The biggest art bash in Toronto turns 20

Gaëtane Verna, the executive director of the Power Plant, gives us a teaser of Power Ball XX: Carousal, the art gala that's turned into a can't-miss party of the year


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From Powerball XIX: Stereovision

Toronto’s preeminent art party, the Power Ball (presented by Max Mara), turns the big 2-0 this year. Centred around the theme of “Carousal,” gala-goers can expect multisensory carnivalesque fun and adventure around the Harbourfront and the Power Plant gallery, with specially created installations from Canadian artists Dominique Petrin, Ana Rewakowicz, Jennifer Steinkamp and Anitra Hamilton, as well as plenty of awe-inspiring culinary delights from CXBO Chocolates and a doughnut installation courtesy of Krispy Kreme. But beyond the food and artistic frenzy, the Power Ball is also instrumental to the gallery space, helping fund the Power Plant’s year-round programming, as well as a gateway for new art appreciators. We spoke with the artistic director of the Power Plant, Gaëtane Verna, about the relationship between the Power Plant and the Power Ball, and what people can expect from this year’s gala.

Gaëtane Verna

Gaëtane Verna

 

What can party-goers expect to see at this year’s Power Ball?

We thought that because it’s the 20th it would be great to have a theme that plays on the word Carousel, and Carousal, and seeing the Power Plant as the Big Top, as the tent that welcomes people. People that purchase the ticket to the pre-party will get to experience this duo called Bompas and Parr, who do these incredible installations with food and smells. They will transform the Harbourfront Theatre into an environment of a funfair within that space. At the Power Plant itself, you will have these four female artists, with different installations inside the gallery, such as our clerestory and outside the gallery.

What have you and your team attempted to achieve with this year’s Power Ball?

All these artists are female artists, and the mandate of the Power Plant is to show Canadian and international artists side by side and in conversation. All of these artists are Canadian except for [UK-based] Bompas and Parr, and all of them have also exhibited internationally and nationally. An artist doesn’t produce works for a one-night event just like that, so I’m always so thankful that they’re willing to engage in this artistic adventure with us for one night, to put their works in a different context, which to me, speaks to why the Power Ball, after 20 years is still so relevant. We’re always working with artists in order to insert their work to make their work a focus of the experience of the people who are coming to the event. It’s not just putting a bar and then putting the artwork as an afterthought. We think of the artwork and then we integrate the food, the drink. The art is the main focus of our activity and the rest is there to support it.

 

How has Power Ball changed since you took over the Power Plant six years ago?

In the last six years, there’s been AGO’s First Thursdays and Massive, and TIFF’s Boombox. Everybody’s doing different types of these events, but what I love about our Power Ball is that we always keep our quality really high. Some years are better than others, but I would say that in the last three years since we did [American conceptual artist and food performer] Jennifer Rubell, it completely brought us to a new league. We really engage with the form, and not see it as “Oh my god, we have to do this event,” but make it something that’s joyful. We also work with different types of creatives and we keep growing with the event. Because the Power Plant has nimbled, we can turn around and say, ‘Oh! Let’s do it this way now!’ There’s an evolution to the ability of the team at the Power Plant, the board at the Power Plant, the honorary chairs and the co-chairs that we bring. While progress has been made in the field, cultural diversity has still been difficult to achieve in the art world.

How does Power Ball and the Power Plant attempt to invite more diverse voices into the space?

If you look at our programming, what I like Power Ball to be is a mirror of what we do. If you look at our staff, our board, our programming, we’re uber culturally diverse, and age diverse. If you go on our website and look at our programming, we show a lot of women artists, we show a lot of men artists. We show artists who we think have something to say and add to the current conversation around the context of living in Toronto. That’s something that’s very important to me, as artistic director of the institution. I don’t want to just bring international artists or any artists just to say, “Here’s a name.” I want the work of the artist to speak to the context of what we do and who we are in Canada. Even if it comes from a different perspective. A lot of people are intimidated by contemporary art spaces, but Power Ball is also one of the biggest bashes of the year.

 

From Power Ball XIX: Stereovision

How do you merge the artistic appreciation aspect of the Power Plant with the social excitement of the party?

Sometimes I think that people are afraid. This is something that we see in Contemporary art. People come in and they say, ‘I don’t understand this’. And it’s like, ‘No, you do. You just need to feel comfortable in the space. You need to feel comfortable asking questions.’ We, as an organization, have to be listening to our visitors and we have to get to know them, understand them, and provide different types of activities that create the bridge between what the artist is speaking about, and then the work that’s on the wall, and the audience that comes. The Power Ball gives people an opportunity to see art and engage with art. And we grow them into donors, and we grow them into an audience that keeps coming back to the Power Plant. To me, it feels that when somebody purchases a ticket to the Power Ball, it’s their way of engaging with the work we do throughout the year, and to support all of our exhibitions, our publication, our education and public program, all the artists’ talk, the music program, the literature program. When somebody purchases a ticket to the Powerball, this is what they’re supporting. And at the same time, they’re doing it not by sitting at a table having a dinner, they’re doing it by engaging with the art and the artists.

The Power Ball XX Presented by Max Mara is on Thursday, May 31, at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, 231 Queens Quay W. 

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Jessica Wei is an associate editor for Post City. She has lived and worked as a journalist in Montreal, Hong Kong and, now, Toronto. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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