Manager, Olio Arts Co-operative
Interviewed by Stuart Hertzog
October 26, 2010
- Why did you decide to incorporate Olio Arts as a co-operative?
- What about Internet, because video and Internet seem to combine nicely?
- How many members do you have and in what media are they working?
- Do you and the co-op relate to what has been called Community Media?
- Would something like a Victoria Community Media Arts Centre interest you?
Why did you decide to incorporate Olio Arts as a co-operative?
We started the process little over two years ago. I’d been a screen printer for quite a while, occasionally buying small pieces of screen-printing equipment. Then a larger set became available so I jumped on it, and it lived in my living room for several months. That was when my partner Amy Wilson and I started seriously pursuing the co-operative prospect.
The idea had been fermenting for a while to establish a gallery or a work space where many printers or artists in general could have access to equipment and space, with each person contributing proportionally. This lead us to become a co-operative, and things kind of aligned uncommonly well. We found about a space that was opening up, which is the one we’re in now, and at least the organisational elements came together really well from the outset.
it wasn’t easy when we got to the space, it was in quite a bad state of disrepair. We put a lot of time and money into it, and money was particularly tight at the time. But the idea seemed to resonate well. People seemed to understand it immediately so it didn’t take a lot of explanation. The general notion of communally sharing and developing assets had a lot of appeal, that’s what kept us going.
We’ve been open for about two years now and its starting to go really well. The last six months have been very busy. We’re finding that we’re pretty well integrated into a lot of communities, so people recognise us and we’re more able to help people, once they know our name and what we do.
I’m a director at CineVic, and one of the things that’s gone really well for us is that we don’t just do visual art or screen printing. We try to combine media. We have an annual silent film night evening where we invite local musicians to score the films. I used to play a lot of music and I’m a big film fan so that has been a really wonderful amalgam of the two. We’re found that we have a lot of success when we try to get out of one specific format, one specific interest.
What about Internet, because video and Internet seem to combine nicely?
Yes, the Internet has been huge in getting people familiar with us and the art and events that have come out of the space. Its been the big help. It’s always really hard to tell, because we put out information and some of it comes back in the form of interest or attendance in workshops or events, so it’s hard to tell which are the main catalysts in terms of a decent return. But inarguably, the Internet and New Media have been primary.
I was a holdout from Facebook for quite a long time, and when I finally did cave in was only when I had to moderate the co-op’s Facebook page. I was struck by how effective it was at getting small snippets of information out to people and immediately generating interest. We try and do posters and lots of print media for just about everything we do, yet often Facebook and our HTML mailing lists generate the more substantial promotional returns.
We find that to the key to getting information out to the largest number of people is to not stay stuck in one medium or outlet. It also makes us happier!
How many members do you have and in what media are they working?
We have to do a count soon, but it’s probably around 60. We don’t deal with people constantly, but on a project-to-project or month-to-month basis. If they’re doing a screen-printing project they’ll come in and use the space maybe three times in a week for two or three weeks, then we won’t see them for a couple of months. Some members come in regularly if they’re really busy. At any given time, a quarter to a third of the registry are active members who come in once a week or every two weeks.
We’ve been really happy with the diversity of disciplines of people choosing to use the space. A few people come in to do voice rehearsal, or a yoga class, and there’s a few people that practice some kind of music. But painting and print-making predominate, that’s the big imperative because that’s the niche we set out to satisfy.
There are not many print-makers in town but we’ve been steadily building up for three years and people recognise us for it, which is nice, so we’re getting more people coming to us for screen printing. Some people come in for the print equipment; others just come in to enjoy the art space and the quiet. They just draw in their notebooks for a couple of hours, or paint.
Do you and the co-op relate to what has been called Community Media?
‘Community media’ is a very broad term, maybe I don’t understand exactly what it means. I get my information from all over the place, I have absolutely no reliance on larger-scale media, it’s not typically something that comes into my radar. My understanding of community media is smaller-scale dissemination of information, I suppose — which is good. Reliance on single sources of media is probably the enemy of accuracy. It seems that so much of the larger-scale media is political nowadays, which is extremely unfortunate in that politics takes up so much real-estate in everyone’s lives and attention.
I don’t know how it got that way or why were are being told that it warrants constant attention, but that seems to be the really divisive thing in centralised media. I picked up the Globe and Mail the other day, and there’s no question that it’s a biased publication, I would be shocked if they even made any pretense about not being a biased publication. It’s very right-wing, you can tell that they’re of a specific school, you can tell which specific parties they are supporting. There’s a very transparent agenda there for anyone who is able to read more than one or two layers into any amount of information.
At the same time, slightly local outlets of larger media, like the Times-Colonist, seem to have a bit more sway. I remember six or seven years ago they were a fairly right-wing publication, but now they seem to be not necessarily quite the opposite. They’re definitely not a liberal publication by any means, and it’s kind of discouraging how much all of these publications either contribute to or make their money off of gauging the temperature of the town and the popular policy of the day. I don’t think that any of them have any kind of long-term vision. In their business, the story has about eight hours to come out and be relevant, and I notice that many things go through their lens unchecked.
Would something like a Victoria Community Media Arts Centre interest you?
Yes, definitely. I think that particularly over the last year, many people in Victoria are really starting to really understand the unique disparity and lack of a really distinct community among non-profits. I attribute it to the fact that everyone is doing their own thing, everyone is really busy, and that makes perfect sense.
But I do know that especially in the Arts community, in any community, any notion of a singular community is an approximation. Even within the Arts community there really are communities, and even within those communities there are individual pockets and cliques, so any way of really bridging that disparity and getting more people more aware of things that other people are doing.
As for us, whoever is doing the moving and the shaking should stop and be more aware of what other people are doing as well. Everyone is trying to promote their own activities and initiatives, and that makes perfect sense. There’s no reason not to be doing that. But I think there’s a lot more awareness lately that the extra effort of being involved in making other people aware of your initiatives, can kind of carry on to an awareness of what other people are working on.
Thank you, Stuart.