C/O Jessica Yang

The Art Gallery of Burlington is creating a more inclusive world one book club discussion at a time 

By: Emma Shemko, contributor 

Hosted and facilitated by Jasmine Mander, the Art Gallery of Burlington’s new Echo Black, Indigenous and People of Colour book club works to create a safe, inclusive and accessible space for marginalized folks. The club prioritizes the lived experiences of BIPOC folks through reading and discussion of critical texts written by BIPOC authors. 

Currently the curatorial assistant at the AGB, Mander has worked at a number of art organizations over the years, including Hamilton Artists Inc., where she coordinated Incoming!, an initiative to address and support the needs of newcomer, immigrant and refugee artists.  

Mander is passionate about uplifting BIPOC voices and she wanted to create such a safe space for BIPOC folks to talk about their experiences and ideas, where they felt they could bring down their walls and share openly without fear of being judged. 

"[The book club] is an opportunity to come together, discuss as a group and unpack ideas. It's like learning together . . . Maybe you see somebody who looks like you and there's this sense of guard that's just dropped. And then, the more you get to know the people in the group, the more times people voice their opinions or their stories and really express themselves, you just grow more and are confident in being able to discuss your ideas," explained Mander. 

Echo’s reading list consists mainly of memoirs and personal accounts of BIPOC authors. Mander hopes book club attendees can see their experiences represented and feel seen and heard when reading these stories. 

The book club is geared towards youth aged 16-25, with the idea of facilitating the sharing of knowledge between generations and encouraging conversation around how BIPOC communities move forward with these histories.  

“A lot of the work and the knowledge that I've gained, I feel is super important to pass on to this next chapter in this next generation. You're passing on the knowledge. All the work that you've done is not lost, but you're investing in the youth so that you're providing them with spaces, mentorship and support," said Mander. 

At its heart, Echo is about creating safe spaces and part of that is ensuring the club itself is as accessible as possible. The monthly sessions are held online, eliminating the need for a commute. The online environment also allows participants to leave their cameras off and participate as much or as little as they wish. 

Mander also wanted to move away from the constraints of the average book club, encouraging readers of all levels and experiences to join and removing the usual obligation to finish the book before attending. Echo is about the quality of discussion over the quantity of books read, so participants are welcome to join monthly discussions even if they've only read a few pages. 

"I try to think about myself as a participant, I try to think if I was entering this conversation, how would I navigate it? . . . Part of that, for me, is encouraging people to be able to come and go in space as needed, based on their energy levels," said Mander. 

Additionally, Mander recognized the increasing cost of books might pose a barrier to some and to ensure Echo does not become a financial burden, a free physical copy of each month's book will be mailed to registered participants a month in advance. Participants are encouraged to sign up as early as possible as space is limited. 

The Echo book club is meant to be an inclusive space for all BIPOC community members and allies, offering the opportunity for them to learn and grow with these stories and to feel part of a community. 

"One of my key phrases and one that I always like to repeat in my mind over and over again is this: I want BIPOC folks to feel like they can go from a place of just surviving to thriving. I want to see that happen. And so this [book club] is my way of contributing a space to my community," said Mander. 

Echo will be launching April 25 at 6:30 p.m. with the discussion of Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would be Fun: Race, Campus Life and Growing Up

Despite the influx of small businesses, the self-proclaimed claim to fame of new James Street North is still found in its art studios and gallery spaces. However, the now year-old Hundred Dollar Gallery stands on the corner of James and Cannon as an oddity, even beyond the city’s borders.

It was conceptualized as a joke between local artists Stephen Altena and Andrew McPhail, but has since been pushed as a means for patrons to dip their toes into art collecting. It is a gallery modelled after the low, fixed-priced model of a dollar store. Past exhibitions have included an office made only with crochet, grocery carts adorned with deer antlers, 3D printed sculptures and encyclopaedia collages, among others. These shows reflect on the current state of the local art community, as well as explore the monetary and sentimental value placed on art itself.

During this upcoming Supercrawl, the Hundred Dollar Gallery will unveil their final exhibition. PRICELE$$: Art You Can’t Afford is a tongue-in-cheek betrayal of the gallery’s namesake.

The final show marks a new chapter for the gallery’s owners. Altena and McPhail are redirecting their attention to personal and collaborative art projects, as well as looking towards possible pop-ups and small shows in the future. The announcement has come suddenly for followers of the gallery, but as McPhail explained, the one year life span was preordained.

“When we opened, we always thought of this as sort of a project. Neither Stephen or I have plans to be life-long gallerists, because were both artists and that’s where our interest lies” said McPhail.

“We always viewed this as a sort of a limited time project and not something we would continue forever, and when we close the space or when we move out of the space we’ll still be doing other [curatorial things] around town. We still got a bunch of things we are developing with other spaces or other people. So it will be the end of the Hundred Dollar Gallery space but it won’t be the end of Hundred Dollar Gallery.”

While McPhail thoroughly enjoyed being a gallerist in the James St. community, he explained that he ultimately wishes to continue his career as an artist first and foremost.

“I learned lots of things. It’s been interesting as an artist to sort of see it form the other side,” reflected McPhail. “I know as an artist approaching galleries I have lots of experience seeing it from that side so it’s interesting to see it as a gallery owner having artists approach us. That’s been a bit of an eye opener just in terms of what to expect and how we want to be approached. It’s been educational.”

The limited time with the space, its low rent, and a healthy community of artists and supporters surrounding it have allowed the Hundred Dollar Gallery project to enjoy a successful run. In many ways, it stands as a unique product in the Hamilton community.

“We knew this wouldn’t be a commercial gallery, we’re never going to make money. We initially thought even if we could cover half our rent like we’ll be happy,” explained McPhail. To the pair’s surprise, the gallery eventually grew to be a sustainable project, something that may have been unachievable in the high-cost art districts of the GTA.

“The community has been really supportive. We’ve had lots of attention from people in Toronto. We’ve had lots of support just from everybody” recalled McPhail.

“Everybody just loves the idea of the Hundred Dollar Gallery. People just think it’s hilarious. We’ve been really happy with the response. So we wanted to go out on a high note too.”

The beginning of the end of the Hundred Dollar Gallery space comes with unconventional timing. Supercrawl consistently marks the beginning for new locales all across the downtown core, capitalizing on the business opportunity the event brings. It is rare that a space, focused on the arts no less, will use the occasion to say goodbye, and celebrate a year-long legacy with its most outlandish show yet.

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Porch Stories

Saturday, Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. @ Mills Hardware - Runtime: 73 min. - Rating: 14A  |  Drama

From the director of acclaimed 2004 Hot Docs prizewinning documentary Army of One, Toronto filmmaker Sarah Goodman displays a sure hand with her first narrative feature. Porch Stories captures the intersecting lives of three people. With a strolling camera and beautiful black-and-white cinematography, Goodman perfectly portrays the web of events and overheard conversations that make up the city’s soundscape.

Court

Monday, Oct. 19 at 1 p.m. @ Ancaster SilverCity Cinemas - Runtime: 116 min. - Rating: PG  |  Drama

Winner of top prizes at the Venice and Mumbai film festivals, Court is a quietly devastating, absurdist portrait of injustice, caste prejudice, and venal politics in contemporary India. An elderly folk singer and grassroots organizer, dubbed the “people’s poet,” is arrested on a trumped-up charge of inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide. What truly distinguishes Court is the brilliant cast of professional and nonprofessional actors; an affecting mixture of comedy and tragedy; and the naturalist approach to the characters and to Indian society as a whole, rich with complexity and contradiction.

Al Purdy Was Here

Saturday, Oct. 24 at 1 p.m. @ Mills Hardware - Runtime: 95 min. - Rating: PG  |  Documentary

The story of Al Purdy, Canada’s leading poet, and the A-frame cabin that he built, now being restored as a writers’ retreat. Featuring interviews and performances by artists including Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Gord Downie, Gordon Pinsent, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Sarah Harmer, Tanya Tagaq and Joseph Boyden, the film moves between Purdy’s story and the compelling characters bound up in his legacy. Purdy has been called the last, best and most Canadian poet.

Amy

Sunday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. @ Landmark Cinemas 6 Jackson Square - Runtime: 90 min. - Rating: 14A  |  Documentary / Biography

With a voice oft-described as a combination of Billy Holiday, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, Amy Winehouse was a pop star with soul, a once in two generational musical talent whose appeal crossed cultural and demographic boundaries. As riveting as it is sad, Amy is a powerfully honest look at the twisted relationship between art and celebrity — and the lethal spiral of addiction.

Hamilton artists Katrina Camilleri and Cheyenne Federiconi have come a long way since high school. The two longtime friends and graduating Mac students have just put the finishing touches on their upcoming art exhibit.

They’ll be showing a joint collection of original artwork at Manta Contemporary Gallery starting April 4. Aptly entitled BOMBS AWAY, their exhibit features pieces that seek to expose the “naked reality" behind political issues. The artists tackle war, violence, pop culture and sex in a way that is alluring yet unsettling.

The duo grew up in Hamilton and took high school art classes together before both enrolling in McMaster’s studio art program.

Coming out of high school as a painter, Federiconi says she now does more sculpture and performance art. Camilleri said she’s also discovered her preferred medium at Mac.

“I’ve found how to channel my personality into my artwork,” said Camilleri.

They said the biggest challenge of putting the show together has been reconciling their individual styles. After confirming their slot at the gallery at the end of February, the two had only a month to drum up original pieces for the themed exhibit.

Camilleri, who usually works in one colour, took on Federiconi’s vibrant colour palette, while Federiconi experimented with themes of war that aren’t usually a focal point of her work.

“We have two opposite styles, so finding one theme was hard,” said Camilleri.

Federiconi said her favourite piece in the show is an assortment of toy weapons, which she purchased and repainted pink.

“I [embellished] them with diamonds, pearls and lace to take objects often associated with violence and terror, and change their interpretation into something cute and non-threatening,” she said.

The artists say they’re excited to be showing at an up and coming gallery in Hamilton’s downtown core that doesn’t typically exhibit student work.

“Culturally, I think we [in Hamilton] embrace art more now,” said Federiconi, who referenced the boom that James Street N. has experienced in recent years with Artcrawl and Supercrawl.

Federiconi says she wants to make a living in Hamilton’s art scene after graduation this April. She’s got four or five exhibits under her belt, some of which she organized, and wants to keep going.

After graduating, Camilleri will be leaving Hamilton to pursue teacher’s college. She has aspirations to teach art at the high school level.

“I think the beauty of [Mac’s] program is that you start out new...and in your graduating year they let you go and apply what you’ve learned,” said Camilleri.

Their exhibit will be in the Manta Contemporary Gallery on King William St. The show runs from April 4 to 30, with an opening reception on April 12.

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