The spectre of impending closure has long loomed over Halifax’s Khyber Institute of Contemporary Art. This is not a unique circumstance, especially in recent recession-belaboured times, as arts organizations across the country struggle and juggle to make budget ends and programming ambitions meet. But in many respects the Khyber is the hub of Halifax’s NSCAD-fuelled art scene, and its perpetual ups and downs over the years, often bound to ongoing negotiations with its city council landlord, have made the downtown artist-run centre a cause célèbre, and sometimes enfant terrible, of the local art community.
So when the austere Victorian façade of the Khyber Building was boarded up earlier this month for window renovations it might have seemed for an instant that the city-wielded axe had finally fallen.
Yet the Khyber is still alive for the moment, a point made clear by artist (and local art figurehead) Garry Neill Kennedy with his installation And Still Counting. In what could be called a much-needed city beautification project, Kennedy has replaced the construction-standard plywood coverings with a sequence of number paintings counting from 1 to 27 up the building’s vacant window spaces. The numerals are rendered in his signature Superstar Shadow font in paired colour schemes chosen by Kennedy to make wry combinations out of the names of commercial paint he uses and local site references: Turret Brown and Council Bluff make the numbers 5 and 23; Meeting House and Have No Fear add up to the number 10; Playhouse Plum and Party Palace equal number 17. Once the renovations are complete, Kennedy’s paintings will move inside to the Khyber’s gallery space for an exhibition that runs from May 8 to 31 and ends with a fundraising sale.
Renovations aside, the Khyber’s future is still up in the air. But And Still Counting offers an encouraging model for impromptu reversals of fortune, and with key players like Kennedy making the most of uncertain circumstances, it gives Khyber boosters and skeptics alike a good reason to look forward. (1588 Barrington St, Halifax NS)