After 37 years, Canadian Art is closing up shop. On its website Tuesday, the board of the visual art magazine announced that it was ceasing operations immediately due to financial losses associated with COVID-19. The magazine, which has lost both advertising and fundraising revenue during the pandemic, had already ceased print publication six months ago, and had also stopped updating its website while laying off most of its staff.
“The pandemic has disproportionately affected arts and culture institutions and organizations across Canada and we know that this will leave a hole in the Canadian arts landscape,” Lee Matheson and Dori Tunstall, co-chairs of the Canadian Art Foundation board, and board member Gabe Gonda, said in their statement. (As well as serving on the foundation’s board, Gonda is managing director of corporate development at The Globe and Mail.)
Canadian Art had long covered the art-museum and commercial-gallery scenes across the country with artist interviews, exhibition reviews and cultural essays, but it had entered the pandemic in a state of political turmoil. The magazine had become increasingly embroiled in controversy over how to respond to accusations of systemic racism both within its walls and in the art world beyond.
After he stepped down as editor-in-chief in 2019, David Balzer published a scathing critique of both Canadian Art and the cultural establishment in Hyperallergic, an online art magazine based in Brooklyn, N.Y. In that essay, Balzer drew a link between the source of money for cultural institutions and their ability to address racism, arguing that Canadian Art’s need to raise funds from private and corporate donors meant it only paid lip service to anti-racist principles. He described continual tension between the need to please wealthy white donors and the quest to publish politically challenging material in the magazine, saying that staff on the revenue side did not want to see the words “white supremacy” or “colonialism” in articles.
After Balzer’s essay appeared, Jas M. Morgan, the magazine’s former Indigenous editor-at-large, wrote in an open letter to the board that Balzer and other managers supported the role in theory but not in practice, and cited the magazine’s need to address its “institutional racism and inequity.”
When the Black Lives Matter movement came to the fore in 2020, the magazine made a renewed commitment to anti-racism and put the word “interim” in front of the job titles of senior staffers, including the new editor-in-chief Jayne Wilkinson, saying it was reimagining its structure.
However, before it could do that, financial losses became too great and it was forced to lay off 12 staffers last April. The magazine, which published a quarterly print edition of longer articles and maintained a newsy website, was a charity only partly funded by subscriptions and some government grants, and it lost income from advertising, corporate sponsorships and in-person events during the pandemic.
Last June, all of its board, aside from Matheson, Tunstall and Gonda, resigned, in theory stepping aside so that a fresh group could shake up the magazine’s structure. In a statement at that time, the board said it needed “to assess new business models and organizational structures that would be both financially viable and reflective of our commitments to the principles of decolonization, diversity, equity and inclusion … We also fully acknowledge that the charity has failed in its attempts to address these principles in a meaningful way in its operations.”
In Tuesday’s statement, the board said the windup would preserve the organization’s charitable status while donating a single copy of every previous issue to the Art Gallery of Ontario for safekeeping.
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