OPTICA, a non profit organization, is essentially community run, and depends on the participation of its members and that of the professional artists, critics and curators who compose its board of directors. In 2007, OPTICA also partnered with members of the business community, whose contribution will help improve the centre’s performance with respect to governance and fund raising. Besides managing finances and developing the policies and artistic orientation of the centre, the board also initiates collaborative projects with partner organizations.
Located in downtown Montreal, at the heart of the art gallery disctrict and a stone’s throw from the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, OPTICA is one of the first artist-run centres in Quebec and in Canada. Established in the early seventies, the centre was the initiative of William A. Ewing. First dedicated to photography, its field and mission soon broadened to include multimedia, with an emphasis on emerging art forms, organizing conferences and encounters with artists from Montreal, Canada, and abroad.
Many prominent artists became associated with the centre: David Altmejd, Rebecca Belmore, Geneviève Cadieux, Vera Frenkel, Jochen Gerz, Jenny Holzer, General Idea, Jana Sterbak, and Gabor Szilasi, among others. The exhibitions The Destruction of Milton Park (1973), Camerart (1975), La photographie en tant que document vulgaire (1988), and The Zone of Conventional Practices and Other Real Stories (1989-1990) have marked the centre’s history with respect to changes in the status of the image and documentary value in photographic practices.
In 1997, Sur l’expérience de la ville: interventions en milieu urbain—jointly produced with partners in the cultural milieu and the City of Montreal—began a cycle of temporary exhibitions in spaces throughout the city. Symposia on ephemeral practices were jointly presented with the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Concordia University, and Université du Québec à Montréal. The same year, this exhibition earned OPTICA the Conseil des arts de Montréal’s Grand Prix in visual arts.
The event-making nature of these exhibitions, turning the city into a space for intervention, instigated the production of some original work, as exemplified in Gestes d’artistes / Artist Gestures (2001, official selection of the Saison du Québec à New York) and La demeure (2002).
As part of the celebrations surrounding its 35th anniversary in 2007, OPTICA announced the creation of the William A. Ewing Visual Arts Research and Residency Program, which will award a grant for a creative or written work in contemporary art. This program will draw on the depth and breadth of the OPTICA Archives. In 2008, the centre won a visual arts award and earned another nomination for the Conseil des arts de Montréal’s 23rd Grand Prix.
On the international scene, OPTICA has distinguished itself with exhibitions in Europe and its participation in the Berlin Artforum, in 2003. In 2006, the centre partnered with art3, France, and set up a residency focused on research and support for emerging artists.