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May 17, 2014

Meet a Community Art Star: Rita Minichiello

"Meet a Community Art Star" is a regular feature showcasing ArtStarts' amazing group of volunteers who are passionate, enthusiastic arts champions. Read more posts in this series.


Rita Minichiello is a photographer, art organizer, curator and supporter of the arts. She has been a part of the ArtStarts family for over two years, helping out with everything from Showcase to gallery tours. Outside of her own art practice and volunteerism, Rita expresses her passion and support for the arts as the brains behind Vernissage, an annual pop-up photography exhibition. She stopped by the ArtStarts gallery recently where we talked about her current projects and the language of art.

ArtStarts: What are you working on these days?

Rita: What have I been working on? Well, I have Vernissage going, which is the annual photography show. That will happen in the Fall, but this year we're pushing it to the Spring. This would be its fourth year. I started out with 16 artists and now I have a list of 120 artists that will submit to Vernissage. It's a juried process, and it's great for emerging photographers.

ArtStarts: Wow, it's really great to hear how much Vernissage has evolved.

Rita: It's heavily curated now. Vernissage is a pop-up. The last two shows were done at the Beaumont Studios Gallery. Next year we are looking for a new location. I'm considering other studios with a vast variety of artists. I want to incorporate a lot of performance art. I want to bring in the interactiveness to the art. I want to bring people out of their shells.

ArtStarts: Would you consider yourself an artist, an art organizer, a curator or a photographer? Or all of the above?

Rita: It's funny you should ask that because it's almost as if we have to constantly reinvent ourselves. If I want to give myself a title, it would be "facilitator". I'm kind of in the middle. I'm a photographer and I'm continuously trying to do my own work as well, but I've reached a point where I want to see more art. I want to collect it and I'm motivated by it and I would love to do more, but it is so much time and work. But then I light up when I go into an artist's studio and I think, "Yeah, let's do a show for you!"

ArtStarts: Why do you do all this? What pushes you?

Rita: I feel that we constantly have to keep art in the foreground. It's not just supporting the artist financially, but as part of our culture. Buying is, of course, supporting the artist. The thing that I want to show with Vernissage is that it's not about consumption. A lot of art spaces are free. Commercial galleries are free to enter and so are some public galleries, but people think that they don't understand art or they don't have the money so they can't buy it. That doesn't stop us from going into any retail shop. You can go in and look, it's free!

ArtStarts: Why keep focusing on art? What attracts you to art?

Rita: It's always been like that. It's a way that I express myself. I guess I can do that with cooking or other things, but with art it speaks to me and it's not just visual art, it's music... For example, I can't dance, but I want to support dancers because they light me up. I feel like art gives me air, it gives me breath.

ArtStarts: Where did art start for you?

Rita: It started in grade school. My Grade 2 teacher was very encouraging, not just to me but to everyone. It didn't matter what medium we used. It didn't matter how we used it. It didn't matter if we were talented. Just that whatever it was we made we expressed ourselves.

Her name was Ms. Davis and she was from England. I was in Montreal and she was there for one year, I think for a teacher's exchange. She left the year after and I was devastated. Of course, she wouldn't have been my teacher anymore, but I adored her. I remember she even sent me a Christmas card. She wanted to make sure that I continued to express myself.

ArtStarts: It sounds like her plan worked.

Rita: In grade school we learn different languages, even the language of math or science. We have to make sure that the language of art continues in schools too. We're not all going to be artists but if we have that language, and we are retaining that at an early age, then we have that confidence in our future to practice that language.

ArtStarts: What do you do in your everyday to connect youself to creativity?

Rita: I take a photograph every day. I can tell you that every day I think about art in some way.

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