Arts Help is pleased to announce Jana Macalik as a member of its 2023 Advisory Board. Throughout her career of over 20 years, Jana has delved into diverse spaces connecting material and immaterial components and representing the growth of society and its many identities. Jana is currently an associate professor and acting Dean of the Faculty of Art at OCAD University in Toronto, Canada.
How would your closest friend/family describe you in one sentence?
A loyal and compassionate person who isn't afraid to do hard things and to help others to do the same.
How would you describe Arts Help in one word?
Who is your favourite artist, and why? Which artwork from your favourite artist or, in general, has touched your life?
Presently, my favourite artist is actually an alumnus of OCAD University. Her name is Esmaa Mohamoud, and she was an MFA student. She is a young black artist whose work is multidisciplinary and really challenges cultural perspectives of blackness and gender through image materiality as she puts the cultural reduction of black people as a monolith entity and looks at the experiences of the black body through sports motifs and other sorts of aspects like that. She counters those ideas of sameness and then creates multiples of a lot of her work. It's the kind of difference and the flaws in some of them that really highlight their individuality and diversity, which I really appreciate in her work.
What's the best advice you have ever received or the most memorable quote, and by who?
It was from a former professor of mine when I was in architecture school who essentially told me, 'Tell him to fuck off.' As a young designer at that time, I think I was trying to kind of define and determine my success as an architect and I ended up going to please others rather than really kind of fighting for my own ideas and ideals. It frustrated the crap out of them ultimately because he knew that there was more to me than I was showing. So he kind of took me aside and was like, when someone pushes back, you have to push back too.
How do you think the way we view and perceive art is going to be transformed in the digital age?
I think it's going to be more about defining value because a lot of the time right now, is it the object that is valued or the artist? With art utilizing or potentially artist utilizing AI, the blurring of that line of what is the artist bringing to it and what is the AI bringing to it, I think that's the piece that is probably the most transformative.
I know with our students at OCAD University and even with our faculty, that question: how do we use AI potentially as another tool? It's not that we are losing the creativity but it's the pushing of the limits, utilizing the tools that are up there and arguing for the artist; that the artist is using the tool. The tool can do a variety of things, but it is really the individual's creativity and how they utilize it and can push it.
What is one misconception about artists or the art industry in general?
I find the most interesting – because of my place as an academic, is the misunderstanding of how important the artist is in part of their success.
They assume that the artwork will speak for itself, but so many times, patrons, galleries and media want to know the story of the individual who's creating that work.
That is probably a bigger piece where you'll have some artists or questions: how is someone getting exposure when their work might be deemed weaker or not as sophisticated as others?
But really it is that whole package of the artist, it's the story. It's their resolve and bringing their identity to their work that is a really important piece of art practice now and of contemporary art.
What does creativity mean to you?
Fearlessness because you're going to get hit with criticism. You're going to get hit with a variety of things going wrong. I think it's that belief in yourself, belief in sort of challenging norms and supporting new ideas that come through in creativity from artists, designers, and supporters of the arts and design.
What motivates you?
Once again, it'll be in the context of academia because I'm an academic, it is the support of others. It is supporting new artists and emerging artists and bringing people together in a way where they can support a community.
It is the idea of where I'm not the most talented and smartest person in the room. It is a fact that there will always be someone who could design rings around me. But, what they don't have is sort of the years of experience to how to define themselves and how to kind articulate their language and their pursuits. That's what really motivates me is how I support someone else to succeed.
What colour would you choose to be in a box of crayons and why?
I would pick red. For me, it's the colour of life, blood, fire and love.
How can we bring diverse communities together in art?
It kind of links into some of those other thoughts of where an artist's work and practice really comes from their lived experiences and their identities a lot of the time. Being able to bring that narrative into a community and show how it links to other opportunities of support, I think, is really how you can support diverse communities where you can look at practices that are already there and elevate them into a way where they can be successful, not just in a creative and personal way, but ultimately, supporting them economically and sustainably that way.
Of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which do you relate to most and why?
I think because of my training as an architect, I probably am most drawn to serve Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Once again, because of the idea of bringing the communities together, supporting communities in a way that is not my vision, but really an internal kind of art thinking rather than a design thinking where it is very much an understanding of community and figuring what is the best solution for them.
Rather than coming in with (I don't want to say) sort of like a white gaze of, 'this is how you're going to... I'm the designer, I can solve this,' it really needs to come from a grassroots understanding so that is the piece out of those goals, that I think resonated with me.
How do you see the relationship between art and global activism?
Once again, contemporary art has, in many ways, an opportunity to kind of respond in a way that is not as heavy-handed. Sometimes I think there's an opportunity to build a discourse through art that maybe would not have been available to a wider net of individuals if it was sort of a government piece, where there are opportunities to have that sort of disciplinary language of critical art practices but, through that lens, looking at community building, looking at those artists being a voice for the community through their art that is maybe more accessible than sort of a hard-line policy discussion or things like that.
What does Arts Help's mission or purpose mean to you, and how does it align with your own values?
For me, it's that art creates change. That comes down to the big piece of it. Art thinking, as I noted, art creation, art dissemination and all those opportunities to utilize a creative vein of art as discursive pieces allow communities and individuals to really address global issues and serve locally or internationally. It can be just within your own neighbourhood, but it can also then lead to these attachments to global issues that affect others.
What does success mean to you in terms of your contribution as a board member?
The work I've been doing at my institution right now; is when others feel like they're being heard, where communities or individuals feel like they have an advocate and have sort of vocalized that in a way where they see my support as an avenue for their growth and their realization of initiatives, that is a success.
It's not that they'll be like, 'Yay, there's Janna. Thank you for her help.' But it's more of, I can be like, 'yay, there's so-and-so whose initiative or whose project has been recognized and has been supported'; because I was able to either advocate for them, give them the tools to put together proposals or, anything like that.
That's how I can see success, which is when others succeed.