Ottawa
2 min

Indecent proposal

Are city councillors targetting gay content in the arts?

City council appears tobe taking an unusual interest in the arts, particularly the work of queer artists, and not in a positive way.



Most recently, an invitation for proposals from “performers of all sexual perversions” has been singled out for attention.



Local organizers of Vazaleen – a queer art and dance party to be held at Club SAW on Sep 10 – dispatched an invitation in early August. It called for submissions by artists and performers, including everything “from radical drag performances to explicit photography, no projects will go unconsidered!”



“[City councillors] received a letter. An anonymous letter purported to be from someone involved with SAW Gallery, seeming to be upset that this event was taking place,” explains Knoxdale-Merivale councillor Gord Hunter. “It included a flier, inviting people to audition to be part of this exhibition and some of the things that they were suggesting seemed to be flouting the laws, as I understand them, of what you call, you know, pornography and public display of, you know, lewd and sexual material.”



Hunter says he likely sparked a city inquiry into Vazaleen and says he has been assured there is nothing illegal about the event.



Club SAW, SAW Gallery and SAW Video are all currently located in space leased from the city. But a city memo – addressed to Hunter and circulated to the mayor and council – notes that Vazaleen is neither organized by SAW Gallery nor SAW Video (which jointly manage the Club SAW venue), and that the event does not contravene the terms of the lease the groups hold with the city nor the city’s adult entertainment by-law.



But SAW Gallery co-artistic director Stefan St Laurent says he is sick of having the city meddle in his business. SAW Gallery does receive some funding from the city, but the funding is at arms length, meaning a jury of professionals reviews their application every three years at the city.



“We’ve been contacted quite often by the city regarding events or exhibitions that have gay content,” says St Laurent. “By quite often I mean three times in the last year. I find that to be quite a bit.”



A 2003 summer show at SAW Gallery, Scatalogue: 30 Years of Crap in Contemporary Art, attracted attention from national journalists as well as the city before it opened. It included the work of 28 national and international artists.



“That was probably our show with the most queer artists that we have had in over a decade,” says St Laurent.



More recently, St Laurent says city officials took issue with an announcement for a panel discussion about the arts, funding and political pressure called GAG Order. That announcement asked, among other things, whether city councillors had acted irresponsibly in response to a controversy over the work of filmmaker Ken Takahashi.



Hunter was not involved in the previous inquiries although he says he was aware of them.



Vazaleen promoter Sara Spike insists she hasn’t done anything illegal and she has no plans to. Spike says she feels pretty good that there hasn’t been a scandal. She doesn’t expect anything to come of the complaint, although she is curious to see if the city sends by-law officers to the event.



“I can’t see any bylaw infringements,” says St Laurent. “I would think that if anyone from the city came to the show they would be quite entertained.”



Vazaleen will take place at 9pm on Fri, Sep 10. Tickets are $7 at the door.



* For more on Vazaleen, see coverage in Capital Xtra #132 on-line at www.xtra.ca.