An open letter to UMSU and the University of Manitoba student body, re: the closure of the Gallery of Student Art

Update, 5:40 PM: After some exchanges with a few people connected, it has come to light that the situation is more complicated than it appeared at first. The gallery is not closing, but operating on a reduced budget. The announcement that it was closing was a mistake on the part of GoSA staff (I will post their email as soon as I have their permission).

Budget cuts are an unfortunate part of life, so I cannot oppose them on principle the way I would oppose the closing of GoSA or any other thriving arts organization on campus. The cuts may or may not be fairly and intelligently made—it would take someone with more knowledge of the inner workings of UMSU and GoSA to say that. Therefore, assuming the gallery does stay open during the year, I retract the portions of the letter that relate to the gallery’s closure.

Hopefully this can be an object lesson to all of us on the hazards of making announcements (or writing open letters) in haste. Ideally, it will also serve as a warning to exercise extreme caution in making cuts to arts organizations.

Update, 8:40PM: The GoSA coordinator has declined to give permission to reproduce her communication here (which seems odd, given that it says essentially the same thing as the recent Facebook announcement). At present the gallery’s future is not clear beyond the fact that the plan is to keep it open.

Dear members of UMSU,

I am shocked and saddened to learn that the Gallery of Student Art will be closing this year due to UMSU budget cuts. Since the people responsible for this myopic, monstrously unjust decision are apparently unaware of the gallery’s function, allow me to enlighten them.

The gallery provides a space where the young artists of the university can display their work. Though I am not a visual artist, I am a writer and musician and I can attest to the importance of such a space. A gallery display is comparable to publication for a writer or a recital for a musician. It provides a relatively immovable, public-facing goal to work toward that forces one’s work to confront reality. Such goals are important in the development of any artist.

Equally important, however, is the function the gallery serves from the other side: displaying the work of our artists. I will not pretend that everything shown in the gallery is a full-fledged work of genius, but they are all serious attempts at the creation of something important and valuable by serious artists, and the gallery gives them a place to be seen and contemplated by the wider public of the university.

We do not often see such things at the University of Manitoba. The average supermarket has a more vigorous intellectual atmosphere, and UMSU’s prodigious smokestacks ensure an endless supply of academic greenhouse gases. As the world around us conspires to turn university education into a mass market product, a vulgar occupational credential sold a la carte to useless suburbanites, UMSU has declined to take a bold stance to protect the value of our degrees, but has decided instead to be complicit with this adulteration of the university experience.

I notice that there has been no announcement about the cancellation of the orientation week music festival–a costly event that has no business taking place on a university campus, and that last year lost an absurd amount of money due to UMSU’s mismanagement. Surely running the Gallery of Student Art for a year costs only a fraction of what is paid to just one of these ephemeral so-called “artists” for a night’s performance. And people actually go to the gallery, which is more than can be said about Frosh Fest.

I had expected the first great UMSU disappointment of 2014-15 to wait until the first week of September, but in this area, at least, our fine executive surpasses expectations. It is not clear who voted them in or why, but it is abundantly clear that they have no business being in charge of anything larger than a food kiosk at a major university. Let them go back to the gyms and the sports fields where they can make some small positive contributions while someone who actually understands why we’re here takes over the reins of our union.

As for my brothers and sisters in the arts, I implore you not to be disheartened. Artists have always been under the thumb of charlatans. Every Moses must have his Aaron, and you can take comfort knowing that this hardship will pass in time. The strength of art is in its ability to weather the storm, to expand in the bountiful times and contract in the lean years while keeping its continuity and integrity. This is a temporary difficulty, while you represent one of the world’s last few grasps at permanence.


Tom Ingram
Fourth year clarinet performance student
Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music
University of Manitoba


One thought on “An open letter to UMSU and the University of Manitoba student body, re: the closure of the Gallery of Student Art

  1. Pingback: More on UMSU and GoSA | They Never Quite Shine

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