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Artists, curators and small galleries often make important things happen.  As an example, Chazou Contemporary Art Gallery, a Canadian hybrid, cutting edge gallery, embarked on a significant cultural and educational exchange between Canadian artists living in Kamloops, British Columbia, a small city with a population of approximately 100,000 and American artists living in New York City who were connected to the Westbeth Gallery.  The vital components necessary to ensure that such an exchange materializes include vision, determination, financial support, gallery space and risk.  The key component here is risk. Without risk – the artistic leap of faith – nothing would occur.  We, as artists and curators, must trust in our ability to walk a tight rope to ensure artistic success.  This is what artists and curators do.  We walk the artistic tight rope.  We take creative risks.  We put ourselves out there for all to see, for all to comment, for all to enjoy or (not).  It is not necessarily a safe place to work from, but, as the old adage goes, “Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.”

Not all visionary risks end as initially planned. Something so out of the stratosphere may occur that forces a successful project that is moving along beautifully, to screech to a full stop.  This is exactly what happened to the Oh, Canada / New York: An art and cultural exchange project, an initially successful, artistic institutive - a visionary risk. 

What was the Oh, Canada / New York: An art and cultural exchange project?

As an explanation the following is part of the forward from the catalogue for Oh, Canada / New York: An art and cultural exchange project.   

In 2012 the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art staged an exhibition titled Oh, Canada, Contemporary Art from North North America.  The exhibition was the brain child of a young, American curator by the name of Denise Markonish.  Apparently Markonish had spent the previous four years traversing Canada’s huge land mass exploring, uncovering and investigating contemporary Canadian artists.   She had called upon young curators, art museums, artist run centers and noted galleries from across Canada to give her names of artists to visit.  In total she visited 400 studios.  From these studio visits, she narrowed her selection down to 62 artists to represent contemporary, Canadian art in North North America

In her introduction to her 364 page, hard cover catalogue Markonish wrote ‘It is time for Canada to spread the love so that we can all know even more of the country’s creativity, which is as vast as  its landscape is immense.” 1   And this is exactly what the exhibition, Oh Canada / New York is doing: picking up some of the pieces that were left out of Markonish’s exhibition or were not even discovered by Markonish.  After all Canada is indeed an immense country, and it would truly be impossible to visit all noteworthy, contemporary, Canadian artists in less than four years.   The management of Chazou Contemporary Art Gallery, a small, hybrid exhibition and project space in the interior of the province of British Columbia in Western Canada, is picking up the gauntlet and sending eleven distinctive, contemporary Canadian artists to New York City in a cultural exchange initiated by the American artist, educator and curator, Jayne Holsinger of the Westbeth Artists Residence in New York City.  Following the exhibition, Oh Canada /  New York, at the Westbeth Gallery, a number of Westbeth artists will exhibit their work across the 49th parallel at Chazou Contemporary Art Gallery in 2016.

  1. Denise Markonish, Oh, Canada, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, The MIT Press, p.15.

With the untimely and tragic death of Wolfram Sellmer, Chazou Contemporary Art Gallery closed its doors June 2nd, 2016.  The American artists from the Westbeth Gallery were not able to return the exchange even though all preparations were in place.

The invited Canadian artists who participated in the initial cultural exchange were Teresa Braun, Aganetha Dyck, Jen Dyck, William Frymire, Laura Hargrave, Royden Josephson, Ann Kipling, Steve Mennie, Julie Oakes, Marie Scott and Tricia Sellmer.  The American artist Jayne Holsinger, curated, participated in the exhibition and worked with the Westbeth Artists Residence Council. 

Sincere gratitude must be extended to Jayne Holsinger who worked so diligently to ensure this exhibition went ahead, the Westbeth Artists Residence Council members who saw the merit and strength in such a cross border exhibition, Linda Kamille Schmidt, and all those from the Westbeth community who so kindly helped with the exhibition, and to the poet and Jayne Holsinger’s life partner, Hugh Seidman for his continued encouragement.   As well, an extended appreciation must be shared with Chazou Contemporary Art Gallery’s gallery assistant, Vicci Ryan for her continued enthusiasm and to Wolfram and Christopher Sellmer for their constant and unwavering support.

In total there were sixty works exhibited reflecting on land, myth, the natural environment, craft, and social politics through the mediums of video, painting, collage, installation and drawing.   The project included an opening, a closing, two lectures, studio visits and a catalogue.  Even though the project never reached the second stage I consider Oh, Canada / New York: An art and cultural exchange to be a success story in which a small nugget of an idea turned into an exciting project for twelve artists because of a risky adventure, a leap of faith. 

Here are some images from the exhibition in New York’s Westbeth Gallery.

Front image, Steve Mennie: Winter Ginseng

Marie Scott: Small Momentos, Acylic on canvas, 18" x 24"

Aganetha Dyck: The Bee: Wax, thread, ink on hive cloth, 22" x 22"

Tricia Sellmer: Bridge Over Troubled Waters #6, oil on canvas, 48" x 60"