Thursday, September 1, 2011

Franke James Vs Prime Minister

She calls it her “blacklisting dilemma." As she tells it, it is a David and Goliath story; her versus the Canadian government. She feels her government is angry with her, but can that be? Can a government be angry with one of its citizens? No, it can’t. Only people get angry, so who is angry with artist Franke James?

Ms James lives in Toronto. She is a prolific and eclectic creator who has a concern for the challenges facing our environment. She has a Masters degree in Fine Arts and she is an active member of several professional artistic associations. Recently, Nektarina, a non-profit Croation organization purchased a series of images by Ms James that they planned to assemble as an exhibition and use as a basis for youth workshops on the environment. They successfully earned the exhibition a sponsor who pledged $75,000 to finance a tour of the exhibition and workshops to other countries.

Ms James sought Canadian government support for aspects of the project, and Nektarina sought support from several Canadian missions in the countries proposed for the tour, and from this point on, things get complicated, but the end result is that the tour is now in jeopardy. The corporate sponsor withdrew their donation and the Canadian missions in the countries proposed for the tour declined to support it.

Ms James believes firmly that all the misfortune that has befallen the project is because our government is angry with her for publishing her visual essay: “Dear Prime Minister, Why are you making us choose between the economy and the environment?” She believes that the Conservative government is angry about her graphic attacks directed against our Prime Minister and that he, in vengeance, engineered the undoing of the project.  

If you go to her website,, you can read far more about this incident than I can write here, plus you can see samples of her work. I went to the site, read her posts and several of the articles she generated, and looked at samples of her work, and it left me with the impression that Ms James is a graphic editorialist. I say this because of the style of her work and because of the primary role of text in her imagery (and its subjects, tone and language). Consequently, I am not surprised that her work evokes response; a response is what she seeks. A response is what makes work like hers powerful and effective.

A government, however, should not allow their response to motivate petty acts of vengeance in their mission cultural programming and funding—and that is what Ms James claims our federal government is doing.

But here’s the deal: I would neither know of Ms James nor her work had the Harper government and its missions funded the Nektarina project. All the considerable press referenced on her website is publicity she generated and none of it could have happened without the government persecution she is reporting.  

The government may have acted immorally and unconscionably with regards to Ms James and the Nektarina project. And that is a sad thing for Canadian artists to ponder, but lets look at how cleverly Ms James has turned her disadvantage to an advantage.

She has created scores of thousands of dollars worth of publicity for herself and considerably advanced public awareness of her name. Further, she has put herself in public consciousness as a creative environmental voice and that may open many new doors for her. She has advanced her “brand awareness” beyond the capacity of most artists I know and for a contemporary Canadian visual artist, national exposure can be more meaningful than sales.

Ms James is a sincere person who is passionate about the environment. She did not create this situation and it angered her. Perhaps subconsciously, however, she has achieved something many artists would envy (though not, perhaps her innocent methodology). She is now a fairly widely known and much discussed contemporary Canadian visual artist. There’s a lot to be learned from a careful consideration of Ms James’s story of her project with Nektarina. What that story is, is all in how you look at it.

1 comment:

  1. I am new to your blog and catching up on past posts. This one caught my eye and I wanted to know more. I went to Ms. James' site and read about her being blacklisted. I then poked around the web a little and came up with this:

    Is it possible that Ms. James assumed the persona of Don Quixote and, when real controversy did not emerge, an imaginary one could serve just as well?

    Some of the agencies contacted appear to not agree with the facts, but the result has been an increased awareness of her product. Could she have invented the scenario strictly for marketing purposes? Were we duped??


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.