Archive for August, 2020

There’s something lovely about being back inside an art gallery after months of not being there. For me, the Art Gallery of Sudbury is a “home place” of sorts. I spent my 20s there, first as a volunteer, and later as a contract worker who managed media communications for a short time. I met my first love through the AGS, when we were both taking an art history course at Laurentian during our undergrad. He was in the French section of the course, and I was in the English one. We met haphazardly during a joint class field trip to see an exhibit. (I still remember that I had no idea who he was, but that he had nice eyes, was funny, and could carry a witty conversation. That impressed me. I went back to the gallery, two days later, to find his name in the guest book. I was infatuated. The things you do when you fall in love for the very first time…) In any case, from that time, in my early 20s–until now–in my late 40s, the Art Gallery of Sudbury has played a starring role for me in my life.

I’ve written a poem, and a play, about how I encountered Mrs. Bell’s ghost while I worked there in my late 20s, and I’ve rarely missed an exhibition while I’ve lived in Sudbury. Times living in North Bay, Ottawa, and Kingsville found me searching out other art galleries like someone with a strange addiction to visual art. I am. Addicted to art, I mean. So, during the pandemic at its deepest lockdown, I most missed walking alongside the lake and also just going to the gallery to be in that space. There, I honestly sort of am in a timeless space, able to be in and out of my body simultaneously. It’s a creative vortex for me, and a major part of my heart and life.

When the letter to members came in the mail last week, saying that you could book a time slot on certain days, I called in right away. The gallery was open again! This reopening exhibit is titled, aptly, “Change of State/Alteration,” reflecting the historic and fluid time within which we’re living. You’re allotted forty-five minutes, which is a good amount of time. At the door, you’re greeted and you’re asked to wear a mask. Every staff person I saw while I was there was wearing a mask, and the person who was there to answer my questions about the exhibit was aware of social distancing. At the inside door, there’s a bottle of hand sanitizer, some disposable masks (in case you don’t come with your own), and gloves, if you’re super nervous. But, I mean, let’s face it…you don’t need gloves…unless you’re planning on illegally touching the art…but…that’s another story for a bit later on here…



Covid-19 protocols for a safe visit are visible at the inside door, and then there are hand sanitizing stations throughout the galleries.

Gallery 1 is full of beautiful pieces from the Permanent Collection. Now, don’t tell me that you don’t like pieces from Permanent Collections. I LOVE THEM! It’s like someone let you wander around inside a secret wardrobe and pull out a variety of the best vintage dresses to try on in your bedroom! Here are pieces that the gallery has housed for years, and that have been brought out to share. I love this notion so much, especially when you consider the theme of the work.

The first one on the wall is a tiny piece by noted Canadian artist, Joyce Wieland (1930-1988). I saw an exhibit of her work at the McMichael a few years ago and was amazed. This is Sailboat Tragedy, #1 (1963). It’s self-explanatory, and kind of voyeuristic in a strange way as your gaze drifts from panel to panel, knowing what’s about to come even as you dread it. It looks simple, this Wieland, but it’s not. It sets the tone for what we’re living through, a life that seemed to be sailing along in a lovely fashion, and then is so easily upended without warning. Pandemics will do that, it seems, and we’re all learning that first hand this year.


Next to the Wieland is a massive Fred Hagan. It’s titled “Homage” (1991), and it’s overwhelmingly beautiful. The bench is well positioned in the gallery, because you’ll want to sit in front of this one for a bit. It’s Northern Ontario, in all of its gorgeously raw natural beauty. There’s a tiny image of self-portraiture, if you know where to look for it, and then there are figures of influential Group of Seven artists who painted so much of their work up here. There are allusions to specific paintings, so if you’re a Group of Seven fan, look for the clues in the trees and flowers. ūüôā

Get up close to it, now. Take your time here. This is one not to be rushed. It takes up the space, and demands that you give it the time to do the same thing with your body, heart, and mind.


Tom Thomson is one of my favourite Group of Seven painters, and here he is depicted painting his wonderful piece, “The West Wind.” If you know Thomson’s work, you’ll know that that’s who’s painting in this corner of the Hagan piece.¬†Then, move on to other parts of the painting, and see others of the Group who painted up here in Northern Ontario. It is Hagan’s homage to those who influenced him as a painter.


Here is Lismer, busy at work en plain air, his canoe next to him, a pan of freshly caught fish frying on a fire for him to eat after he’s done his work. (I get this. I forget to eat when I’m writing, too. Today’s the perfect example of that, with me pecking at things over a series of hours that seem out of time and place…and the art living in my head.)


The balance to this piece of Northern Ontario beauty and painterly history comes with an image that highlights Martin Luther King, pictured about John F. Kennedy. This is Carl Beam’s “King + Kennedy,” a piece that reminds us of the Black Lives Matter movement that began at the centre of the lockdown. A global virus that is called corona, and then the virus that has always been there–which is racism, discrimination, and colonialism.


From here, I was drawn to Jane Ash Poitras’s massive piece, titled “Shaman Never Die” (1988). It, too, is a counterpoint to the Hagan, and to this country’s colonial past (and present). Hers is work I have loved for years. You can stand in front of this one and find so many things to look at and think about.

Do yourself a favour here: don’t rush it when you’re in front of the Hagan, the Poitras, or the Odjig. All three…have a great deal to say about the times within which we’re living. All three speak to the notion of how our world is changing, and how our lives are impacted by those massive changes. What goes on out there in the world also goes on as a mirrored experience inside each of us, too. It affects us globally, but also individually. It is massive, and it’s okay to admit that, even though it can feel overwhelming sometimes…


In this piece of detail from the larger work, there’s the image of Poundmaker, as well as a repeated reference to the Lubicon Lake Cree. Poitras documents the ways in which the Alberta government allowed oil companies to drill on First Nations land. Hers is an art that is beautifully layered, a multi-media collage piece that is reflective of the colonial oppression and general bullshit that the Lubicon Cree have had to deal with–and fight against– for years and years.

The beauty of Gallery 1, though, for this exhibit is Daphne Odjig’s piece, “Spiritual Renewal” (1984). She estimated that it took her six months to paint, and it’s easy to see why. You’ll catch your breath if you stand in front of this one for a while and let it sink in. ¬†As Odjig writes in her artist’s statement: “Spiritual Renewal is a historic portrayal of the spiritual culture shock associated with the arrival of the White Man’s religion. The first part of the panel shows the arrival of the missionaries and suggests confusion…The second panel depicts the return of…spiritual activities.” As she says “Spiritual renewal takes place within the heart and soul of all who see it.” You aren’t allowed to take photos of this piece, which makes it very special in my mind. It’s something you need to go to the gallery to see…to feel in your body, really.

The one thing I struggled with, and Tadd (the Gallery’s Visitor Services and Operations Co-Ordinator) know this all too well–sadly–is that I will always ask “Can I touch it?” if there’s something really unique happening. I mean, I always know that he’ll say no, but I always ask anyway. ¬†In this exhibit, the thing that I most wanted to touch was a rock on the floor. It’s called “Zigzag Water,” (1986) and it’s by Bill Vazan. Just know that it’s also something you should see in person. It’s been carved into, so that there’s a pattern etched into it.

Talking about how landscape and environment can also change is reflected in Jana Sterbak’s “Dissolution” (2001), which documents a series of photographs taken of a chair made of ice. It melts, dissolving slowly from frame to frame. This is a reflection of how everything is constantly changing. In this case, one would easily think of global warming, but it seemed to me that it could also just be speaking to the notion that human lives are not at all about permanence. We are constantly evolving and changing–hopefully growing, if we’re lucky (and open) enough to do so. Besides that, though, we are not guaranteed a certain length of life. We are mortal. We are temporary. We change, and we live through change…

Upstairs, don’t miss the Doug Donley, David Blackwood, and Kenoujuak Ashevak ‘wall.’ If there were three pieces that meant the most to me in the whole building, these three would do it. Doug was a personal friend, and I have three of his pieces of work in my home. That he died much too young is always something that saddens me. His work is worth seeing, if you haven’t encountered it yet. Blackwood, well, he thrills me because he’s from Newfoundland and because his etchings are always stories waiting to be discovered and told. Kenoujuak Ashevak…gah…how do I even explain my love of her work? Go and see it and you’ll understand. Words…don’t suffice. (And also–do not forget to take a look at the Bruno Cavallo painting in Gallery 2, as well as the Mary Green piece.)


The star of the everything at the AGS right now, though, is local artist Pandora Topp’s pandemic work. You’ll need to step into Mrs. Bell’s conservatory space first. Sit down and take the time to watch a couple of Pandora’s videos. Her project is titled “Imperfect Poetry.” Right away, I knew I was going to love it. I’m a fan of Pandora’s work, and have been for years. She’s a bright light in town, within the arts and culture community, and I love to watch her act on stage.


“Imperfect Poetry” started as an artistic prompt as part of a creative challenge that was extended to Pandora by Charlotte Gowdy, and offered by Haley McGee, all of it connecting artists from here and the UK. The notion is that you “show up for 14 days and create for 10 minutes each day.” It’s a wide open field of creativity!

I love these collaborative arts projects, especially in times when creatives are even more isolated than they might usually be. (I always think it’s funny that people assume that all creatives and introverts would excel at quarantine and lockdown. We’re all still humans, after all, and it can be difficult to be in small, isolated pockets for long periods of time when we’re used to being around other creative people. While what we do must be done in quiet places and solitary spaces, we also need to share our work, to feel connected, and to feel that our work has a purpose and ripples outwards…)


Here’s what’s really wonderful about Pandora’s pandemic project: you get to see her creative process as a *process* in its truest form. There are computerized notes, as well as handwritten journal entries. Alongside those two more literary elements, she has included some sketches. Go from left to right, and take the time to read the documents. I am in love with cursive writing. The more at risk it is of disappearing from our culture these days, the more I fall in love with it. I gather up old letters written by my mum and grandmother, taking them out when I want to remember them more closely. I have always thought that cursive writing is like a fingerprint of soul and personality. You can see a person’s handwriting and know who it belongs to. You can feel a rush of love for someone if you recognize the way they cross their Ts or tuck the loops of their Ys under things.


I know I’ll need another visit, mostly just because I want to go back and read Pandora’s work more carefully. I kept thinking, as I read the pieces of writing, “Oh, sweet Jesus, I hope she publishes these things somewhere…”

What I love about “Imperfect Poetry” is that so much of what artists and writers do is create something. We create to press against the dark. We stir up magic and light, and then we share it. I’m sure each of us has our own specific way of explaining how this works, but what struck me as I read her work yesterday afternoon is that we all need to ‘get it out’ somehow. It’s about finding your voice, about moving through the grief and loss of lockdown. In one piece, she writes: “Weep today if you must. Listen to the high water mark, or low…the pull of the tides are within you.” Yes. Let yourself feel the emotion inside your body, she says. Feel it deeply. Honour it. And then, find yourself in your own body; give yourself a true voice that carries…outwards…and a voice that ripples.

You can listen to some of Pandora’s fine work here:


This whole exhibit, including Pandora Topp’s “Imperfect Poetry,” runs until Saturday, September 5th. I really hope it’s extended, though, so that more people have time to go and see it. You can register for a visit–for yourself and five of the people in your immediate social bubble–by contacting the Art Gallery of Sudbury at 705-675-4871. It’s open from Tuesday to Saturday right now, with a certain number of visits slotted into each day.

Too, I think it’s a fair time to remind those of you who love art in Greater Sudbury that we really need to reach out and tangibly support our arts organizations. You can become a member of the Gallery for a reasonable fee, but you can also now really show your love by joining the Franklin Carmichael Circle. They’ll send you a tax receipt when it’s time, too, so you don’t even have to think about that part.

It’s another long blog entry, I know…but it’s worth it. If you can, go and see this exhibition. The Gallery’s done a fine job at making itself safe and creative, leading the way in showing us how the arts will survive in creative and innovative ways in the times of a global pandemic…and beyond.

Without the arts, what do we have….?






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Something is making my heart ache today.

I’ve been following the Twitter posts of a variety of scientific, medical, and educational experts of late. I’ve been watching the various news conferences that come out from Ontario’s Ministry of Education. I’ve been watching the parents who are wise (and emotionally torn) enough to know that they need to “follow the science” and their hearts at the same time. I’ve been watching the slew of people who bash teachers coming out of the woodwork on social media, and I’ve been watching other educators worry and fret about how best to ensure a safe return to schools this fall. What I hadn’t expected to read was a heartbreaking Tweet from a student, Isaiah Towers, who lives in the catchment area of the Limestone District School Board (which includes areas like Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington).

Here’s what Isaiah wrote: “As a student, I can confirm I’m terrified. So are a majority of students. Personally, I feel like I’m getting sent back to die. But if I don’t go my education will slip even more.” He was responding to a parent’s tweet, responding to an adult who is advocating for a safe return to school. He was saying out loud what so many kids must be thinking. I don’t know Isaiah personally, but…as a teacher…I know Isaiah is just one of thousands of young Ontarians who are really afraid and worried right now, and who are looking for adult leadership in a crisis.

So. Here’s the thing. We need to listen to Isaiah’s voice above other voices.

We don’t need to listen to Doug Ford’s voice, or Stephen Lecce’s voice, or the voices of our various Board of Education Directors and Superintendents, or the voices of Trustees. If we wait to listen to those voices, the voices that are embedded within a power structure that is already archaic and mostly colonial and patriarchal in its historic origins, then…well…we aren’t really listening to Isaiah, are we? And we definitely aren’t listening to our students’ or our children’s deepest worries. This won’t be a popular opinion, maybe, but I sort of think it doesn’t matter anymore. I know other teachers are likely thinking similar thoughts…or I hope they are.

What matters, then? The safety of Ontario’s children. That’s it. That’s what matters at the core of it all. Some will say, “Oh, you’re a teacher, so you’re lazy, and you’re not wanting to teach, and you get paid way too much, and you get summers off, and this is just another way to avoid doing your job.” Those are some of the voices who will always be there. They’ve been there for decades, but their voices have been steadily increasing with each and every passing year. I’m not sure why, to be honest, because the career of being an educator at the elementary or secondary level of study these days–anywhere across North America, I’d venture a guess–is more complex now than it’s ever been.

Teachers don’t just “deliver curriculum,” but we also serve as role models, as pseudo-parents for those kids who come from abusive homes, and as social workers for those children who might not have enough to eat at home, or who might be self-harming due to mental health issues. We’re called upon to do things that our predecessors never did. Still, teachers do what needs to be done, and often without a parade or any kind of fanfare. Teachers, you see, aren’t in it for the money. If you ask any teacher why they initially entered into the profession, you’ll likely hear that it’s because they love to learn, that they’re curious, that they’re interested in the world around them, that they like to ask questions and think, and–here it comes, now…get ready for the truth–that they love to be around kids, even if they don’t have kids of their own.

If we get caught up in that “teacher bashing” mess, though, which most teachers have put up with for a very long time, then we’ll miss the forest for the trees. If the ‘trees’ in this case are the bashers (for lack of a better phrase), then the ‘forest’ is made up of our kids. Yup. They’re “our kids,” even if they go home to your house and you’re called ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad.’ They’re “our kids,” too.

So…let’s talk about protecting our ‘forest,’ then…just for a little bit.

If we look at Premier Ford’s “plan” to return to school, which was released last week, and which is based–in a very wobbly fashion–on the Sick Kids report, we can see that parts have been addressed and parts have been avoided. The parts that have been avoided, it seems to me, are the parts that are the most important…and the most expensive to address. Funny how that works, eh? Easier to say you support a ‘plan’ you’ve created, based on a medical report, when you can pick and choose which pieces work best. Then, fast forward to yesterday, and a reference by Premier Ford that begins to discount the ‘plan’ to return safely in September, the very plan that was his party’s last week. “It’s not our plan…I’d be nervous if my kids were back in school…The other thing is they don’t have to put their kids in school.” ¬†This is back pedalling of the highest order, if you ask me. Whose plan is it? And, let’s be honest…it’s not a plan…so….where exactly is the plan?

No one likes a pandemic. I hate it. No one wants to be in a tiny bubble. We’re meant to be social creatures. This virus takes away what most makes us human, which is touch and gathering together, so that’s brutal. Absolutely so. But…what this virus does physically to people, in terms of how it affects a person’s health, is terrifying. It’s a shape shifter, I’d say, and the longer we muck through this mess, the results of scientific and medical studies that are coming out from around the world seem to be stranger and stranger. Children aren’t meant to be isolated. We know that. We know they do better when they’re in school, socializing and learning with kids their own age. This is true. Of course it’s not ideal that they’ve had to struggle with online learning. Nothing about a pandemic is ideal.

And, it’s not ideal that this pandemic has hit women, single parents, and those who are parts of marginalized groups, the hardest. COVID-19 has shown us where our failings are, as humans–in terms of equality, in terms of compassion, and in terms of our privilege. Our experience in Canada varies from other countries around the world, and our experience within our communities varies, too. If we own houses, we likely have a yard to escape into. If we live in low-income high-rises in larger urban centres, though, the pandemic has played out very differently.

You only need to look to the cases of school re-openings around the world, in recent weeks, to see what’s worked and hasn’t worked. You can look to cases in Montreal, in Israel, and–sadly–in two weeks’ time, likely most of America, as well. You can figure in that COVID-19 is more airborne than we’d thought it was initially, when we were all panicky and buying things in bulk. Then, back then, we thought it was only transmitted through touch. Now, thanks to the hard work of scientists around the world, we know it’s more about airborne transmission. It’s how we’ve come to know that masks help to reduce transmission. It’s how we’ve come to know that social distancing is key. It’s how Canada has managed to flatten the curve, in that we know we have a social responsibility to one another, and to those groups of people who are most at risk of being negatively affected by this virus.

This ‘plan,’ for a return to school, isn’t at all clear. It puts students, as well as all education workers–including principals, vice-principals, teachers, secretaries, cleaning staff, bus drivers, and cafeteria staff–at risk. Each and every one of those people in Ontario is at risk. ¬†All four teaching unions put out a joint statement last week. The Ontario Principals’ Council put out a statement last week. None of them is saying that the Sick Kids report is wrong. It’s fine. But…the Sick Kids report is suggesting that a safe return to school means that Boards ensure smaller class sizes (call them ‘cohorts’ or whatever fancy word you want, but it’s just about making classes smaller in size). This means that Boards across the province are now scrambling to sort it out over the next three weeks. They’re trapped between a rock and a hard place.

You see, if you reduce class sizes, especially after the recent cuts to teaching positions in Ontario over the last two years, then you need to hire more teachers, and you need to find more space in which to hold classes. All of this means you need to invest more money into the places where it really touches kids. You need to re-imagine education in a way that allows teachers to teach in community spaces that could be rented to school boards. You need to think outside the box of a system that still works on the premise upon which it was founded, which, if you study the history of education in Ontario means that the patriarchal and colonial structure we’ve inherited might not work in the face of a pandemic.¬†This might actually be the best and most opportune time to be creative in reimagining how education works at the elementary and secondary level. That’s a whole other blog, and there are lots of other people who know much more about this particular notion.

What we need for the fall, though–and that means it could be a later start than September, if people really do want a “safe start” for kids and education workers–is smaller class sizes at both levels of study, physically distanced classes, alternative teaching spaces, better ventilation in schools, and PPE for education workers. And, yes, we need students to wear masks, too. It is, for now, for these times, what will help us to ensure everyone’s safety.

This is a long blog. If you’ve read through it all, thanks for that. If you’re a parent, know that teachers worry as much about your kids as you do. If you’re a teacher, know that we’re likely all as worried and freaked out, but just don’t know what to do. If you’re a principal or vice-principal, God, I don’t know…thank you for trying to guide the staff in your schools in an uncertain and anxious time. If you’re in a school board office, I don’t envy you your role, either. You have to ensure the safety of thousands of people under you, on your watch. You have to dance a difficult dance between the Ministry, and unions, and teachers, and parents, and students. That’s a huge responsibility. I wouldn’t want it, but I know you’ll try your best to make it safe for all of us under you. I know this because…you were once classroom teachers, too, even if you aren’t now. I know you won’t forget those early days, even if you’re in big fancy offices with name plates now. I know you love kids as much as we all do.

If you’re in the Ministry of Education…and you’ve never been a teacher…you shouldn’t be there right now. If you’re meeting by Zoom, and you don’t want to sit in a class of 28 kids during the fall cold and flu season, then you shouldn’t be there now. But…if you are there now…then it’s incumbent upon you to make sure our kids are safe. It’s incumbent upon you to make sure Isaiah, and all of the thousands of kids across Ontario, are safe. If that means putting more money into health and safety measures that actually show up in the lives of classroom teachers across Ontario, then that’s what you need to figure out.

We have three weeks. People can get creative. The money needs to be there, though, or else we’re looking at kids in classrooms that aren’t socially distanced, and we’re looking at teachers and education workers falling ill when they don’t need to, and we’re looking at community spread, and we’re looking at hospitals that will be over run when they don’t need to be. The bubbles…won’t matter at all…and we’ll see how that plays out in a very terrifying way.

I just hope…we can all be together on this one thing. The Isaiahs of this province deserve our best because–guess what?–we’re the adults here. We need to step up to make it a safe return, even if it’s staggered or different from what it usually looks like. The old Sears catalogue photo of kids in plaid skirts and maroon shaded cardigans just won’t do it this year.







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