As this series continues, I am going through various emotions. Stemming from pride for our predecessors who worked hard to grow awareness about the arts across this great country and also feelings of disappointment that our size seems to create a divide in philosophy. That somehow the space between us diffuses communications and attempts at unity.
Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps the regional initiatives that draw people together are what influence people outside of our region. That by doing the work close to home we can have a bigger influence on the whole than we first realized.
What's the saying, carry water and chop wood. Do the work that you know you need to do.
I'll include links below to Part 1 and Part 2 if you'd like to read the history from the beginning.
The Cost of Fulfilling a Mandate
Dateline: Fall 1954
"If we believe that through the arts a people has its vision clarified and its life given point and meaning over and above the economic, political and material concerns... then all the artists and interested laymen in the country should not only be willing, but should be anxious to join a country-wide inclusive organization to further the function of art in life." - Lawren Harris11
In the Federation of Canadian Artists' first decade, enthusiasm had continued to build across Canada as each region formed new branches and membership continued to grow rapidly. National Conferences, held every second year, provided knowledge and inspiration to artists of all persuasions - bolstered by the personal visions of national presidents, André Biéler, Lawren Harris, Albert Gillson and Hunter Lewis.
If the greatest achievement of the Federation was ultimately its' influence on the Canada Council for the Arts, the FCA owed a great debt to Hunter Lewis, chair and principal writer of their 1949 national brief to the Royal Commission on National Development of Arts, Letters, and Sciences (best known as the "Massey Commission"). Professor Lewis was an erudite man, and one who really got caught up in causes.
Normally, Lewis' two-year presidency would have ended in October, 1951 - the same year that the Massey Commission tabled their report - except it was consensus that he would be just the right person to lead members to greater heights when the Federal Government acted on the Commission's recommendations.
In lieu of a National Conference and FCA elections, a long projected tour of local branches across the country was planned for Lewis, during which he would personally share his vision for the Federation and Canada. Unfortunately, the man became seriously ill just before the tour was to begin and failed to recover sufficiently to ever resume the plan.
The FCA had, in achieving its early ambitions, outgrown its machinery and hence its financial structure. Having previously gone to considerable pain to keep its financial difficulties to itself, the National Executive finally laid out its woes in a letter to its members.12 The outstanding debt of having widely distributed copies of their national brief was formidable. Ongoing costs of serving and supporting members, including the FCA's share of producing the magazine Canadian Art, had risen sharply. From 1950 no fees were even available to honour the FCA's commitment to the Canadian Arts Council.
The National Executive concluded that on all levels the Federation was starving itself for lack of funds. In setting its sights for fulfilling all its responsibilities, it needed more money at its disposal. Membership totaled 856 (over 500 of these were visual artists), hence the decision to refocus FCA activities solely to the visual arts. In addition to securing loans from wealthier members, membership fees were increased.
Still expecting an early Federal Government announcement which, disappointingly, failed to come until 1957, plans to hold the next National Conference were delayed. Lewis stepped down as National President. In October 1952, following the tradition of electing officers alternately from Western and Eastern Canada, the National Executive chose Gordon Couling from Guelph, Ontario as Lewis' successor.
A view of the importance that the FCA should hold in the fabric of Canadian cultural life was not always clear to individual members. Shortcomings and frustrations intruded. Rumblings were heard that Couling had not officially consented to be nominated. Boxes of files and financial records transferred from Vancouver to Guelph mysteriously disappeared, bills were unpaid, and for several months all communication came to a deadly halt.
Reports from Manitoba to Quebec and Ontario to the Maritimes, indicated the Federation had gone into a slump. Former members in Regina simply transferred their allegiance in bulk from the FCA to their local Art Centre Association, and Saskatoon members turned to the artist-run centre they had established in the early '40s.
Lawren Harris' stirring call was no longer heard. It seemed that the Federation of Canadian Artists had become just another Canadian art association based on the friendship and camaraderie of like-minded amateurs who enjoyed painting, sculpting and showing their work together. Interest waned across the country and there seemed to be nothing anyone could do about it.
Following two years of serious neglect, a new National Executive headed by Professor Henry Glyde from Alberta felt its responsibility very strongly. They tried in every way to serve and support the members on a national basis, hoping to foster a new maturity of art in Canada. But the spontaneous national recovery hoped for didn't happen.
About 1963, a committee of Hunter Lewis, H.G. Glyde, Jack Shadbolt, Alison Palmer and Nancy Bakewell (all from BC and Alberta) was formed to "give information and possibly financial assistance to any new regions which might wish to create branches in smaller towns away from the already well-organized art centres." Five years later the committee was wound down.13
Down in the '60s, but not dead, pockets of FCA members met to organize and sponsor annual exhibits of paintings, sculpture and graphics, followed by the odd traveling show. Workshops were presented, along with painting demonstrations; taped lectures and slides were distributed. Camaraderie continued through painting trips and social events. In the West, some groups flourished.
One of the greatest success stories during that period was Painting in the Park, the FCA's imaginative summer education program for young artists (...no undraped human forms, please...) With financial help from both the City and the Province, the first sessions, organized in Stanley Park, became so popular that they quickly spread to other parks throughout the City - and then throughout BC and beyond. Ninety-two youngsters had registered in 1952, 1500 in 1965. This program's pattern has been borrowed and is still used in widely dispersed areas around the world.14
Slowly within the next decade, a group of new faces would once again pick up the reins and provide inspiring leadership - leading to the rebirth of a Federation.
10 Various facts excerpted from the Canada Council of the Arts website, 2004
11 Federation of Canadian Artists letter to Branch Members and Affiliations, ca. Fall 1954, based on one of the philosophic objectives cited by Lawren Harris in an earlier FCA Membership Brochure.
12 President Hunter Lewis' letter to the FCA Executive and Members of Regional and local Branches, Dec 20, 1950.
13 Letter from A M Bakewell to Prof. H.G. Glyde dated May 6th, 1968. 14 "Park Painting Fundamental - Trees, People, Orange Subs," by Clive Cocking, Vancouver Sun, June 30, 1965.
In my own work it is clear that doing my work is essential. This may sound like a simple statement. Let me explain. Running a fine art business has many different responsibilities. Sales, promotion, blog writing, gathering new source material, picking up supplies, conversing and encouraging other artists, and painting, to name just a few.
At the core, it is necessary that I paint. Without the paintings I really have no business. So setting priorities to work on the top priorities first, then reaching out to other activities has been essential.
Much like the Federation, in the West, anyway, regrouping to start the Art in the Park program is the same. I see parallels that are very encouraging.
Have you encountered the artists in Stanley Park? I sure have. I fondly recall being in the park as a kid, and really enjoying the artists who were set up there.
I love the memory and it makes me proud to realize that I'm part of this art community.
If you would like to see the art that I'm producing, I'll invite you to join my email list. I regularly keep patrons abreast of my new work through my email list.