Thursday, May 07, 2009

Save the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography

I was up visiting and moving family this past week and is my habit I bought a couple of issues of the Ottawa Citizen, I still hold to the old habit of reading newspapers. What caught my eye was an article regarding the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. The article was an interview of the current director of the National Gallery of Canada, Marc Mayer. In the article, which began with the byline that no doubt infuriated supporters of the CMCP that the museum as it was, had to go. His plan which is now in place, is to put the Museum into the National Gallery. He points out that such a move will give the photograph exhibitions an opportunity to have an audience. It was pointed out in the article that the CMCP received 36,000 visitors a year while the NGC received on average 500,000.

Nonetheless, the move has been greeted with a great deal of criticism. There are many who put the closure as work of that diabolical Stephen Harper. This all stems, they claim from the time the Harper government did all those cutbacks to culture.
"First, Prime Minister Harper and his minority government scrapped the national portrait gallery, then chopped international funding towards the arts, only to later transfer that support towards sports, and now they are closing our beloved Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography in order to create more office space with a view," writes Robert Houle, a Toronto artist, educator and critic.

"Now, it seems that he has found a new partner and support in the new director of the National Gallery of Canada."

The Director denies this, of course and gives the view that the Museum was not able to find a 'home' as it were and so it was hidden from the minds of people who enjoy visiting museums. It was located beside the Rideau Canal and the Chateau Laurier. He gets very angry when he is referred to as "Harper's Twin". As if he and his evil twin Stephen conspired to bring this all about.

Since the closure and the hiring of M. Mayer there has been a groundswell of opposition to the ending of the CMCP as a stand-alone museum. A website has started called Save the CMCP. If you go to the site, you can find a place to sign a petition. Of course the petition has gotten under the skin of M. Mayer as well:
"The institution never took root. I'm just coming at the very end of this thing and I'm doing what is right as far as I'm concerned. There's no way for us to rebuild that institution from scratch. It's a long sad story. It's that simple. I don't take any responsibility for the long sad story. I'm just putting us out of our misery with this long, sad story."

Mayer also said he found it "unconscionable" that many of the people who signed the online petition at have never visited the museum.

I signed the petition. I also want to say I have visited the museum on a number of different occassions when I have gone to Ottawa. I first found the Museum in 2002 and have enjoyed the various exhibitions that have been featured. I signed the petition because photography is an important medium and having its own 'space'. Let me say, the space was delightful. If you go to the "Save the CMCP" website you can read the history of the place. Amazing when one considers it was a converted railway tunnel and it was great. So it leaked, a lot of places leak and most of them can be fixed. I suppose part of the problem came about because of the money put into the NGC, not that I am one to complain about that, it too is a great building and worth the investment. However, it may be the case that the big place gets the lion share of budgets, interest and work. Everything else is left to fight over the crumbs and certainly under the Chretien regime, the crumbs began to get smaller and smaller.

So now its a couple of rooms in the Gallery, probably getting lost with everything else that is happening at the NGC. This is not to say I am critical of the NGC, but rather there was a place for the CMCP, it filled a niche. While photography is part of the medium arts, it deserved its own place, so that people can enjoy the unification of technology and human insight. This, of course, is not what M. Mayer believes, he wrote in an article in the Globe and Mail that:
For example, I am not a proponent of separating Canadian photography from the rest of art. It would suggest that there is a difference between photographers and artists, or worse, between Canadian photographers and artists, an abhorrent notion. Nor have I ever understood the need for a medium-specific institution, like the CMCP, dedicated to one area of contemporary art. There are not many museums of photography in the world, but they are generally older and have much broader mandates than CMCP. It would seem outdated to me to create one today.

A problem from his defense is that there are museums that are specific and no one would call them wrong. He seems to be more willing to justify what has happened rather then to address an issue that concern others, that the photography collection will get lost with everything else.

As I said, I have visited the CMCP a number of times and it was and is a institution that deserves its own space and deserves to be part of the Canadian experience in Ottawa.

Sign the Petition.

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