In 1976, a grass-roots visual arts organization was formed while a group of artists sat around a kitchen table on Patrick Street in St. John’s. Born out of the collective need to address issues like exhibition fees, health and safety and emergency relief, this organization was the provincial affiliate of CAR (Canadian Artist’s Representation), and became known as CAR N/L. The organization continued on throughout the 1980’s and early ‘90’s as a volunteer-run group without an office space or paid staff. Despite this, CAR N/L was successful in many regards, including the production of a provincial quarterly newsletter which kept members informed, and the creation of the Colin MacNee Emergency Fund, named after an artist member who tragically lost his life in a house fire in downtown St. John’s in 1989. CAR N/L also took on advocacy initiatives, campaigning for the payment of artist fees at the provincial art gallery and acting as a watchdog for cultural issues affecting the sector.
In 1994, under the advice of CARFAC National, CAR N/L regrouped and refocused, changing its name to Visual Artists Newfoundland and Labrador (VANL-CARFAC). Through this process, the organization formalized its administrative functions, established executive appointees, developed a constitution, and drafted its organizational history, which had in fact spanned almost 20 years. VANL-CARFAC became an umbrella organization which represented the visual arts sector and could act as an official liaison to government, funding bodies and organizations. Offices were secured in Devon House, in downtown St. John’s, where the organization continues today. It was also at this time that VANL-CARFAC hired an Executive Director, ensuring a more professional, consistent relationship between the organization and its members, stakeholders and the public.
Since incorporation, the organization has grown to include contractual staff in research and fundraising positions, with the Board of Directors taking on a very active role in terms of the vision and focus of the organization.
The nature of VANL-CARFAC is unique and two-fold. At once a provincial sectoral organization for the visual arts in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the provincial affiliate of Canadian Artists Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens, VANL-CARFAC provides its members with a wide range of services, information and development on both regional and national levels. This duality of focus has been ingrained in the organization since its first days in the 1970’s, and it is the unique balance of regional and national purpose that continues to guide VANL-CARFAC’s development as a service organization for the visual arts sector.