Translating arts pr into french – bon and bad for organizations

No matter how you hard you try, your translated-to-french press release will always offend someone.

I don’t speak french but I have been comfortable in positions where I was responsible for sending out press releases in both french and english. There are several tricks and pitfalls that must be kept in mind if you and your english organization would like to compose a public communication in french. I’ve attempted to talk about some of the ones I’ve experienced in a simple list format below. Much of these are simple observations from working in Montreal and Ottawa with translators on arts-based PR campaigns, and a faithful paraphrasing of many, many bilingual friends and family discussing the very same issues.

General Benefits:

  1. A website with french and english will generally attract 20 – 30% more traffic as you have just opened up your information to about 1/3 of the world.
  2. People who speak french – even those who are english who speak french – appreciate this effort greatly.
  3. There are many concepts and expressions about art and culture that only exists in french… I don’t know what they are, but I know they exist.
  4. As an organization, you will make yourself much more attractive to funding agencies across Canada that have designated resources specifically for the promotion of french in culture and arts programming.
  5. Internationally, countries and people being multilingual is quite common and not a big deal – bilingual communications it can raise the profile of your organization if managed correctly and earnestly.

General Pitfalls:

  1. If you need to send your text out to be translated, it’s expensive to have it done at a professional level and difficult to find a service that is willing and able to handle a specialized area such as an arts press release.
  2. Expect to pay between 30 cents to a dollar a word, and give two to three weeks for the job to get done.
  3. Only expect to find out if the translator is any good at arts releases after the job is done and you send it out – you’ll get plenty of feedback if it’s not very good, believe me.
  4. Any french in print in Canada becomes political and there is nothing you can do about becoming a pawn in a class struggle you have no idea of or perhaps even care about.

Some further musings on french translation issues for arts and culture in Canada:

When I would send out a french press release and an english press release there was two things that were certain to happen – 1) There would always (and I do mean for every french PR we sent out) be complaints about the french grammer in the translation and 2) there would never be complaints about the english grammer.

Read More

Another goofball art review video, part 1

Footage and commentary from the August 26th edition of Toronto’s Art Spin gallery bicycle tour. This is part one of two, as 20 minutes straight is probably too much to watch all at once, so the next installment will come out next week. I’ll keep careful track of how the vistor trends for staggering the release of the video – especially interesting as the next Art Spin is later this month.

In this video we visit the Edward Day Gallery, n/a space, a C1 art project and AWOL Galleries’ Square Foot Exhibit.

Over 200 people showed up for this one, as compared to the one last year where there was about 30 participants. I’m a little more critical of this, naturally since it is becoming a lot more popular – they need to split it into two or more groups who meet at the end. Being part of a large group was almost unmanageable at times and you’ll see that reflected in the video. As well, most of the time at each stop is spent on parking your bike, not hearing anything the artists or gallery staff are saying and then herding back out … slowly.

However, on the bright side, it is always terrifically interesting stops and art we are seeing, and meeting fellow participants is a lot of fun. I am constantly discovering new spaces and venues with this tour as well as some back-alley bike routes that have awesome street art tucked in them. Plus, it’s free so all in all it is a wonderful event and there are worse problems for organizers to deal with than becoming popular.

ArtSpin comes full cycle – anyone want to co-host video with me?

I went on this last year and it was a LOT of fun – and a great way to get me oriented in the Queen Street West art scene.  Rui, who runs the event, has really developed the activities and participants over each tour. To me, this is an excellent opportunity to create another “mini-art-documentary” with minimal organizing effort. This means more time to put into actual editing! Yep, after about 300 video reviews and interviews, I think I might be developing a vision for ALP, and it includes editing…. sometimes.

Anyhoo, I would, as always, prefer to have a co-host through the adventure but can be a goofball all by myself if need be. However, if anyone out there is interested please do show up at the appointed time and place above and we’ll just do it.

I posted below last year’s dark and shaky interview with Rui while careening through the streets.

wine at art openings is illegal in Toronto

Just to be clear, if you submit an application at the LCBO for a special occasion permit for your art opening you will fail unless you a) lie and commit a crime or b) the LCBO employees involved are corrupt and/or incompetent.

The long story… when most people think of a typical art show reception, they may imagine a sunny weekend afternoon with a small crowd of family and friends and gallery goers gathered around. Some people are holding a small paper plate of cheese and grapes, with a plastic tumbler of wine in the other hand. Kids help themselves to the pop on the table, and people walking by on the street look in at the people and art and may even come in to check it out. No problem, right?

Wrong – when most art professionals think of a typical art show reception, we dread getting a $50,000 fine and probably jail time because that cute little scenario above is a serious violation of the liquor license board of Ontario.

Trying to obey the law by purchasing a special occasion permit is the actual problem – it is designed to be impossible to fill out correctly for art exhibits and I will prove it. I have been filling out special occasion permits for art exhibits for over 10 years and I was taught how and where to falsify information on the permit application. What to say and not to say to the LCBO clerk. This is a pathetic situation where we are forced to lie and deceive if we have any hope of people coming to see our art, including critics from the local paper.  Those who had shows and did not know these exact steps I will list in this blog have had horrible experiences.  For short, let’s call this puritan residual catch-22 legal situation “complete bullshit” as in

“Permits for booze at art openings are complete bullshit” – me

So why is the first paragraph describing a rather innocent and common scenario so illegal? First of all, according to the license, if you are going to share a bottle of wine you cannot advertise the opening of your art show so there should not of been people there you don’t know and did not invite personally. Your art show space cannot be in a publicly accessible or visible place, so having windows in the gallery and an unlocked front door is, well, illegal.  Anybody under 19 is not allowed at your art opening – it’s illegal. Also, forget about printing invitations with the opening information. Illegal. Or if a reporter from the local paper writes about your upcoming opening – also illegal. Posted on your website? Illegal.

This is not news – it has been  this way for as long as I can remember in Ontario and it is completely hypocritical bullshit. There is no way to fill out this form honestly without being turned down. They seem to want you to lie, to break the law somehow so if a liquor license inspector actually shows up and doesn’t like you or your art then they can charge you with something – in the 10’s of thousands of dollars actually. It’s so blatant and unreasonable that if a liquor license inspector actually showed up and did not fine you or call the police on your event, then that civil servant has to be, by definition, incompetent or perhaps corrupt. Right?

In an evil twist of evil banality by an evil bureaucracy (to artists) worthy of an essay by Hannah Arendt, one has to pay $25 for a “non-sale reception” booze permit and by doing so you are actually alerting them to the fact you are about to have an illegal special occasion. Only by the kindness of strangers does your show or gallery not get busted and shut down for incorrect paperwork – I don’t know about you, but for me that is not good enough.

Here is the main culprits of the bullshit special occasion form by the LCBO. I address B.S #1, B.S.#2, B.S.#3 below the graphic.

the main bull in the shitty application to serve wine at your art opening

B.S #1: An art opening is a reception and serving guests a glass of wine is no-sale. Ok, but now it gets complicated – see the small type? “…limited to invited guests only. The general public cannot be admitted…”. You can lie and say that the printed invites are “private invitations for specific guests” but that makes you a liar doesn’t it? Also, if the LCBO clerk or manager has heard of your show or seen an invite some where then you are screwed. Or they are incompetent and/or corrupt as previously mentioned.

B.S.#2: Will this event be advertised? Listing your event in “at the galleries this weekend” in your local paper, then that is advertising and so is printed invites or posts on websites. In Ottawa, I knew an older gentleman who applied for a permit for his open studio event and was so excited about it after working so hard for so long on his art, that he gave the LCBO employee an invite to the show – and his application was immediately declined. This happens all the time.  It’s enough to cause one to spontaneously turn into a giant cockroach.

B.S.#3: “Is this event for invited guests only?” – hmm, that sounds familiar.. oh wait, they asked me this twice already in the previous two B.S. examples. So remember, you can have an opening but only if the public has no idea it is happening.

I have, more than once, been grilled by an employee and told how to properly run an art opening. I have made incredible sacrifices and worked hard to hold gallery exhibits all my life, and I have to pretend to appreciate and agree with this jackass so my event does not result in disaster. I don’t want to piss this person off by actually offering my own opinion, because I don’t want to end up on a liquor inspector’s list to of suspicious events. These are not bad people, but it is an absurd situation where somebody is suddenly given petty bureaucratic power over you and your situation and can turn you down on a whim before going back to stocking the shelves with Baby Duck.

This situation is just plain bullshit and this should be challenged – but who is going to risk incurring the wrath of petty provincial government bureaucrats with a great cost of time and legal expenses? It is a horrible, powerless, unfair and very stressful situation for galleries and artists and being under constant fear of being busted really sucks. I hope this post helps.

How to successfully fill out a LCBO special occasion permit for an art opening

There are two ways to do this. I have filled this form out hundreds of times and now am convinced the best way to minimize risk of being busted by the LCBO is to simply never fill out a form at all. Do not let them know who you are, what you are doing and where you are. These bureaucrats are not the kind who will actually go beyond referring to a list when doing their jobs so you should be safe.

If you feel you must fill out the application, I’ve show you where to lie below. Just remember, when handing in your application, try to avoid eye contact with the employee and do not offer any information other than you are having an art show in your closet in your private, windowless home and your mom may show up because you gave her an invite personally but no one else knows.

how to lie to the LCBO to get your liquor permit

how to lie to the LCBO to get your liquor permit

TIAF 2009 galleries fail to communicate – who is utilizing email campaigns to market exhibits?

I’ve handed out hundreds of cards (especially at the Toronto International Art Fair 2009) asking to be put on an email list and so far I am maybe getting about a dozen galleries sending news in my inbox.

That is not a very impressive ratio so far.  Especially considering I spent three days at the sprawling contemporary visual art festival introducing myself and shaking hands. There are few who informed me they do not send out emails regularly, if at all due to a representing a small cadre of artists with no actual physical gallery space (seems like email should be more important in this circumstance!.

Others are still only using paper mail for their lists – hey, even though I have made a choice to try to be as paper-free as possible I have to admit I love paper art invites and publications. However, this is simply no excuse to exclude a huge segment of the art demographic.

Art is getting very, very hot in social media and the online community – young professionals are collecting work more than I have seen in the last decade, and they connect online for information and events.  Affordable prints (and perhaps more importantly browse-able works) on websites like Circuit Gallery or 20×200 ensure these art dealers are future-ready and not slowly diminishing into obscurity.

Where is the art love?

Listed below are the TIAF galleries that email me art news and because of this end up regularly mentioned on websites and blogs – including mine. (sign me up!

Outstanding Email Communications:

Mike Weiss Gallery (simply one of the best gallery marketing emails in my inbox – images, and a link back to relevant content to the press release)

Galerie Orange (with social media links right there in the email – right on)

Park Walk Gallery (from England – a personal email to thank me for my email and including a reference to meeting me at TIAF. Now that’s a superb confirmation / introduction email! )

Median Contemporary (Rui emails about once a month with varied and relevant art happenings. His gallery also seems to be one of the handful that are not totally dependent on a third party service for sending out (and hosting) any and all news)

Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain (BTW if you do a consistent, professional translation of your content to french then generally you can count on a traffic increase of about 20% Though generally it seems our relevant online demographic cares less about language and just wants the image, name, location and links. )

David Kaye Gallery (great print / digital branding templates)

Ingram Gallery (excellent email content and lay out i.e. “on the wall at ingram right now” – whoever is doing communications at Ingram really gets this whole intertubes email marketing thing)

Honourable Mentions:

Art Mûr

Bau-Xi Gallery

Galerie D’este

Roberts Gallery

Parisian Laundry


Christopher Cutts Gallery

Lausberg Contemporary