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ArtPontiac at a crossroads

Glen Hartle
Portage du Fort Nov. 9, 2023
Local art association artPontiac held a special meeting on Nov. 8 with a twofold agenda: inform the membership of an existential challenge, and invite them to step up.
ArtPontiac has been around since the early 1990s segueing from a small group of passionate artists into a chartered not-for-profit boasting over one hundred and twenty five members. Over the years it has successfully mounted and run a school of the arts, a studio tour, a gallery and a residency program, among various other activities largely within the community.
Since 2012, they have hosted over 400 students through more than 80 courses or workshops. They have provided space for, and promoted, over 360 artists via exhibitions at the gallery in Portage-du-fort. Association president Cheryl Beillard imports that they have been an integral part of communities on both sides of the Ottawa River for more than thirty years and are recognized as “a driving force for the development of arts and culture” in the region as a whole.
Over the last few years, the tour and residency have fallen off the association’s objectives and they have focused primarily on running galleries both at the Stone School in Portage-du-fort, which doubles as the association’s headquarters, and in various in-situ galleries throughout the region. They have also leaned on activities at the school and a newfound in-house and permanent shop.
Beillard, who has been at the helm for the last two years, led the charge in addressing the membership and interested parties gathered in person and via video link at the meeting. All were clearly vested in what Beillard had to say.
Beillard started by summarizing, generally, the association’s genesis and upbringing before moving into the challenges of the last few years leading artPontiac to the point where they are today.
The gist of her message was clear: the association is at a crossroads and, while severely challenged, she believes that there is a clear way forward.
At the core of things, Beillard indicated that artPontiac has asked for, and was refused, funding relief from the MRC Pontiac to cover the $7,200 rent for the building. This, coupled with dwindling bank reserves and the current trend of difficulty in securing financial influx, has rendered the viability of the association to be called into question.
The majority of annual funding for the association has seemingly come from various grants accorded over the years and these have largely dried up, thanks in part to a reluctance on the part of the various governments to support the association as well as from a lack of dedicated gra,nt-writing expertise from within.
Beillard suggests that “what we are asking for is not something novel. Municipalities generally view supporting art organizations not as a subsidy but as an investment.”
Complicating the picture, continues Beillard, the association has had substantial difficulty in securing participation from the members in the form of volunteerism. For a not-for-profit that relies 100% on volunteer efforts, this is problematic in the extreme.
It should be noted that artPontiac is not alone in this. As reported in THE EQUITY (October 25, Connor Lalande), there is a dearth of volunteers, generally, throughout the region and community groups are struggling everywhere with a lack of participation.
Beillard’s message wasn’t wholly doom and gloom and she intoned that “We can do it.” She envisions a multi-pronged approach to success which relies upon a renewed attention to grant-writing and hinges upon finding a slate of volunteers willing to step up and in. She provided a volunteer signup sheet highlighting a broad list of activities requiring help. “No offer of help is too small”, it starts, and indicates that many of the tasks can be done remotely and in a piecemeal fashion, alleviating the fear that these tasks might be all-consuming.
The association hosts their Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 30 and they hope that members will attend en mass, elect a strong board and be ready to engage in a new frontier.
If you would like to help, volunteer or get more information, contact info@artpontiac.com.

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