Critical Distance Centre for Curators (CDCC), a not-for-profit gallery, publisher, and professional network devoted to the support and advancement of curatorial inquiry in Toronto, Canada, and beyond.
With a focus on critically-engaged, collaborative, and cross-disciplinary practices, underrepresented artists and art forms, and community outreach and education in art and exhibition-making, Critical Distance is an open platform for diverse curatorial perspectives, and a forum for the exchange of ideas on curating as a way to connect, engage, and inform people and publics across cultures, disciplines, geographies, and generations.
We realize that many people assume the term “critical distance” implies a position of objectivity, authority, expertise, or judgment assumed by a critic or curator. In fact, this is not the position we are taking in choosing Critical Distance for our name.
We chose Critical Distance precisely to call into question the meaning of this term, which has a double implication.
On one hand, we wish to advance the idea that the space between any two people or positions — this critical distance — is precisely where connections happen — without this space we are only speaking to or for ourselves.
On the other hand, we critique the assumption that any one person can claim full objectivity, authority, expertise or judgment of another — that with too much distance we risk speaking inappropriately for or over others.
Thus a critical distance is never fixed — it is a relation that can be tuned toward an ethics of care in communication and critique between partners in any creative undertaking. It is a space that can be either/both intimate or expansive — what matters is not the amount of distance between self and other but the capacity a given distance affords for mutual support, generative conversation, and respectful connection, between equals.
As curators we need this is space — this minimum distance that gives the room for perspective — in order to engage critically, and with care, with the work of another. It is nothing less than the emancipatory recognition of each person’s unique subjectivity in the curatorial encounter, which must exist freely and independently in relation to others in order to allow discourses that go beyond simple expression, assertion, justification, or reification — toward mutual relation.
This distance — even at the slightest remove — is one of the fundamental distinctions between the curatorial position and that of artists and others in the art and exhibition-making context. Hence the decision to embrace this complexity in our very name.
A land acknowledgment is an opportunity to convey our understanding
that we exist always in relation — in relation to past, present, and future,
in relation to the places in which we live, and in relation to each other.
We at Critical Distance take this opportunity to acknowledge that
our organization operates on land that has been the home of Indigenous
people and nations long before colonial documentation of time, specifically the Wendat, the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabe, and the Haudenosaunee, people who continue to live and work here in what is currently known as Toronto.
Since before the 18th century, this territory has been under the Dish
With One Spoon treaty between the Haudenosaunee and the Anishinaabeg peoples, which is a mutual agreement for sharing land and resources. In this spirit we wish to share this space and our resources as well, and encourage all who visit CDCC online or in person to join us in solidarity and support for Indigenous communities against the forces and effects of colonialism, capitalism, and white supremacy.
Support can look like many things, including working within institutions to dismantle systemic racism and inequity, ending violence against Indigenous women, 2spirit and girls, and advocating for Indigenous rights to and stewardship of land. Here is a list of Indigenous-run organizations and initiatives you can support today. Thank you.
Indian Residential School Survivors Society: www.irsss.ca
Walking With Our Sisters: walkingwithoursisters.ca
Idle No More: idlenomore.ca/
Native Youth Sexual Health Network: www.nativeyouthsexualhealth.com
ENAGB Youth Program in Toronto: enagb-iya.ca
We’re in the midst of an ongoing process of updating all of the content for our new website and will be posting more information in coming months. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates as they happen, and do contact us at info (at) criticaldistance.ca if you notice anything that needs more timely attention. Thanks for your patience and support!
Opened in 2013 by independent curator and designer Shani Khoo Parsons (b.1970, Philadelphia), Critical Distance was born of a desire for more inclusive, critical, collegial, and sustainable practices in curating and exhibition-making with regard for curators, artists, audiences, and organizations alike. New to both Canada and curating at the time, Parsons became interested in how a hybrid organization might be able to address increasing precarity, inequity, and inaccessibility within, and to, the arts.
Public interest in curating has never been greater, yet misunderstandings regarding what curators actually do, and the crucial, often invisible role they play in connecting artists with audiences and contextualizing artistic practice within the current moment continue to beleaguer the profession. Upon learning that there has never been a CARFAC for curators, and confirming this lack of professional support for curatorial labour through research and peer discussions, Parsons established this space in response to the need, voiced by curators at all levels in their careers from across Canada, for a truly vital community of practice — one that stimulates curiosity, conversation, and critical thinking on contemporary culture, and makes space for arts workers and audiences to come together and find common ground within the dynamic and generative context of art, exhibitions, and ideas.
Through our exhibitions we’ve featured over 250 artists and curators from across Canada and around the world, with many more participating in our discursive events. Our open call for proposals has always eschewed prescribed themes, disciplines, credentials, and other explicit or implicit barriers to participation, and over the past eight years we have established a track record for our eclectic, inclusive, experimental, and interdisciplinary program. Emerging to established; local, national, and international artists and curators have presented projects on topics and themes ranging from material experimentation, scientific inquiry, poetic expression, and personal histories, to grassroots publishing, political activism, cultural practices, and ecological investigation—and all have been challenged to consider new, expansive, and inclusive approaches to the display and dissemination of art and ideas on curating, exhibition-making, contemporary art, and community engagement through their collaboration with CDCC.
Now entering its ninth year, Critical Distance has produced and co-produced over 50 exhibitions in our intimate gallery space and throughout the larger building at Artscape Youngplace (AYP), the community/cultural hub we’ve called home since the beginning. Between our high profile billboard on Shaw Street, the open-air performance area on our front lawn, and public art installations both within the building’s common spaces and across the city’s public places, our extended exhibitions have a reach far surpassing expectations for an organization of our size.
At the same time we pursue a critical approach to online programming that attends to both artistic possibility and audience accessibility with the same care that we bring to our in-person programming. Through our publications, newsletter, and social media we extend our programs beyond fixed dates and locations. Our 6000+ followers across multiple platforms represent extraordinarily diverse constituencies, a reflection of our own foundational interest in fostering connection between neighbours as well as between nations.
In 2022 we are excited to be moving to a larger, ground-floor space at 401 Richmond, launching new initiatives, and redoubling our efforts to advance more accessible, sustainable and mutually supportive ways to work together in the arts.
Critical Distance gratefully acknowledges the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council for support in making our exhibitions and programs possible.