As many people know, the Union Gallery – the student run gallery – at Queen’s University is going through a hard time.
For the last 19 years the Union Gallery has provided and experiential learning and career development opportunities for students at Queen’s through its contemporary visual arts programming. It is free and accessible to the campus, the broader Kingston community and visitors to Kingston. However, it has been a very challenging year for the gallery financially. Our main source of funding is through undergraduate student fees and this was cut off because we lost the student referendum by a margin of 28 votes. This resulted in a major cut to the gallery hours and program and next year looks even more grim. Last month, the AMS General Assembly on February 13th, voted not to support our efforts to have the student reinstated for yet another year (this time we lost by 4 votes). We have been told there is no appeal process. It has now become clear that in order to survive we must seek other avenues of support.
Here is my letter of support. Please write your own!
To whom it may concern,
I was very disheartened by the AMS’s recent decision to drastically slash the Union Gallery’s funding. While I respect the democratic process for funding student organizations, the Union Gallery is an extremely valuable asset to Queen’s University and Kingston community. It should be allowed to appeal the decision and/or be given bridge funding until such time as a revised strategic development plan to secure a sustainable funding model for the future of the gallery can be presented.
I attended Queen’s University from 2002-2006, when I graduated with my BFAH. Following Queen’s, I completed my MFA from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London, UK in 2007. I maintained an art practice in London and travelled with my work to France and Spain, before returning to my hometown of Toronto in 2010 and setting up an art practice here. I am the recipient of a 2013 Emerging Artist Grant from the Toronto Arts Council.
While studying at Queen’s, the Union Gallery was an important part of my university experience. It was my introduction into the professional practice of being an artist and I had my first show in a gallery space there in 2003. I exhibited at the Union every year during my BFA, culminating with my fourth year show (citations) in late 2005 with Lisa Visser and Sarah E. K. Smith. The show was a very important moment for all three of us, teaching us every step involved in the exhibition process. I still remember our exhibition opening and the enormous sense of pride I felt to be showing at the Union Gallery.
Since leaving Kingston, I have exhibited my work in Canada, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and France. I have recently exhibited at The Red Head Gallery (Toronto), The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery (St. John’s), The Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa), The Living Arts Centre (Mississauga) and again at the Union Gallery. Having access to the professional quality experience at the Union Gallery from the beginning of my art education was critical and I still think of my early exhibitions there today when preparing for a show.
I also was involved with the Union Gallery behind the scenes. I worked with Jocelyn Purdie on many exhibitions and projects. I was on the board of the Union in 2005 and 2006, serving as the Treasurer and then the Communications Chair. This experience was invaluable – the skills I gained while serving on the board gave me the solid foundation I needed to work in the cultural community following my degree.
Following my time at the Union, I worked for a number of galleries and institutions, as well as organized arts projects. My experience serving on the board at of the Union contributed to my ability to help these organizations, as well as secure me the position. Immediately following my BFA, I worked for The White Cube Gallery and subsequently for the Barbican Arts Centre, The Whitechapel Gallery and Pangolin London Gallery (all London, UK). Recently, I developed a sculpture project for the Hazelton Hotel in Toronto called the “Hazelton Plinth” and I currently am developing a number of commissioned projects in Brooklyn, NY, as well as volunteering with the Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum.
While at Queen’s, the Union Gallery was also a wonderful space to learn about art and artists. The Union brought exceptional visiting artists to the campus and provided the students with an opportunity to engage and learn form these visiting professionals. Apart from showing student artwork, the Union would showcase art from the Kingston community and beyond, providing a place for an exchange of ideas and a fabulous student learning experience. In many respects, I would argue that the Queen’s BFA taught me the technical skills to be an artist, but working with the Union Gallery taught me how to be an artistic professional.
While my experience of the Union Gallery did come largely through my connections to the gallery as a visual artist, I also encountered many students form other backgrounds and departments engaging with art and the community through the space. It was a meeting point as well as a space for many to just sit quietly and reflect.
I do not have the statistics behind this, but I think it is fair to say that almost every degree offering institution, and especially those with a visual arts degree, has a student gallery. This space becomes essential as a resource for the visual arts student, but also reaches a larger audience of students – those who might have a love for art, as well as those who may have never been exposed to art before. How can a university such as Queen’s deprive their own community of the chance to be involved with an organization of this quality and commitment to the community? How can you deny your students, those enrolled in the BFA or not, the opportunity to experience art and culture created by their peers – to meet and discuss ideas with the next generation of Canadian artists and cultural professionals?
When I was looking at universities after high school, I visited many with my parents and went on a lot of campus tours. I read a lot of university brochures and I spoke with many people about their university experiences. In deciding to go Queen’s, which offered a more “well rounded” education, instead of a “fine art only” education, I was excited to have opportunities not strictly related to my program, but ones that would allow me to grow within a professional context and prepare me for the future. That’s what the Union Gallery did for me.
I remember seeing the space in 2001 with my parents when we visited Kingston for the day – a gallery in the library – exactly what I wanted, an art experience within the larger context of a great Canadian university. My decision to accept my placement at Queen’s was on one hand due to the program itself, but also due to the university culture and opportunities offered. Sadly, it seems these opportunities are vanishing before my very eyes.
I hope that you consider this letter in your decision. The Union Gallery has incredible potential to grow and help define the student experience at Queen’s. I strongly hope the university will support the gallery during this time of need – both financially and with a strategic plan – to continue to serve the student body and community.
Samantha Mogelonsky (Queen’s BFAH 2006)