I’d like to start by posting an article I wrote for Inside Mississauga, the magazine I used to co-publish between 2003 and 2005. It’s a couple of years old, but it’s a good summation of my interest in improving awareness of and access to art in Mississauga. In working with art in the suburbs, I became extremely turned off by elitist/privileged institutions and organizations (particularly those in Toronto) who were more interested in keeping the “wrong” people out than letting their offerings impact as many people as possible. In this piece I tried to address the three primary apprehensions that Mississauga residents had when their fear of art overpowered their curiosity to explore it: education, money and “worthiness.”
These concerns raise a whole slew of other concerns, like what is “cool,” anyway? What constitutes an individual as appropriate for belonging in/to a particular place or subculture? What is the nature of self-segregation? How do these issues differ in metropolitan and suburban environments?
I have much more to say on the subject but I’ll save it for later. Without further ado, here it is.
How To Visit An Art Gallery
Visiting an art gallery sure seems easy enough, but you may or may not be surprised by the way in which people become messes of insecurity and uncertainty at the mere thought of visiting an art gallery. Especially an art gallery in Mississauga.
While art in general has always reeked of pretension and elitism, it is my experience that this kind of stigma usually rings true only in big-city art scenes. While Mississauga is certainly a growing city and many may in fact deem it “big,” this city here has an advantage over our neighbouring metropolis: The art scene here is entirely friendly. And welcoming. And the only thing Mississauga galleries want, essentially, is for you, Mississauga’s pleasant and average citizen, to step inside and simply enjoy what is there.
So let’s dispel the myth of art-snobbery, at least within the bounds of Mississauga.
YOU DON’T NEED TO BE A SCHOLAR
It’s true! You don’t need to be equipped with eight years of art history experience! Nor are you required to recite an abbreviated biography of the exhibiting artist(s) in order to gain admission! All you need to step foot into a Mississauga gallery is, at least, some level of curiosity and sometimes, an open mind. And if you don’t understand any of it, don’t worry! You aren’t the only one. If it kills you not to know, you can ask gallery staff who will be happy to offer their insights regarding the exhibited work, and if it doesn’t make a difference to you whether you get it or not, keeping to yourself and admiring the aesthetic quality of the work on the wall is a perfectly acceptable practice.
YOU DON’T NEED TO BE RICH
There isn’t a single gallery in Mississauga that expects everyone who walks in to walk out after signing a check for a $50,000 oil painting. Atiya Ahsan, owner of The Learning Club and Fine Art Gallery in Streetsville, says that “less than 3 per cent” of visitors purchase original pieces, though these numbers do vary from gallery to gallery. She also notes that the work displayed in her gallery is usually priced between $150 and $2000, which is nowhere even close to $50,000! Even though collectively, Mississauga galleries show millions of dollars worth of paintings, photographs and a broad range of prints by both emerging and established artists, they won’t even charge you a penny to come in and look at it. That’s right! At most Mississauga galleries, admission is absolutely free. That means you can walk in, take in what you will of the experience of viewing art, and leave along with your $50,000.
YOU DON’T NEED A COOL HAIRCUT
In fact, you can go into any Mississauga gallery wearing stirrup pants and a Terrier t-shirt and no one will even blink an eye. No one here cares if you’re cool, or if you look like you might “know something” about art. Quit making a fuss over yourself and get thee to a gallery.
The fact about most Mississauga galleries is that their staff is truly community-minded and their biggest goal is to make art accessible enough for you to enjoy without hassle or discomfort and, best of all, for free. If it sounds like a great deal, it’s because it is one. Mississauga boasts an extremely diverse arts community, rich with technique and talent, and it’s available right before your eyes for nothing – you won’t even get a look-at-her-Terrier-shirt snicker. All you have to do is go out and find it – and with the growing number of arts resources in Mississauga, that shouldn’t be too difficult either.
Originally published in Inside Mississauga, Volume 2, Issue 7, April/May 2005.