2 min

SAW Gallery opens Free School for artists, creators

Feb 18 workshop by Montreal web expert Michelle Blanc

Montreal's Michelle Blanc will teach students how to be more internet-savvy. Credit:
Remember grade school, when learning was an exciting journey we took every day? Remember high school, where each moment was a rapturous discovery? Okay, me neither. 
But as I get older, I do regret not availing myself of the resources that school had to offer. I think that’s why so many of us take evening classes or peruse BBC’s Open University video archives: to continue our education without having to give up our jobs and cough up tuition fees.
So, for cheapskate illiterates like me, SAW Gallery’s new Free School program is just the ticket. For six weeks the gallery will be opening its doors to instructors and educators of various disciplines, welcoming visitors to partake of a veritable buffet of knowledge. 
“Teaching should be completely free of charge,” says Jason St-Laurent, SAW’s director of programming. “Some people can’t access education for various reasons, whether they be socioeconomic or whatever, so we opened up the series for anyone to learn from the experts and artists we invite in.”
It’s a community-centric slant that has been part of the gallery’s mandate since its inception in 1973. SAW began as part of a national network of alternative art spaces devoted to under-represented artists and has continued showcasing queer, aboriginal and multiethnic works. Certainly, Free School’s roster of speakers and workshops embraces this diversity, with speakers like Luis Jacob and Michelle Blanc gracing the gallery’s funky classroom setting. 
But don’t expect meandering monologues followed by light refreshments – these are serious tutorials: Jacob, a respected and successful visual artist, will be providing hands-on instruction for artists hoping to showcase their work more effectively, both at home and internationally. Blanc will share her online networking savvy for those looking to better use the internet in promoting their work. 
“It takes a certain level of confidence to give your methodology to other people,” says St-Laurent. “People like Luis and Michelle are rare. I’m always shocked by that sort of generosity, especially from people that are so high in demand.”
Generous indeed, given that Blanc regularly charges $300 an hour for her services. But the glamorous web guru welcomes the opportunity to give some much-needed advice to artists who haven’t a clue how to use the web to their best advantage. 
“I’ll be talking about blogs and explain to artists why most of them suck online,” says Blanc with her usual candour. “Very often they just don’t understand that the web is a written medium, and most of the jpegs and videos they put online are invisible to Google.”
“The other problem is that they often work with Flash technology, so they have these nice well-designed websites that only they, their designer and their mother will see.”
The Montreal-based glamazon will also stress the importance of authenticity when it comes to crafting an online presence – a point brought home a few years ago by a friend who encouraged Blanc to come out online, and to her clients, as transgender.
“She told me that with a gift comes duty,” Blanc says. “So I came out on my business blog . . . it made the front page of La Presse.”
She’s been a media darling ever since, frequenting TV and radio discussions about trans issues. It’s that same community spirit that drives Blanc to share her business acumen with the Free School crowd, teaching others how to create and maintain the online aspect of their business.
“Artists deserve to make more money and to be efficient online,” Blanc says. “They need to be able to do this for themselves. You can’t subcontract passion.”

The Deets:
SAW Gallery’s Free School
Runs Fri, Feb 17–Sat, March 31
Luis Jacob tutorial: Sun, March 18
Michelle Blanc tutorial: Sat, Feb 18