The image of an artist at work often sets an artist alone in a room with paint or perhaps a musical instrument, creating or composing in solitude.
While this focus may be necessary for some parts of the work, most art comes alive in the presence of other people.
Artists, arts organizations and arts administrators all extend their reach with partnerships. I spoke with Joyce Majiski, Arlin McFarlane of Yukon Educational Theatre and Debbie Peters of Magnum Opus Management, about the partnerships that forward their art businesses.
Majiski was recently working on a sculptural installation for the Shipyards Park called River Walk. The piece includes concrete columns, stucco, metal and mosaic – materials she couldn’t have worked with alone.
“Mike Mason turned my drawings in vectors so I could get the metal laser cut in Edmonton,” says Majiski. “The team from Ketza Construction did the groundwork for the columns, Peter Densmore lending insight throughout.”
Majiski also tapped her brother, Mike Majiski, for help welding stainless steel.
Stucco specialist Rick Erdman, Vancouver artist and stone mosaic specialist Glen Anderson, among many others, had a part of making the piece possible.
Majiski calls the challenge of working in these media that are new to her “both a blessing and a curse.” She doesn’t always know what she’s doing, but she wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to work with and be inspired by these fine artists and craftspeople.
She sees collaboration as her “main theme right now”.
Majiski has been collaborating with an artist in England for about seven years. This collaboration has given her the chance to “create and interact as an artist in a completely new way.
“I have learned new skills and continue to build on a rich collaborative partnership with a group of artists and creative people in London.” Majiski sees the ongoing potential to develop new projects internationally.
Majiski met Alice Angus in 2001 at the Banff Centre for the Arts. In 2002 Angus invited Majiski to work with her on a long-term project called Topographies and Tales, which is about the relationship between people, language, identity and place.
This project has led Angus and Majiski to work exploring places from Ivvavik National Park to Scotland’s mountains to Angus’ home in London. The two shared a residency at the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture in Dawson City.
It’s also challenged Majiski, with a background in printmaking, to learn film making, animation and how to make e-books. You can download these free from www.diffusion.org.uk. Majiski is currently working on more e-books with two other artists.
Topographies and Tales is the video the Majiski-Angus project produced. It has screened rough-cut in the Yukon and Vancouver in the Picturing the Yukon series. International Polar Year presentations in the United Kingdom and Australia also included clips of the video.
The project was showcased in London at Canada House in Trafalgar Square in 2005. Seventy-five invited participants from a wide variety of backgrounds brainstormed ways that artistic teams could collaborate with agencies.
Agencies and organizations also benefit from partnerships. Yukon Educational Theatre is a Whitehorse not-for-profit society that presents such iconic community rituals as the Burning Away the Winter Blues.
Whenever possible, director Arlin McFarlane finds like-minded groups to partner with. These groups have volunteer resources which can be quantified into an in-kind donation that widens the revenue base for the group’s projects.
In the past, McFarlane has joined forces with the Downtown Urban Gardeners on the Harvest Fair, as well as the Human Rights Commission.
Magnum Opus Management works to develop live performance opportunities for the nine musical groups they represent. However, the business itself is run as a partnership, and it remains an ongoing theme of their work.
Four years ago, founder Debbie Peters was “swamped.” She courted Michele Emslie of Whitehorse Concerts as a business partner. As a concert presenter, Emslie knew the world Peters was working for very well, but from the buyers’ side rather than the sellers’: “We joke I’ve pulled her over to the dark side.”
Emslie covers the Ontario beat of the pair’s booking territory and the two women give workshops together helping musicians attending showcases to promote themselves.
They also work collaboratively with other agents. For example, they’ve turned to Ita Kane-Wilson, an international freelance booking agent, to help develop international tours for the artists they represent. Hungry Hill will tour Ireland and the United Kingdom for six weeks as a result of this partnership.
Magnum Opus Management works collaboratively with the musicians they represent to come up with “a look, a feel, a brand, that’s entirely them, and very clearly communicates to the buyer what group is about visually and in words.”
Peters is particularly excited about bringing together artists and venues which can program more than just a concert. She works with her artists to see what they can offer – whether it’s a visit to schools, private lessons or a session with the local vocal ensemble, who then open for the band at the evening concert. This increases the “footprint” of the experience they’re bringing to the community, creating something really positive for the community they’re visiting.
“If you can connect the right artists with the right presenter, it’s amazing what can happen.” She points out that Scott Wilson of Jazz Yukon, as well as Emslie with Whitehorse Concerts, are particularly good at this.
In the past, the Canadian Government has been a supporting partner in opening up markets for exporting cultural products and artists. The funding cuts will limit Peters’ ability to do this.
She is already seeing the impact internationally. Peters attends the Western Arts Alliance meeting each fall to promote her artists to promoters all over the western third of the United States.
Usually the Canadian Consulate sponsors an opening reception, a gesture which Peters has felt started the whole event with a Canadian focus. This year, an American booking agency sponsored the opening reception and Peters didn’t see any Canadian Heritage or Consulate presence at all.
Still, Peters loves working in the Yukon, partly for the Yukon Government’s active partnership in developing the arts: “I’ve developed this company based in Yukon exporting services. All of the revenue that comes from work that I’m doing comes into the Yukon. Every time there’s been a little bit of investment from Economic Development into my company I’ve been able to translate that into huge growth.
“You put a little bit of money in the hands of creative people, we can translate that into an awful lot more new revenue. I call it an investment, I don’t call it a gift, although grants are gifts. They pay off hugely in quality of life in community. We are very much a renewable resource.”
And like sticks of firewood, when you put a few artists together in the right conditions, you get a blaze that will not only cheer your spirits but keep you warm.