Cherie Fawcett, Gallery Assistant | June 24, 2016
Younger Than Beyoncé Gallery is an emerging gallery space currently in its second year of programming in the Regent Park Neighbourhood of Toronto. Though YTB Gallery is new on the scene, their exhibition programming, critical thinking and risk taking has caught the attention of many folks both in and outside of the Toronto art scene. If you have not heard of YTB Gallery, I strongly suggest that you add them to Facebook or sign up for their newsletter through their website.
I was curious to find out more about the story and driving forces behind Younger Than Beyoncé Gallery, their challenges and successes, as well as the future aspirations for the gallery and its role in the Toronto art scene. Here is my interview with Humboldt Magnussen of Younger Than Beyoncé Gallery.
Humboldt Magnussen: HM
Cherie Fawcett: CF
CF: What is your affiliation with YTB?
HM: I am one of the co-directors of ytbgallery along with Marjan Verstappen.
CF: Who are the founding members of the gallery and how did they come together?
HM: There are currently two co-directors and 6 board members; Sebastián Benítez, Brette Gabel, Anjuli Rahaman, Humboldt Magnussen, Marsya Maharani, Marjan Verstappen, Geneviève Wallen, Joan Lillian Wilson. Founding members also included Han Zhang, and Alison Cooley, who are no longer on the board. The core group of us knew each other from being in the IAMD program but then we brought in other people that we knew had a similar vision. Many of us have OCAD University as a connection but we might have not known each other during school. The gallery started with a Facebook page and then after there was interest, Marjan and I decided to start a board, by each bringing on a few people.
CF: Was there a particular moment or event that led to the fruition of YTB?
HM: Marjan and I (and a bunch of our friends that would later make up the board) finished grad school at OCADU and felt that there were not enough opportunities for the amount of talented emerging artists. We initially thought we would do one show, but the project morphed as we started to get more attention.
We setup meetings with peers and art professional we respected and then later when we had a clear idea set up a Facebook page, launched an Indiegogo, had a dance party at The Beaver (on Queen St W) as a fundraiser.
CF: What are the concepts and driving forces behind the gallery?
HM: The main driving force was wanting to work with Toronto artists that were young and emerging. We were drawn to this exhibition called Younger Than Jesus at the New Museum (New York, NY) and felt like it was a model we could graph onto Toronto and our DIY mindset. So our mandate is working with emerging artists based in the GTA who are younger than 33.
CF: Why Beyoncé?
HM: I think for us it made a lot of sense at the time, (keep in mind we thought this project was initially going to be a lot shorter but has now turned into two years of fundraising and programing). We wanted to reference the Younger Then Jesus show while staying true to what our generation is all about. Beyoncé was 33 at the time (same age as Jesus) and we were looking at creating a feminist, queer-positive, supportive space so Beyoncé seemed to fit. The why Beyoncé discussion comes up a lot at our board meetings and we are given praise and criticism for putting Beyoncé in our gallery name, which we welcome.
CF: I'm sure there are a lot of challenges to opening an emerging gallery space, what are some of these challenges?
HM: Money, it’s a huge challenge. Deciding that we are going to prioritize paying CARFAC fees over paying ourselves, having a budget that is tiny in regards to our ambition. Having to put basic expenses on our credit cards in the hopes that people will by a drink at the bar during the opening.
CF: This is very common response from many emerging spaces which is really unfortunate. I respect your dedication to this project. Who are your funders? Or do you rely solely on fundraising?
HM: We are very thankful for the small amount of grants that we have received, and for all our donors, it makes what we do possible. That being said, the amount received is not sustainable. We are supported by the Daniels Corporation and the Toronto Community Housing through a supportive lease. We have also received money from TAC for season two. We don’t have a large list of donors like older institutions, we hope to have more patrons of the arts come to YTB and want to support it. We rely on fundraising, but also try to keep our costs down. We currently don’t have operational funding and wont for several years.
CF: This being said, do you pay artist fees? If so, do they meet CARFAC standards?
HM: For our second season which started in December we have been able to pay CARFAC fees, with the exception being the Future 33 show because there was 33 artists. Our first season and Future 33 we paid a modest honorarium, but in relation to our budget, our fees account for 90 percent of what we spend.
CF: That's really impressive. Do you have a membership base like many other artist run centres?
HM: We have members, but we need to work on growing that base. Our memberships are $25 dollars for the year, but we have been focused on our regular programming so our membership programming needs a bit of a boost, we hope to focus more on this in the near future.
CF: If someone in interested in supporting the gallery, how would they go about signing up for a membership?
HM: The best way is to email the Gallery directly ytbgallery [at] gmail [dot] com.
CF: How is your programming determined? And for those who are not familiar with YTB, could you provide a brief description of your program diversity and structure?
HM: There is a lot of flexibility with programming for us. Our team often has ideas for a project or show they want to organize or curate, so we presented a few shows we felt we needed to address and then crafted our call for submissions which spoke to the themes we are interested in. There have been exhibitions that have been created just because we saw a trend in our submissions. But in general we have a jury and we have a good idea of the projects (most recently Genevieve Wallen and Marjan Verstappen curated artwork for the Luminato festival -we are a community partner). To get a sense of our call for submissions, YTB Gallery invites proposals from Toronto artists and curators, engaging with themes of movement, displacement, transnationalism, identity, architecture and its role in constructing the self, landscape as a trace of local/national narrative, contemporary experiences of gender, sexuality, race, class, dis/ability, and intersectional articulations of such. We are seeking work that engages with glamour as a queer strategy/practice of resistance, critique, self-expression, empowerment, or world making. We encourage rigorous, playful, experimental, and conceptually-grounded projects. YTB Gallery is especially interested in projects that take Regent Park as a conceptual point of departure, engaging with the neighborhood’s history, its demographics, and its contemporary realities.
CF: How many exhibitions are presented per year?
HM: We work in seasons not years. This being said, we have done 11 shows this year. We do a round of programming then are closed for a while (this break is essential for us to have our own practice). A lot of our effort goes towards fundraising so there needs to be time for that as well.
CF: How do your seasons work? One on, one off?
HM: It’s hard to say, our gallery has morphed a lot. Originally we were going to close in October (end of season one) because our lease was over, but we ended up extending our lease. We were very happy to continue to have the support of our building developers and the greater Regent Park neighborhood, so we took some break from programming and hosted events until season two started (this season was supported by the TAC so we were able to do a season right away without doing a whole year of fundraising like we did for season one). We did several shows in a row, ending with Future 33, so now the money has been spent, so our doors are only open for events at the moment. Currently we are programming for Luminato, and then have another break planned until more funding is secured.
CF: If an emerging artist/curator/critical thinker is interested in collaborating with YTB Gallery, how could they get involved?
HM: Honestly the best way is to just come to our space and get to know us, since we are closed that might be hard right now so email is best ytbgallery [at] gmail [dot] com.
CF: How do you see YTB's role in the future of the Toronto art scene? Do you see YTB as having a long term run or is its existence more critical and specific to this time?
HM: We talk about it as a project that will go for several years. I think it is too early to say what our role will be. For now we are really interested in promoting emerging Toronto artists, and fostering an art scene that is based in collaboration and not competition. I think funding systems are not set up for new DIY arts organizations to start up and be able to turn into long term institutions. The ones that do are backed by other institutions, or are a bit older.
CF: I am really impressed with what YTB Gallery has programmed so far and hope that this Gallery can continue to fill a critical gap in the Toronto art scene. Thank you for your time, that was the last question I had, is there any other information that you think is critical to share?
HM: For more information about our Gallery follow us on Facebook and our Instagram @ytbgallery