YYZ Artists' Outlet
Toronto, Ontario

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YYZ in the 90s



As the Director of YYZ from 1983-1993, Jennifer Rudder experienced a sense of community amongst the artist-run centers of Toronto. As she reflects in an interview on December 15, 2010, almost twenty years after her position at YYZ, our conversation results as a tool to further understand the trends and conflicts of the time. Rudder's involvement with ANNPAC (Association of National Non-Profit Artist Centers) and her engagement with the circulating identity politics of the 1990's are key examples of how she believes artist- run centers can create change, regionally and nationally.

At the beginning of her position at YYZ, Rudder noted a "drive to fulfill a need that the artist board members saw, something that the AGO was not fulfilling." There was a shift of focus on large survey shows, primarily painting and sculpture, to programming that celebrated new media works and minority groups. A change of location, from Spadina Ave to 1087 Queen St., at the corner of Dovercourt, gave new programming possibilities with almost double the space. Rudder helped fuel large fundraising efforts to make the move possible. Although the decision was made "actually at the very last minute before we moved", the Board members decided to separate the new YYZ location into two rooms, where one room would be dedicated to long- run screenings of media based work. "To present a screening room where you could walk in and watch a full-length film, independent film, or video. And sometimes those videos were grouped together in a curated package to show a recent video art about AIDS, about politics, even sometimes thematic, or a mini retrospective about an artist's videos. And it was extremely popular." This decision to show new media works in a long- run format was a new addition to the Toronto art community; "in this sense YYZ was first to present a screening room, I think second after the National Gallery of Canada."

At the same time that the screening room decision was made, "it was decided to start publishing collections of critics' work, beginning with Philip Monk, then Jeanne Randolph and continued on, and then the press, YYZBooks, was launched." With the introduction of the screening room and the launch of YYZBooks, programming "tripled" overnight.

Support throughout the different centers in Toronto in the 1990's was clear to Jennifer Rudder. "So each artist- run center in the Queen West community were very very different from each other and yet there was a sense of community amongst all of them. You know, there would be small tiffs or whatever, but we all supported each other, even though each center had such a different mandate." She saw YYZ as an important piece in a collaborative puzzle. "YYZ fit into the greater art community as a unique entity for a long time in the 80's and into the 90's. It was programming, shall we say, both difficult work and challenging work." Jennifer Rudder attributed the strength and sense of support in the Toronto artist-run center community to "the meetings of their directors."

As the chair for many years of the Toronto region for ANNPAC (Association of National Non-Profit Artist Centers), Jennifer Rudder was engaged in formulating a sense of what different artist- run centers of the time felt they needed. "In the 90's there was a rise of identity politics following, and including, queer art, [and] all of a sudden, through ANNPAC meetings it became apparent that it was very urgently needed for artist-run centers to start showing First Nations artists, artists of colour and artworks made about difference, and race and historic racial concerns. I would say that I was very engaged in these ideas through the meetings at the ANNPAC. To take this information back to the Board caused some friction between myself and the Board who were not quite as fired up as I was, not quite ready to, shift their program to include artists who, perhaps, had had no experience exhibiting their work before, and yes, their work was very raw, not like the polished, professional work YYZ was well known for showing. But I think if you look at the programming through the 90's you see more and more the evidence of an early attempt to include other groups in the exhibition programming at YYZ. It was a bit of a struggle and I don't think every Board member was happy about having to change because they had such autonomy for so long, and really had created an excellent program."

Jennifer Rudder's involvement with YYZ and ANNPAC, is an example of how committed efforts make change. "I would like to acknowledge the fact that it's the work done by the artist-run center that saw changes at the Canada Council and all the other arts councils through their efforts of lobbying. Once it was made, or seen as appropriate to start programming works by First Nations and people of colour, then the artist-run centers' administration and some of their Board members started lobbying at different arts councils to make the application processes for grants and the money being distributed more fair, to include special funds for First Nations artists. So if you look at the Canada Council applications today, you'll notice there is a stress on First Nations curators, First Nations artists, and that is the result of lobbying in the 90's by the artist-run centers."

Sagan MacIsaac


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