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Beyond the frame: Artspace TMU’s 2023 BIPOC artists fund

Words by Luis Ramirez-Liberato

Visuals by Sammy Kogan

Artspace Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), the university’s student-led art gallery, presents its fourth annual fundraiser to support its Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) Artist Fund. According to their website, the fundraiser features five prints for purchase by current and recent TMU students and three special edition prints by School of Image Arts alumni.

This artist fund—which started back in 2020—provides financial support for BIPOC artists to execute ambitious projects and cover exhibition costs like printing and framing, according to Artspace TMU’s website. All of the funds go directly to emerging artists and curators.

“It’s not cheap [being] an art photographer”

Artspace TMU exhibition coordinator and fourth-year photography media arts student Rahim Perez-Anderson highlighted some monetary challenges artists face—including the costs of bringing artistic visions to life.

“It was a really great experience when I [was] reached out [to] to take part and sell the print of mine for the first time,” said Perez-Anderson. “[The funding] got put back into my production and printing costs that I used for an assignment later that year.”

“Being able to have your work both speak to a great initiative, as well as help and benefit yourself as an artist was really beneficial and a really great experience.”

Fourth-year photography media arts student Mamoundu Mardis-Chatwin touched on the expenses of creating art. “It’s a lot of money. It’s not cheap to be an art photographer,” she said.

In her experience, she found that film development options were generally limited in the city. Consequently, she said artists often resort to paying someone else for film development. 

According to Lens Lurker, a database that provides information on film development, the cost is currently escalating, reaching up to $20 with tax for one black and white roll of film in particular. This involves a prolonged process that can take up to 24 hours.

Starting from scratch, the required batteries for film cameras can have a heavy cost at around $40 for a two-year lifespan. Additionally, opting for higher-quality film, priced at approximately $20 to $25 per roll, contributes to the overall cost that makes the entire process require a significant investment. 

In total, Mardis-Chatwin said she can spend around $100 per roll. This financial commitment underscores the challenges for emerging artists engaging in analog photography projects.

“A paper can easily cost $2 to $3 [each]”

Mardis-Chatwin explained that when buying film, “You’re thinking of spending money to produce maybe 24 images, [all the while] hoping that the final product [comes out] clear.” 

But these are just the costs for developing a roll of film. Printing costs are another financial hurdle artists face.

“I sometimes do darkroom printing and a paper can easily cost like $2 to $3 [each],” said Mardis-Chatwin.

When considering the high cost of traditional art, this kind of expensive funding provided by Artspace TMU can have a significant impact on artists.

Artspace TMU faculty director Annie MacDonell explained in an interview with The Eye that Artspace employs a collaborative approach to selecting what prints are sold at the fundraiser. The programming committee—composed of both staff and students—can depend on the pieces themselves. Other times, a decision involves having conversations with artists, ensuring that a diverse variety of artistic styles are represented.

Moreover, MacDonell spoke on what makes this year’s selection of prints unique from the ones in previous years.

“What makes me excited about this collection is I feel like it’s very representative of the different types of image-making that happen at the school,” said MacDonell. “And that sometimes means including amazing images that are harder to sell, [but] I definitely don’t have a problem with that.” 

Ananna Rafa, a TMU photography media arts graduate student and a recipient of the artist fund this year, spoke on the transformative role of Artspace funding throughout her journey as an artist. Having been an employee at Artspace, she has witnessed firsthand how students utilize this financial support to create new bodies of work and showcase existing ones.

“My professors really cultivated a space for me to grow creatively. And I learned a lot from them through the critiques,” said Rafa.  “I ended up with a body of work in my thesis that I felt really proud of. I had really great advice from my thesis advisors on how to make a body of work that was unique to myself.” 

Prints are available for preorder and available for pick up between Dec. 6 and Dec. 9 at Artspace located at 401 Richmond St W. The prints are available for purchase at prices ranging from $100 to $250.

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