Associate Director of Connexion ARC steps down after three inspiring years.
By Matt Carter @m_j_c73
Sophia Bartholomew sits on a green coach surrounded by clean, white walls inside Connexion ARC’s gallery space at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. There are no exhibits on display this week. Like the centre itself, Bartholomew is between projects. She plans to step down as the centre’s associate director at the end of the month.
Together with Executive Director John Cushnie and a dedicated group of volunteers, Bartholomew spent the past three years breathing new life into the city’s only artist-run centre, challenging new audiences to consider the role art plays within their lives and the different ways a multifaceted arts centre could benefit the greater community.
“I once heard a curator speak and she was saying how we talk about the public as if it’s a static thing but audiences are not a pre-existing thing,” said Bartholomew. “Everything you do, whether it’s a theatre production or an art exhibition is going to bring a different audience into being. As a small arts organisation, I think we’ve been successful in building a community so we have a base of people that will come out and support most of the programming. But different artists or different projects are going to be compelling to different people as well, so there’s also this idea of bringing a new audience into formation with everything that we do. You’re not always speaking to a static group of people.”
Building on ideas that began to take shape while the centre was still operating inside the Chestnut Complex on York Street, Bartholomew and Cushnie began their working relationship by questioning the centre’s purpose and how its role needed to evolve to include new opportunities for future audiences to engage in the centre’s work.
“Connexion is not unlike other artist run centres in Canada where they had adapted a schedule based around four exhibitions a year,” she said. “When I came on, I had a conversation with John about why we operated this way. We had some good exhibitions that had been programmed by people who came before us, but part of what we wanted was to find a meaningful audience here. We wanted to spend more time trying to connect with the community.”
As with most arts organisations operating today, audience development for Connexion ARC is a major priority.
“I was asking questions like, why do we exist? Why do we matter? Who do we matter to?”
Over the past three years the centre has increased its music programming, welcoming local and touring acts for intimate performances ranging from avant-garde to pop. And this winter they will welcome a series of local artists in residence. Together with increased attention given to the work of local artists and the interests of the greater community, Connexion ARC is once again serving a broad range of roles within the city’s art scene.
“We returned to the mandate of the organisation which was really emphasising emerging artists, emerging projects, experimental media and work that has political and social concerns,” said Bartholomew. “Four exhibitions a year wasn’t something we felt was most conducive to fulfilling our mandate.
“We had a really great series in partnership with the Playhouse that paired the work of a New Brunswick artist with an artist from outside of the province, creating conversations between different people. Since moving to Charlotte Street we’ve done a lot of artist talks and screening of video work. I think in the last year we did three residencies.”
As she prepares to move forward with her career, Bartholomew’s tenure as associate director can largely be defined by the community involvement projects she helped initiate. Her contribution helped shape one of the most exciting chapters in the centre’s 31-year history by redefining how an artist run centre can (and should) contribute to the ongoing dialogue of the city’s arts community.
“I’m proud of the partnership programming we did with the Playhouse and our Open Programming Meetings where we essentially opened the planning and programming up to a committee of whoever is interested. We’ll have four local artists in residence over the winter and that was something that came about through these meetings.
“It’s been really inspiring to work with different artists in the city,” she said. “My interest in artist run centres is how everyone is trying to work on their own work, but also supporting each other and trying to make things happen. You can do impossible things when you’re working together.”