defence of the exhibit and program of study to the sMFA thesis exhibit committee and any peer or administrator. This is to take place after the exhibit is open. If it is virtual, the defence must be live online and open to public comments. If it is in person, and/or with a combination of teleconferencing, then it must be broadcast simultaneously online, while also providing the ability to comment by the public in real-time–otherwise proceedings are too informal. The defence ceremony is not to take place unless the candidate’s success has previously been assured.

5.When the sMFA thesis exhibit committee declares they are satisfied with the work, progress, and results of the candidate’s studies and studio work, the candidate is now able to list as one of their credentials: a social Master’s of Fine Arts (sMFA).

Other considerations of the program to encourage development of the sMFA into functional and economically viable “schools”:

1.The candidate may work with other candidates when considering an sMFA program. Groups of candidates with similar interests and methods may benefit greatly from this, for example.

2.The members of the mentor committee may engage in multiple sMFA programs.

3.This platform is designed to be able to occur anywhere with a determined group, and structured to work only by consent between like-minded professionals with meaningful community feedback and irrefutable acknowledgement of the candidate’s level of achievement and competency in the contemporary fine arts as equivalent, if not superior, to an accredited MFA program.

4.These guidelines for a sMFA program are released as “open-source” and strictly for educational use (Open source is a set of principles and practices that promote access to the design and production of goods and knowledge) and as such can be transmitted, copied and modified but without any intellectual property restrictions. Accreditation to the original documentation must be given.

5.Though the sMFA is free to distribute and produce, it is perfectly acceptable for payment to be arranged between the candidates and their mentors and administrators. Under the typical conditions of open-source, it is also perfectly acceptable to charge for services modifying the sMFA program guidelines and/or transmission of this date though the modified sMFA program is still considered open-source and free of intellectual copyrights.