Artist-run Centres (ARCs) are non-profit organizations, run by and for artists, supporting new and innovative practices in the arts. With a rich history that spans over thirty years, ARCs have had a significant impact on the cultural ecology in Canada and around the world. Generally, these centres exhibit contemporary art which parallels the larger public institutions and private commercial galleries – offering an alternative to artists in determining how to represent their work.
In the past 40 years, ARCs have played a determining role in the development of contemporary art practices in Canada. By providing a framework in which to showcase experimental and non-commercially driven art, ARCs have been vital to the development of practices such as performance art, video, and new media. ARCs have also been fundamental to the expansion of critical discourse about contemporary art through the creation of a framework to analyse emerging practices. ARCs have formed a pan-Canadian network of artists, curators, critics and arts administrators, as well as regional, national, and international alliances. Sharing the mandate of serving the artistic community and expanding contemporary art practices, artist-run centres and organizations in Canada and in BC form an autonomous network of galleries, presentation spaces, artists’ studios and production facilities, collectives, archives, publishing houses, magazines, bookstores, and festivals.
ARCs are self-organized, which means that they are governed by artists and that their mandates follow the principles of artistic self-determination. This includes validating the production and presentation of art though peer-assessment rather than catering to the market or institutional priorities. Accordingly, ARCs provide resources to disseminate and articulate experimental, critical, marginal, difficult and transgressive artistic expression. Through their support of socially engaged work, emerging artists and practices, and artistic innovation, ARCs constitute key structures of the Canadian visual art system. Through their activities, they expand the boundaries of contemporary artistic production, foster critical discourse, and create a support network for members of the artistic community. Most of Canada’s best known and internationally recognized contemporary artists, curators and cultural practitioners have come out of the artist-run centre movement.
The Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres (PAARC) was established in 1988 as an association representing artist run centres in British Columbia. Member organizations are artist initiated and artist controlled. The primary mandate of the society is to work towards the benefit of the practicing artist, within the context of artists’ self-determination. Members of PAARC coordinate their opening receptions and events, collaborate on programming initiatives and advocacy work.PAARC has a permanent membership of British Columbia ARCs and represents them regionally, provincially and nationally. PAARC was active during the 1998-99 reevaluation by Canada Council of artist centres and consults regularly with funders on issues vital to the centres.PAARC counts 31 member centres, located in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Kamloops and Nelson. There are also multiple self-organized artists’ galleries, studios, and initiatives across the province. Over the years, the BC artistic community has greatly contributed to the development of the Canadian artist-run centre network, notably with the foundation of the first ARC in Canada, Intermedia Society, in 1967 in Vancouver. While in operation for only a few years, Intermedia inspired artists throughout the country to self-organize and found ARCs in their communities. Today, some of the oldest Canadian ARCs are still in operation in BC.