Toronto gallery that severed ties with Palestinian rights activist found in violation of city’s non-discrimination code

We wrote back in May about artist Reena Katz’s multi-layered exhibition about Toronto’s historic Kensington Market area. The project, Katz stated, was intended to “animat[e] a dialogue between aspects of Toronto’s diverse Jewish/Yiddish history and its fascinating contact with other cultures.” Sponsors of the project, the Koffler Centre of the Arts, a specifically Jewish art space, abruptly severed ties with Katz after they discovered an endorsement of Israel Apartheid Week on her Facebook page. No one ever suggested the decision was in any way related to the content of the piece or their satisfaction with her work. Here is today’s update from Katz and curator Kim Simon:

August 5, 2009

Dear friends and colleagues;

We are pleased to update you regarding the status of Katz’s performative project in Kensington
Market, each hand as they are called:

As many of you know, The Koffler Centre for the Arts dissociated from Katz and the commissioned project in early May, 2009 because of her political work for Palestinian human rights, and subsequently sent a defamatory press release across the country, falsely claiming that Katz supports the extinction of the State of Israel. Since late May, we have been in legal negotiations with the Koffler about moving forward with the project and we have now reached an agreement. While the specific terms of this agreement are confidential, we are happy to continue discussions about our experience and understanding of the Koffler “dissociation” as well as the project itself.

Simultaneously but independent of our legal negotiations, the Toronto Arts Council (TAC) Board of Directors has been involved in internal discussion, as well as in consultation with the Koffler about their decision to dissociate as well as their professional and ethical conduct. The TAC has determined that the Koffler was in violation of the City of Toronto’s non-discrimination policy regarding an individual’s right to freedom of political association. As it is not TAC general policy to release public statements regarding such matters, for a more detailed statement regarding the decision, the TAC invites you to contact Executive Director Claire Hopkinson directly at Claire@torontoartscouncil.org.

It is our understanding that while the TAC will not be withholding funding from the Koffler, they have approached this situation in a productive gesture of stewardship.  This includes working non- punitively with Koffler around issues of anti-discrimination policy development, transparency of mandate, curatorial and board structure, as well as accountability and eligibility where public funds are concerned. We are heartened by the TAC’s official acknowledgement that Koffler violated Katz’s right to freedom of association, and by extension violated one of the terms of the City of Toronto’s public funding. We are sincerely encouraged and hopeful about the TAC’s strategies for addressing this matter.

Finally, we are thrilled to announce that we will soon share details about the presentation of a revised version of each hand as they are called, to be presented in Kensington in the fall of 2009. We consider this presentation a positive outcome of a very difficult situation, and look forward to seeing you at the exhibition. We also encourage continued personal and public dialogue around Israel/Palestine and the role of cultural institutions in relation to discussion and dissent. The events of these last few months have embodied the extreme need for such dialogue in all our intersecting communities, and we are deeply thankful for the threads of discussion arising from the support,
suggestions, and questions you have offered.

Please contact us for further information on each hand as they are called, and check out our website
for continued regular updates. www.eachhand.org

Reena Katz, artist
Kim Simon, curator

-Cecilie Surasky