Lately I read an article in the Globe and Mail that made me think about the relationship between artists and the Winter Olympics.
On 18 January 2008 the exhibition “Exponentional Future” opened at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.
Among the exhibition’s artwork is a photograph, contribution of artist Alex Morrison, showing three masked men shaking their fists. A huge flag imprinted with the Olympic circles is partly visible in the background.
The photograph became famous in March 2007 when an anti-Olympic group, The Native Warriors, claimed the theft of the huge Olympic flag that had previously been flying at Vancouver City Hall. The claim was published online along with the photograph in question.
The curators of Exponential Future, Scott Watson and Juan Gaitán, were eventually placed in the dilemma of freedom of expression and the fact that the exhibition as part of the Cultural Olympiad was funded by Vanoc.
They decided to inform Vanoc that a potentially Olympics critical photograph will be exhibited and send a letter to each artist making them aware of the exhibition being funded by Vancouver’s Olympic committee, and giving them the opportunity to withdraw.
As a result, Vanoc permitted the exhibition of the challenging photograph and no artist withdrew.
One might interpret the artists’ attitude as unanimous consent to the Games but another obvious explanation might be that many artists just can’t permit themselves to bite the hand that feeds them, no matter how starvingly small the food rations are.
Of course, in terms of protest artists still have the possiblity to create Olympic critical art, even though those possibilities are restricted by Vanoc’s copyright over the symbols and language linked with the Olympics.
However, imagine the incomparably bigger impact local artists could have by refusing to take part in the Cultural Olympiade.
Local artists play a crucial part in Vanoc’s and the city’s policy to advertise the Games and the city itself. Their refusal would truly bring public attention to their needs and their increasingly severe problems like the lack of affordable studio space or not enough public funding, especially for non-commercialized art projects.