Paola Poletto

In what way did your experience at The Department of Visual Arts at Western impact you & your career path?

I have fumbled through a career. I followed hunches and nudges form a series of mentors rather than any direct path. In my undergrad, my poetry Prof Branko Gorjup suggested I get to know my Italian heritage and what started as a volunteer gig at the Italian Cultural Institute in Toronto turned into a 5 year job. My first show out of undergrad was with Symbiosis Collective, and the idea of creating a site-specific group exhibition with a whole bunch of people ground up was illuminating. I also lucked upon a gallerist, Fabrice Marcolin, and my work went to Berlin and New York but it didn’t give me the high that I got out of doing things on the street. I was part of the Toronto based hoity toity writers group and started making zines and that turned into a 5 year commitment to Kiss Machine, a biannual project that featured visual art, writing and performance at places like YYZ, Lee’s Palace, Forest City, Ivey Series Reading Lounge, and as far away as Eastern Europe. Along the way I took a summer class with Joanne Todd in Barrie. I was brooding on the beach, because I wanted to write better, and she soon after suggested I look into Western for my MFA. My experience at Western provided a legitimization for this flaneurie, and my art practice found a place amongst my work.

How have you been contributing to your community following your experience at Western?

My work shifts between DIY (do it yourself) and institutional-based practices. With both, I’m interested in the representations of collaborative productions where visual constructions are rigorous narratives, exercising multiple points of view. I’m currently Manager of Adult Learning and Residency Programs at the Art Gallery of Ontario where, for the past four years, I’ve led the Gallery School adult studio programs, public programs ranging from discursive to performance and nuit blanche, and the artist-in-residence program. Most recent Toronto area artists in the residency program include Meera Margaret Singh, Jerome Havre, Public Studio, Walter Scott and Will Kwan. A publication that surveys the first five years of the residency program is forthcoming in 2017. I have also held positions at the City of Mississauga’s Culture Division as Supervisor of Events (2008-12) leading special projects, Doors Open and Rebel Arts Week; and at Design Exchange (DX), as Senior Director of Programs (2000-8), focusing on sustainability, social responsibility and innovation. I joined DX right after Western, and there I provided creative direction on projects such as digifest (2002-8), Universal Design Professional Development Series (2005-8) and exhibitions such as Chinese Design. Everyday (curator Wendy Wong, 2008) and Fringe Benefits: Cosmopolitan Dynamics of a Multicultural City (curator Ian Chodikoff 2008). I am also artist coordinator of art/lit projects Kiss Machine (started with Emily Pohl-Weary while I was at Western, 2000-5), Inflatable Museum (2001), Girls and Guns (2004), and Boredom Fighters! (2008). I have led two recent durational group art interventions in Toronto’s public spaces: Tel-talk: art interventions in telephone booths (2012) and Oh Dear: public art that unhinges North York’s sense of modesty (2013). I am nearing the completion of a five-year art-making collaboration with my twin daughters entitled StudioPeePee (2012-17), and I’m currently working towards Ghosts of Monsters (2018), a photographic series capturing the rapid transformation of North York’s housing stock and neighbourhoods. I am also currently enrolled in the International Program in Visual Arts Management jointly offered by New York University and Deusto University/Guggenheim Bilbao.

Can you think back and share a memorable moment from your time here at Visual Arts?

For me the memorable moments revolved around talking and sharing concepts and work with my peers. I really enjoyed the time in formal critique, still do! I also loved being in studio with Maymee, Toni, Dana, Olex, Lucia and David; in ArtLab putting on exhibitions; The Palace at 4am just doing it for myself; Forest City Gallery, messing around; Fanshawe College shopping an open call; Galleria Mall transforming garbage into a moonscape and on the streets putting hats on pine trees with Lucia Cipriano; packing books with Jamelie Hassan; working with Sheila Butler to install art in a downtown Hotel; making dubious art with Toni Latour, inspired by our shared Italian-Canadian heritage; learning to teach with Kim Moodie; making thesis words stick with Patrick Mahon; helping to set up the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame downtown with Betsy Little. Wacky fun – there’s a photo of our cohort that we took together, dressed up in various photo studio props – it’s one of my favourite photos – I think the spirit of it is what I try to take to my work to this day! (Let’s use it)

What was the most important thing you learned during your time here?

The value of connecting with people, and how to balance conviction with compromise… and that a sense of humour is a powerful tool. That’s 3 things.

What is something you are passionate about? What are you working on right now?

How I fit and occupy the world. I am working on processing major political shifts, fear, anger, uncertainty, cultural capital and taste. Beginning in 2015, every three months, I set out to photograph post-war homes on sale in my North York neighbourhood, with the intention of returning one year later to rephotograph the site. My goal is to capture both the older home before eminent demolition (the ghost) and the new home to take its place (the monster) in one composite image. The work is a reflection of the symbolic, economic, aesthetic and cultural values that shift with the emergence of the new domestic space.

Why do you think a career in the Visual Arts is important / valuable?

A career in visual arts is important if it empowers you and the people around you. With the people I work with, I like to take their impulses, ideas, sparks and follow them, facilitate the creative process. In an institutional context like the AGO, it’s about connecting to visitors and audiences, to provide a view into creative practice, and sometimes, it’s participatory too. I love that. Whether it’s a durational art performance at nuit blanche for thousands or a studio class for 15 people in our Gallery School, the idea of a shared creative, transformative, experience is paramount.

What would your hopes be for the next 50 years of Visual Arts at Western?

To continue to meaningfully explore ways to discuss creativity in the context of innovation, sustainability and social well-being.