Union Gallery accused of mistreating student artists

BFA alum talks open letter and bad experiences with campus gallery

Union Gallery.
Credit: 
Photo by Tessa Warburton

In a signed letter, BFA alumni say Union Gallery is unsupportive and disrespectful to student artists.

On May 8, Kaitlyn Hollander posted an open letter addressed to the Union Gallery—signed by herself and six other fine arts grads—to her Facebook page.

The letter listed a number of claims detailing the ways she and other fine arts students say they’ve been treated by the Union Gallery throughout their time at Queen’s.

Among these claims were “violation of artist copyright” and “removal of artist intentions.”

Some students were unwilling to sign the letter because they’re still in school, have worked on the gallery board of directors, or rely on the gallery as one of few places on campus where they can show their work.  

Hollander claims these conflicts of interest deterred more students from signing the open letter.

Now graduated, Hollander hopes her open letter will help improve the relationship between students and the gallery by ensuring that future artists are treated “fairly” and their work is represented as they intend it to be.

In the letter’s address, Hollander writes, “[f]or the sake of the Union Gallery and its future operations, these issues must [be] brought to light and dealt with.”

The issues Hollander had with Union Gallery that prompted her to sit down to write the open letter were two-fold.

In the fall of 2018, it had been over a year since Hollander worked with the gallery—until her artwork was used in the advertisements for Cezanne’s Closet, an annual fundraising event run by the Union Gallery.

The event raises money to fund the gallery’s operations. All submitted artwork is donated and artists receive no compensation. This is no surprise to the artists when they hand over their work, but Hollander’s surprise came when she saw her art being used—without her permission—on an advertisement for the event.

When Hollander contacted the director of Union Gallery, Jocelyn Purdie, to talk about it, she says she was asked to leave the gallery.

When reached for an interview by The Journal, Purdie declined. Instead, she provided a emailed written statement.

“She was incredibly unresponsive, told me it was good exposure, and all these things that when you work in art, you hear them from people trying to take advantage of you,” Hollander told The Journal.

Hollander says the call for submissions form is not a contract and doesn’t ask permission to use the artwork for advertisements or anything besides the event itself. 

“Basically, [Jocelyn Purdie] thought I had signed a contract saying they could use it, but Cezanne’s Closet only has a submissions form, which is far from a contract,” Hollander explained.

The second instance that prompted Hollander to write the open letter happened two days later.

While participating in a Union Gallery show, her artist’s statement was printed with information she didn’t intend to be included. She knew her statement might be edited, but she believed this was limited to spelling and grammar corrections.

Jocelyn Purdie told The Journal in an email that the gallery holds the right to edit statements to “meet a standard for clarity of content, grammar, spelling and length.” 

Hollander’s statement however, was edited to include information that she sent the gallery in an email separate from her pre-written submitted statement.

“I sent them an email, I didn’t say explicitly ‘please do not edit my statement,’ but I said I think it is best if we leave it as it is and I sent a long list of reasons why my statement didn’t have a lot of content in it,” Hollander told The Journal.

The statement was changed anyway, she says.

In her email to The Journal, Purdie said the gallery helps students to develop professional skills and that it “does not require or insist that BFA students take advantage of the opportunities provided.” 

She said that the students who participate in the gallery’s events do so voluntarily, not mandatorily.

Purdie hopes that, “going forward, the gallery will continue to be a resource for students.”

While Hollander acknowledges that not all students have had a negative experience with the gallery, and that it serves an important purpose on campus for fine arts students, her letter asks that the gallery’s operational practices be improved.

She writes that “we need the gallery to grow professionally and develop our own nature in the industry.”

Hollander further states that students’ dependence on the gallery is not one-sided. The gallery depends on student artists too. “[O]ur work is the catalyst to the gallery’s status as a local mainstay of culture and creativity,” she writes.

 If changes in the way the gallery works with students aren’t made, Hollander says the “relationship with the Fine Arts program will continue to deteriorate.”

 

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