SHAPE before the 2019 election
After the SHAPE committee negotiated a successful sale in November 2018, the committee is not very active until after the next election.
Marium states that the “referendum has finally been fulfilled”, which can be challenged on the grounds that the referendum only authorized the sale of art, not necessitated it. It seems these two meetings she reports on have discussions about if they want to sell more art, and how the money will be used. It’s unclear if these conversations had any conclusions.
Chris Hakim chimes in here saying that UBC or Santa Ono may be interested in purchasing (?), but this is never brought up again.
SHAPE in 2019-2020
Chris Hakim is elected AMS president in May of 2019, and thus takes charge of the Shape committee. What follow are his reports to council after he was elected.
Mentions of questioning the sale or thinking about where the money goes are not present as Chris takes the lead.
An “inventory” of the collection has been completed, and the VP Administration team has worked out the value of the pieces. The Heffel Auction house (who else?) is contacted.
As indicated in these minutes and a monthly report I was able to find, the VP Admin (Cole Evans) suggested selling Abandoned Village by E.J. Huges, and Northern Image by Lawren Harris after conversations with Heffel Auction house. This is quite a departure from last year’s SHAPE committee, which specifically avoided works that were gifts and Group of Seven artworks. Here, the committee had “sober second thoughts” and move to discuss alternatives with Heffel Auction house.
The next few mentions are not very eventful.
FEBRUARY 26th, 2020: ART KIDS COME TO COUNCIL
Meanwhile, on February 21st all students registered in the AHVA department receive a “call to action” from the Visual Arts Students’ Association via mass email.
Here, VASA outlines in very clear terms the issues I have been bringing up with the idea of the sale; selling artwork for financial gain is “counter-intuitive” to the ethical standards of maintaining a collection, and that there is no guarantee the profit will be invested in the Hatch are chief among VASA’s list. This email urges AHVA students to show at the council meeting to pressure councilors against the sale of these pieces.
On February 26th, 2020, the minutes note a large amount of students who have responded to VASA’s call.
VP Admin Cole Evans presents the collection, and the sales proposal alongside Hatch Manager Keil Torres and Assistant Manager Yasmine Whaley-Kalaora, and Robert Heffel is also present and mentioned in the presentation.
Cole starts off the presentation with a large amount of confidence, claiming the SHAPE committee has approved selling both Abandoned Village, Rivers Inlet by EJ Hughes and South of the Coppermine by A.Y. Jackson (the latter switched out from the previously mentioned Lawren Harris piece). Cole mentions that “lots of positive” will come fo this, and the Hatch gallery will continue to be supported by the AMS.
Kiel and Yasmine start off with a history of the collection, and then go into their opposition of the sale. They cite a lack of resources for the collection, and how a sale will hinder their strategic plan. The works are argued to be important for the integrity of the collection, and the sale not aligned with the collection’s mandate.
Heffel speaks, highlighting the relationship he has with UBC as well as other people at Heffel, as well as how the sale would follow “best practices”. The lack of transparency, especially towards where the money will go (what happened to the 2018 proceeds?) would say otherwise.
AMS Archivist Sheldon Goldfarb summarizes the rationale behind the sale, but it is worth noting the past year of discussion has had none of this mentioned.
Maxim Greer speaks on behalf of AHVA, signaling the department’s interest in keeping the work and against selling for financial research. The department and the Belkin are interested in assisting taking care of the work.
Chris is keen to refer the motion back to SHAPE, but discussion continues.
Cole Evans notes how “SHAPE has been designed to receive input”, but I’m not sure this is true. The president of VASA and the Hatch Manager are non-voting members, and as James Albers mentions below, the “experts” invited to the meetings were not given a chance to discuss or intervene.
Heffel describes surprise that there was opposition to the sale, which makes sense; the presentations at council that came out of SHAPE had no contestation or discussion amongst councillors.
Chris moves to refer the proposal to SHAPE, meaning the vote to move forward with the sale was deferred. Discussion continues.
Yasmine says that the Hatch managers were not properly consulted before agreeing to the sale, and that they had no chance to sway the vote. Sheldon Goldfarb clarifies that the referendum merely authorized it to sell the art, rather than made it mandatory; this is a misconception that I believe has ran through many of these discussions.
Heffel makes an interesting and slightly bizarre point that the work will be seen more in somebody’s home than if it were kept in the collection, despite the room of students interested enough in the collection to spend an evening in this meeting. He also says that the collection has different guidelines apply to it because it isn’t a museum, but a student collection (as if student collections are a common occurrence with clear deaccessioning guidelines).
Alex Gonzales brings up a great point here concerning the lack of discussion towards the ethics in SHAPE meetings, to which Chris responds that SHAPE was responding directly to a referendum towards the sale of artworks. This was the “main mandate” but what about the other ones, such as fleshing out the question of where proceeds would go? Chris ends the discussion by apologizing to Robert Heffel in an attempt to repair a potentially broken bridge.
Later in the same meeting, Cole Evans moves to further discuss the sale in camera, meaning any non-councilors were to leave the room, and minutes not be recorded. This is to discuss “the process”, but there is no way to know what was said.
POST MORTEM AND FUTURES AHEAD
A mass email to AHVA students updating them on the situation; students were successful in deferring the vote and keeping the work in the collection for now. The email also mentions plans for the Hatch to move forward.
The Ubyssey published an article on March 25th, 2020 written by Charlotte Alden looked at this situation in a holistic way, and sheds more light onto the SHAPE meetings.
The “we cool?” line is revealling towards two very different perceptions of the SHAPE committee and how decisions were going to be made about artwork. There is an evident lack of care and concern for the artwork in this statement.
James describes feeling like there was little point to sway the SHAPE committee, thus prompting Kiel and Yasmine to challenge the sale in Council, and call on the larget community.
Going forward, Yasmine discusses the future of the collection. Curatorially focused guidelines for deaccessioning and acquisitions, something that is seem as mandatory in any other institution, are put forward here. Chris seems to agree that collaboration is the best way forward.
Of course, all of this was now happening as COVID-19 had reached Vancouver, shutting down in-person instruction at UBC and putting a pause on any deaccessioning or other action. The referendum still exists and cannot be overturned without another vote, so for now the AMS still holds power to sell 3 artworks. Current Hatch directors are considering bringing a motion to council that will disband SHAPE, making it more difficult for future art-selling endeavors to exist. Although strategic plans are being built and futures for the collection being imagined, it still hangs in a precarious state.
After the AMS finally sold a painting in 2018, there were considerations for SHAPE to disband, or to consider other options. Marium Hamid felt like the mandate had been "fulfilled", although it seems like the wording of the referendum is not abundantly clear to anybody involved. When Chris Hakim took charge of SHAPE, he understood it quite clearly as being put in place to sell art, and do very little else. Following this mandate it seems like conversations were had between him, the VP Administration office, and Heffel Auction House that were not fully relayed to the Hatch Gallery Staff. At least, when in the same room the Hatch staff did not feel like they could voice their concerns in a way that matters. And so, the Visual Arts community was alerted and called to attend Council and show their opposition. A brief email outlines the ethical qualms of the sale and the process (or lack thereof) of selling artworks from a collection. The resulting council meeting is the most action filled one that I've come across in the research for this project; here, it's apparent that each stakeholder had a wildly different perspective of the situation. The AMS has approached the sale as a purely financial transaction from the beginning, and it seems like the annual turnover of student leaders reduced the level of nuance in dealing with the artwork with each year. By the time we reach 2020, the referendum is seen as an abstract but binding contract to sell the work even though this is far from the truth. Even if it were mandated to sell the work, the AMS seems to have done the bare minimum in terms of community outreach and transparency. Heffel Auction House was the default option, and searching for anything else was not considered. The Hatch managers in 2020 seem to have picked up on this lack of care towards the artwork and the lack of transparency in moving forward with the sale. They approach the collection as something that has value beyond the monetary, and are actively involved in figuring out a new way to deal with the collection in 2020, when the vote is put forward to council. VASA and the larger community felt like it was necessary to intervene; although the collection was rarely seen, it would feel like a huge loss to have these pieces to have left student hands for little than financial rationale. Opposition to selling art has been highlighted in my work since 2012. The topic has been controversial, and it seems like the amount of pushback is dependent on who is in control at the time, and how much information gets out beyond the offices of the AMS. Student government is a tricky thing; it's marred by rapid turnover and things often get forgotten, or slip through the cracks. Even though in 2012 it seemed like the idea of selling art was dead, it re-emerged 5 years later when the memory of that event was largely forgotten (outside of permanent staff like Keith Hester, who has been enthusiastic about cashing in the collection throughout). In this type of political environment, it is no surprise that ideas like curatorial rationale and deaccessioning guidelines are tossed to the side, especially for a student-run gallery with two underpaid and part-time staff. As students and members of our community, it's imperative to hold those in power accountable; to pull up the receipts and ask why they are speaking the way they are, and who is being left out of the conversation. In presenting this information in a way that attempts radical transparency, I hope to be challenging the power structure of the AMS through information, and access to it. There are lots of holes in the story, lots of interviews to be had and documents to be unearthed; there is no singular narrative or definitive history here. There are many voices and potentials for future growth and imagining.