Collaboration is a Double Edged Sword:

Flotilla’s Sprawling Structure

By Michael McCormack

Early Flotilla team structure. Visual by Anna Keenan, 2017.

Early Flotilla team structure. Visual by Anna Keenan, 2017.

The overall structure of Flotilla was extremely complex, and required a high level of collaboration and flexibility from all our teams. Throughout all stages of planning, we remained committed to spontaneity, encouraging participating artists and organizations to follow through with the same flexible, responsive programming initiatives. It was messy, but fresh with new ideas. It kept us humble, and open to learning through failure, while creating new pathways that lead to long term relationships and new projects.

Flotilla’s steering committee consisted of representatives from artist-run centres throughout the Atlantic, and one advisory member from a previous national conference in Vancouver; Amanda Fauteux (Struts & Faucet), Donnalee Downe (this town is small), Annie France Noël (Galerie Sans Nom), Barb Crawford (Third Space), Jason Wells (Eastern Edge), Jennifer Bélanger (Imago), Katie Belcher (Atlantis & Eyelevel), Nisk Imbeault (independent), John Murchie (independent), Ryan Suter (Struts & Faucet), and Allison Collins (Western Front). The steering committee met periodically with Becka Viau who would delegate and relay information to Flotilla’s core team. They were tasked by Atlantis to initiate the visioning process for Flotilla, write the initial Flotilla concept, and hiring the Project Managers. Katie Belcher (Atlantis & Eyelevel) offered significant support coordinating grant writing and financials, and she acted as the key liaison between the Atlantis board and the core team. The steering committees membership, much like our artist-run community, was scattered in smaller centres throughout the four Atlantic provinces, and only had the opportunity to meet face to face once per year. Working towards Flotilla involved meeting regularly through skype and phone meetings leading up to the point where they hired Becka Viau as the Project Manager.    

Flotilla’s curatorial team was led by Artistic Director Michael McCormack and consisted of curators and artists from across the Atlantic, many of whom had direct experience with artist-run centres in the region; Raven Davis, Michael Eddy, John Murchie, Mary MacDonald, Elise-Anne Laplante, Pan Wendt and Zachary Gough. Together they met regularly over skype to build program content for grant proposals, design calls for submissions and invitations, review applications, and discuss logistical and conceptual compatibility of each project with one another. Because of the large volume of projects happening simultaneously, it was necessary that the curatorial team each worked on their own section of programming. Each curator took on projects that were selected by the committee as a whole in response to two public calls, one for organizational collaborators, and the other for individual artists or artistic collaborators. The Flotilla curatorial team worked together to help one another when they needed guidance, but for the most part were individually responsible for a group of projects that they agreed to lead.

Flotilla was driven by a core team that worked on an ongoing basis on all aspects of the evenet management. Becka Viau (Project Lead) managed the core team, liaised with ARCA and the Atlantis Steering Committee, managed the overall budget, built relationships on the group with community members, landlords and funders, human resource management, and multiple other tasks. Michael McCormack (Artistic Director) was a part of the initial grant writing and fundraising, and he formed and lead the curatorial team, while curating a significant number of events at Flotilla. Beth Lassaline (Event Manager) lead Flotilla’s marketing, registration, fundraising, and volunteer team. Brandon Hood and Patrick Brunet (Assistant Event Managers) organized installation, technical, and logistical support on the ground, assisting with construction of the docks, performance spaces and installations. Amanda Shore (Programming Coordinator) managed all communications with presenters and artists, wrote grant applications and reports, and developed the safe(r) spaces and access policies. Pan Wendt (Curatorial Consultant) was a key liaison at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery who worked on the initial Flotilla curatorial framework, and built local and international connections that bolstered our programming. In the year and a half leading up to Flotilla, our core team was interspersed between a main office in Charlottetown, and an office in Eyelevel in Halifax, where Atlantis is headquartered. It was advantageous to have feet on the ground in two places at once, but this also presented major logistical challenges when we needed to meet with funders, visualize spatial programming, and work closely with colleagues from afar. For teams that are used to working in community-driven local arts spheres, it was essential for us to mobilize new administrative procedures, communication tools, and cloud data storage in order to work together from a distance.

Event management would at times be choppy due to this distance, and in order to regroup and fuse together ideas, we scheduled two 3-day face to face meetings in Charlottetown. At these meetings, the core team and event managers were led by professional facilitator Anna Keenan, who helped to capture and visualize the physical and conceptual network of events and exhibitions that would take place at Flotilla. Running a decentered conference with a decentered team structure involved starting from the ground up, to forge new relationships with facilities, governments, funders, hotels, local businesses, and organizations for the first time, having never worked with them on such a project before. The connections made during this process were invaluable, and though they required harder work on the ground, have opened up new working relationships that will mutually benefit both the regional arts community and their partnering organizations and businesses on a long-term basis.

Flotilla’s Project Manager worked with a geographically-dispersed Core Team, Curatorial Team, and Steering Committee. This was not unusual for anyone working in artist-run centres in the Atlantic region, and in some ways it has its advantages. The Atlantic region consists of many overlapping Indigenous territories, linguistic groups, cultural histories, and sociopolitical contexts. Having committee members dispersed across the region helped bring together a decentralised perspective.

The Burgess Report, as well as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have identified that the Atlantic has consistently has suffered from austerity measures and government cuts, with PEI as the most affected. Decades of poor funding for the arts in all four provinces have made Atlantic Canadian artists and arts organizations some of the lowest arts organizations in the country. With limited funds from each individual Atlantic province, Flotilla was forced to apply for small pockets of funding from economically stretched arts councils and governments with limited arts funding. Since the event was taking place on PEI, we had to make an argument of why it was important for Nova Scotian arts funders to fund an event happening in another province. “Why not have it in Nova Scotia?” and “PEI doesn’t even have an Arts Council!” were some of the many replies we faced when advocating for export opportunities for Atlantic artists.

We were, on the other hand, able to utilize the presence of a sprawled team to gain access to funds that were otherwise unavailable to any one province. We were able to secure small amounts of funding from each province, and set a precedent for what could be possible in the Atlantic. While the funding sources for an event of this scale were difficult to access, Flotilla aimed to show funders the value inter-provincial exchange for Atlantic artists.