“Why are we saving All these artist publications + Other Galleries stuffs?” The Emergence of Artist-Run Culture in Halifax

22 January – 17 April, 2016

Postcard invitation to opening of Peggy’s Cove Syndrome group exhibition, November 30, 1974, Eyelevel Gallery fonds, MS-3-35, Box 40, Folder 4

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Canadian artists began to self-organize and establish independent spaces for creating and presenting contemporary art. These spaces were called “parallel galleries” or “alternative spaces” and are now known as artist-run centres. Halifax is home to some of the oldest artist-run centres in the country: between 1970 and 1975, Charlotte Townsend-Gault organized the artist-run Mezzanine Gallery at NSCAD. In 1972, a group of female artists established the Inventions Gallery, but the gallery closed after a fire in 1973. A few former members of Inventions Gallery collaborated to found Eye Level Gallery in 1974. The burgeoning interest in video and installation art led to the establishment of Centre for Art Tapes (CFAT) in 1978. 

The emergence of artist-run culture is part of a larger historical narrative of 1960s counterculture, cultural policy debates, and widespread interest in communications and technology. This exhibition explores the formative years of artist-run culture in Halifax, from 1970 through the mid-1980s, by presenting posters and invitations from the Mezzanine Gallery fonds, Eyelevel Gallery fonds, and the Centre for Art Tapes fonds in an integrated chronology. The order is periodically disrupted by thematic groupings of textual records and ephemera clustered around quotations from these early archival documents that capture the growing pains and aspirations of this nascent culture.

“Why are we saving All these artist publications + Other Galleries stuffs?” is the only question scrawled on a list of Eyelevel Gallery members present at a board meeting sometime in 1979. There is no record of an ensuing conversation (unless it remains to be discovered among the linear metres of administrative records). The exhibition will also feature a temporary Archives Room with the archives of Eyelevel Gallery and the Centre for Art Tapes presented in the way in which they are permanently stored in the Dalhousie University Archives. These materials will be available for supervised consultation on Tuesdays and Fridays from 12 to 4 p.m. Visitors are invited to perform research in the gallery and craft their own answer to this everlasting question.

Eyelevel Gallery and the Centre for Art Tapes have been invited to present contemporary programming alongside this historical retrospective, which complements The Last Art College: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design 1968-1978 exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.