A Case for Utopian Dreaming: Feminisms within Canadian Artist-Run Centres

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Berson, Amber
Artist-run centres , Artist-run centre , Canadian feminist history , Institutional history , Canadian art history
This dissertation is motivated by a set of questions elaborated from a central query: What is a flourishing future? When applied to the state of artist-run centre culture, and specifically feminist identified artist-run centres, in Canada, questions that follow include, who gets to represent futurity? Whose futures count? How are artist-run centres and art communities transformed by the inclusions of Indigenous and Black futures and futurism? How and by whom is feminism defined in these spaces? How does white feminism get out of the way of a flourishing future, or how doesn’t it? Throughout, I return to the concept of utopia as method, as proposed by Ruth Levitas. At its core, Levitas’s method comprises three simple steps: state the problem, attempt an archaeological dig of the past to shed insight into how we reached the problem, and then—and this is the key part—we are asked to educate our desires. This grounding in utopian methodology leads me to specifically ask: how can artist-run centres benefit most from incorporating intersectional feminism and anti-oppression work into their daily operations? To think through this question, I consider a selection of historically feminist artist-run centres, active during the second wave of feminism to the present, to understand how they advanced specific feminist agendas, and to evaluate what kind of impact state policy and state funding priorities had on these artist-run centres. These include Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA) in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Women in Focus Collective (WIF) in Vancouver, British Columbia; The Women’s Art Resource Centre (WARC) and the Feminist Art Gallery (FAG) in Toronto, Ontario; Womanspirit in London, Ontario; and La Centrale and articule in Montréal, Québec.
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