Remembering 2017, Becka Viau recalls,
"Before Art in the Open that year, we had rallied a cultural alliance together on PEI to try to stand up for the arts because we got hacked by the government. And then all of a sudden it was Art in the Open, and then Flotilla, and then the government was like, 'Wow! We love contemporary art!' We were about to have a cultural blackout day. It became a much more key and impactful time on PEI than we would have ever anticipated, from the way things moved naturally."
Becka Viau and Associates presented two major back-to-back showcases which provided presentation opportunities, networking, residency, mentorship for artists on PEI. “By the end of September,” Viau said, “I feel like Island artists were either exhausted or ready to jump into a studio, it was a very ideal time for the Vessel to become a possibility.” this town is small , PEI’s only artist-run centre, received core funding last year from Canada Council in which Viau says “I think that’s directly connected to their success in partnering with Flotilla”.
“I am interested to know how the journey of Flotilla has impacted administration within artist-run culture on the East Coast. I know it's impacted PEI, because everybody saw it happen and now it's being acknowledged."
— Becka Viau
There is no doubt that Flotilla has boosted support for the arts from both the public and the provincial government of PEI. The increased visibility it gave artists and organizations around the Atlantic region had a lasting impact, highlighting smaller centres that operate within the Atlantic. A large number of Flotilla’s participating artists from the Atlantic region including Jordan Bennett, Meagan Musseau, Lindsay Dobbin, Russell Louder, and Alexis Bulman & Norma Jean MacLean have received substantial national and international recognition and success over the past year. Hundreds of visiting directors, curators, and cultural workers were exposed to the excellent work that artists and smaller organizations in this region produce that otherwise would go unnoticed on a national/international scale.
"The Warren was a really important part of Flotilla. It’s what helped keep the balance between the systems of artist-run centres taking over too much, because we had that alternative presence of the Warren--it was pirate radio, it was this cultural pavilion that also had public performance that wasn't plan. It wasn't an organization, it was a curated piece that really pulled away ... but they collaborated with the city directly."
— Becka Viau
During Flotilla, the National Capital Commission was in Charlottetown when the Floating Warren was being built, and representative from the NCC toured the Warren with Becka Viau and curator Zach Gough. This federal Crown corporation oversees the conservation of colonially claimed and unceded land, considering itself the “principal steward of nationally significant public places.” For Viau, Flotilla “mash[ed] together artist-run culture, which really pushes, and is opening up space for and holding space for the development of reconciliation” with the NCC and provincial government. Following Flotilla, a proposal has been submitted to build a temporary wharf similar to the Floating Warren, which could host a summer residency with this town is small. Viau attests that “Flotilla opened up the city’s mind in a way to understand contemporary art in a way they didn’t before.” In the heat of Canada150 at the birthplace of Confederation, Flotilla became a site of intervention and disruption which hosted key players in Canada’s nation building project. She says that at the time, “the city felt really important, politically.”
Flotilla aimed to provide export opportunities for Island artists and curators who have limited opportunities for exchange with broader Canadian art publics. At Flotilla, this town is small premiered the Idea Market, a curatorial project which paired visitors with local contemporary artists based on PEI, in order to facilitate exchange in engaged discourse in a friendly and accessible way. After Flotilla, curators Monica Lacey and Sandi Hartling were invited to restage the project with New Brunswick artists at Going Critical, the ArtsLinkNB forum in 2017. By applying the curatorial model to multiple artistic contexts in the Atlantic, this town expanded their reach due to the momentum of Flotilla.
Flotilla’s model of decentralization lead to the need to collaborate with Charlottetown landlords and local business owners. One of the landlords approached by Becka Viau owned several storefront spaces within the same city block that they allowed Atlantis to use during Flotilla. The temporary activation of these otherwise vacant spaces demonstrated a vibrancy within the immediate neighbourhood. Several storefronts were made available through this relationship, hosting an installation by Charles Campbell (Or Gallery and the Confederation Centre Art Gallery), The Nautilus Bookstore (Or Gallery), Free Store (Art City), and an installation by Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay & Life of a Craphead (Struts Gallery). These venues hosted free workshops, karaoke nights, performance art, book readings, artist talks, and countless other events. Furthermore, local restaurants and small businesses, many of whom were tenants of this landlord, benefitted directly from a boost in patronage from the hundreds of visiting delegates, artists, organizers, and attendees of Flotilla.
“I think there were some gaps closed with the city and their understanding of what contemporary art practice can do to a community, and the vibrancy of downtown. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Art in the Open … had a much higher corporate sponsorship outcome … probably because of the visibility of contemporary art during Flotilla.”
— Becka Viau
The connections made between the PEI arts community and the landlords and local businesses have continued to flourish as a result of Flotilla. The landlord who supplied spaces for flotilla on Great George Street continued to partner with Viau after Flotilla in order to create The Vessel, an all-female creation space and artist gathering space, which currently hosts seven Island artists and various music events, and community gatherings such as focus groups for the Interministerial Women’s Secretariat’s Council on the Status of Women.
Viau attests that physical space is still a need for arts organizations like this town is small, which relies on community partnerships to exhibit. The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) has significantly impacted the availability of spaces in downtown Charlottetown, and led to a continuous cycle of vacancies in ground-level storefronts, which remain inaccessible to arts organizations. The PNP provided an incentive for migrants to move to PEI to create businesses and be awarded permanent residency when they land, and the program was controversial in a small province like PEI because it filled all vacant spaces quickly, and many businesses never opened. In September 2018, the province announced that it is shutting down the immigration entrepreneur program, which prioritizes wealthy applicants, and has failed to retain new residents and businesses amid two cases of immigration fraud. Viau attests that one PNP business had moved into the space which once hosted Or Gallery’s popup bookstore at Flotilla, but the space has since become vacant.
Since Flotilla, Viau has been hired multiple times by the government to run and administrate various programs, and while there still isn’t an arts council on PEI, she’s been working with cultural development and educational initiatives in the provincial government. The province of PEI released its Culture Action Plan in the months following Flotilla in order to reinvest in the arts and cultural industries, and Viau attests that while Flotilla isn’t mentioned in the Action Plan due to its concurrent timing, “Flotilla has been used as a success story here, politically.”