For The Art-Conscious, The Ministry of Artistic Affairs
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For The Art-Conscious, The Ministry of Artistic Affairs

The Ministry of Artistic Affairs’ logo.

On a rainy Thursday in Toronto, a group of individuals gathered at the Stephen Bulger Gallery at Queen and Ossington. The second installment of The Ministry of Artistic Affairs was about to start. On the cultural menu? Hearing Bulger describe and decode the current exhibit of vintage National Geographic photographs, followed by an Ed Burtynsky film, Manufactured Landscapes, in the adjacent Camera Bar. Bulger’s personal introduction focused on how a photography exhibit comes about, as well as on the hoops photographers had to jump through to take breathtaking landscapes in years past. Many photos of caves, Bulger explained in one example, were taken in complete darkness, and so the photographer would have to run around the cave with emergency lights to generate just the right exposure of their subject.
Without the Ministry, it’s doubtful that most gallery visitors would learn details like those on their own.

The Ministry of Artistic Affairs is Toronto’s new Orwellian-named program providing art fans with the opportunity to learn about contemporary art and meet similarly minded people. For an annual membership fee of $150, the Ministry provides access to a series of near-monthly events such as interactive insider talks, studio visits with established artists and notable collectors, film screenings, tours led by acknowledged art consultants, and artist dialogues, along with more spontaneous parties and events. Members—I’m one of them as of earlier this month—will soon receive discounts to Queen West staples like Magic Pony and The Drake General Store, not to mention slick membership cards. Trinkets aside, though, the goal of the Ministry is to provide a unique insight into the art world through a series of informative, interactive, and unpretentious events.
The Ministry, developed by Show & Tell Gallery founder Simon Cole and independent curator Randy Gladman, was soft-launched in April at an intimate meet-and-greet with New York–based collagist Greg Lamarche. In a small group of would-be Ministers, Greg shared his artistic processes and motivations behind many of his pieces, adding the kind of warm touches—Lamarche was a little nervous, very sincere, and entirely unrehearsed—that are often missing from the bombastic and (somewhat) impersonal gallery openings. Ministry provided the accepting atmosphere, where visitors were welcome to soak in the art, have a tasty bite courtesy of Belly, and meet one another (and the artist).

Greg Lamarche, “Shard” (top) and “Nothing But Trouble” (bottom), 2010.

“We felt that there was a need to educate a younger crowd about contemporary art in Toronto,” tells Cole. With Gladman, Cole also brought on board Noah Earle, owner of the Able creative agency, “because he is a very creative young collector, and someone who understands the need for a group such as this,” continued Simon. The trio relied on the first members’ word-of-mouth to spread the news about the Ministry, and there are now more than fifty members. Gladman’s solid roots in the North American art arena (he earned an MFA from NYU, and worked and lived in New York for five years) have helped make him instrumental in creating opportunities for members to learn and experience art in novel ways: his vision for the Ministry includes a field trip to New York, complete with gallery crawls and group dinners.
The idea is to keep it fun and exciting, to add to budding art collectors’ and art connoisseurs’ explorations of the local art scene, and above all, to encourage people to be confident in their own taste. With the help of the Ministry, there may yet be hope for more open, warm, and inspiring art circles in our city.
Learn about the Ministry of Artistic Affairs here. The next Ministry event is on June 22, from 7–9 p.m., to hear director David Liss discuss his newest curatorial effort, examining ways in which society interacts with its built surroundings.

CORRECTION: MAY 28, 2010 This article originally called the owner of the Able creative agency as Noah Able: in fact, Noah’s last name is Earle. Torontoist regrets the error.