Growing up in the arts scene in London (1973-1992)
I was a child of the art community in London, Ontario. My parents, Jamelie Hassan and Dave Gordon, and their future life partners, Ron Benner and Dorene Inglis are artists, andRon Benner and Dorene Inglis are artists, as well as many of their friends.
Throughout the years of my childhood and adolescence, I benefitted from the spirit of independence, the creative ideas, and the generosity that characterized the London cultural community. It is only now that, as I look back over almost half a century, I can appreciate my childhood, which included family friendships with many prominent contemporary Canadian artists and celebrities.
The generation of artists who came of age in the 1960s has left a larger than life impact on Canada's cultural footprint. They were the generation that broke the conservative social, religious, and cultural traditions and taboos. The Canada of today, which is a more equal, inclusive, tolerant, and diverse society, looked very different in the 1950s.
H.B. BEAL ARTS PROGRAM SUBVERTS THE STATUS QUO
It was London, Ontario, in the 1950s, where my parents and many of their friends grew up, and it was their cultural rebellion that opened the door to new and innovative ideas. H.B. Beal Technical and Commercial High School was the epicenter of London's dynamic arts community. It was the only school in London to offer an arts program, which attracted art students from all over the city. My father (Dave Gordon) taught at Beal. He was part of the generation of London artists who became nationally recognized in the 1960s, including Jack Chambers, Greg Curnoe, Ron Martin, and Murray Favro.
LONDON REGIONALISM BECOMES A CULTURAL FORCE
In 1968, Jack Chambers, Tony Urquhart, and Kim Ondaatje initiated Canadian Artist Representation (CARFAC) in London, Ontario, and shortly after its founding Greg Curnoe became one of the memberships leading advocates. This artist initiative has become "the national voice for professional artists" and continues to advocate for artists’ rights today. My mother was the Ontario editor for the organization's paper, CARROT, in the mid-1970s. She continues to be an active member of CARFAC today and is considered one of the few remaining senior members of this organization from that early period.
FOREST CITY GALLERY FOUNDED
1973, the year I was born, was also the year that my parents/artists, along with eight other artists (Ray Sedge, Ron Martin, Bob Bozak, Robert Fones, Richard Bonderenko, Murray Favro, kerry ferris, and Greg Curnoe) founded the Forest City Gallery, an artist-run space that emerged after the closing of the 20/20 Gallery (1966-1971) which was the first artist-run gallery in Canada to pay professional artist's fees. These artist-run centers were also among the first in Canada. They were part of a creative and collective response against a more conservative approach from the public art institutions at that time which often marginalized Canadian artists. The Forest City Gallery continues to operate today, 47 years later.
EMBASSY CULTURAL HOUSE ERA
In 1983, ten years after the Forest City Gallery was founded, my mother and her partner/artist Ron Benner and jazz musician Eric Stach founded the Embassy Cultural House (1983-1990), located in the restaurant portion of the Embassy Hotel at 732 Dundas Street in London East. The Embassy Hotel was run by my aunt, Helen Haller, her then-husband Egon, and sons, Tyson and Warren. They had taken over the family business, initially founded by my grandfather, Alex Hassan. The Embassy Cultural House (ECH) inspiration came from a trip my mother and Ron had taken to Germany. They had seen informal art exhibitions, music concerts, and other cultural events held in Kunsthaueser (arthouses). Other artists who were members of the board included: Wyn Geleynse, Kim Moodie, Jean Spence, Janice Gurney, Doug Mitchell, Jennie White, Jean Hay, Debrann Eastabrook, and Gerard Pas.
514 PALL MALL, A LONDON ARTS LANDMARK
In 1986, my mother and Ron purchased an old window factory on Pall Mall Street in London, Ontario. The historic building was originally a horse stable, and after a year of renovations, it was transformed into a five-unit multi-purpose residential/artist space. It is worth noting that artists Tom Benner and Doug Mitchell, musicians Eric Stach, Frank Ridsdale, Gerry Collins, and artist Greg Curnoe's son Owen were among the team that helped Ron and my mom with the renovation work. Over the years, many residents and visitors have been to the building. However, throughout my high-school years, the main tenants were musician/composer Gerry Collins, musician and visual artist Murray Favro, visual artist kerry ferris , and her son Alyosha Ferris and curator Marnie Fleming.
In 1992, I left London to study at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. Little did I know that I was not just leaving London for university but that I was, in fact, starting a journey that would take me around the world. The charitable art donations I have made over the last 15 years are from artworks received through acquisitions, art exchanges, and gifts from the artists directly to my family.