V Tape

What is V tape?
V tape is an information and distribution system for mediaworks by artists and independents. We are strongly committed to the medium of video and media artworks—to their cataloging, their exhibition, their distribution, their preservation, and their future. V tape is actively involved in the continuous evolution of information technologies, seeking new ways to bring artists and audiences together. In addition to distribution, we present salon screenings of visiting artists’ works in our viewing room, organize curated programs and print small catalogs, initiate international exhibitions of Canadian video art, maintain an extensive on-site resource center open to the public. We also have the most complete restoration and recovery service for electronic media in Canada and provide exhibition equipment (projectors, decks, sound systems, monitors) to local artists and art centers at very low rates.

V tape’s goal as a nonprofit distributor of independent media is . . .
to increase the monies going into artists’ pockets and to extend the reach of these artworks into the public eye.

How many works are in your collection?
2,388 titles by over 600 artists

Who is V tape?
V tape is a nonprofit artist-run organization. Key staff include Kim Tomczak, executive director; Wanda van der Stoop, director of communications; Lisa Steele, director of finances; Louise Liliefeldt, distribution manager; and Cynthia Lickers, outreach coordinator for Aboriginal projects. Our Board of Directors includes video artists Colin Campbell, John Greyson, and Nelson Henricks; curators Nicole Gingras and Andrea Fatona; and photo artist Leah Visser.

What would people be most surprised to learn about V tape and/or its staff?
We have a flag of the week, and we all get along with each other really well.

How, when, and why did V tape come into being?
V tape was formed in 1980 by a group of five artists (Steele, Campbell, Rodney Werden, Susan Britton, and Clive Robertson) who withdrew their work from distribution with Art Metropole, a Toronto video and artists’ multiples’ distributor, and began to operate as a collective. We printed a small catalog of our titles and would support the screening of each others’ tapes when curators or artists came into Toronto. In 1983, Kim Tomczak and Lisa Steele, with the blessings of the other V tape members, began a year-long research project to develop strategies for how to increase the audiences and appreciation for the work of video artists. From the beginning, a searchable, computerized database catalog was seen to be crucial to the project.

Where does the money come from to fund V tape’s activities?
Roughly 50% of our operating funds comes from government sources (the Canada Council for the Arts, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Ontario Arts Council), with the remaining monies being self-generated by sale and rentals of videos, rental of exhibition equipment, and other services (dubbing, sale of books and catalogs, research fees, etc.).

What types of works do you distribute?
We specialize in video art and independently produced documentaries. Many of the documentaries are highly innovative; we call them hybrid documentaries. Many of the video art titles are performative and/or experimental. Many are produced by visual artists who work in a variety of media.

Best known titles and/or directors in collection:
John Greyson’s video works including Uncut and Herr; all of Vera Frenkel’s video and web-based works; all of Ulrike Rosenbach’s video work; Mona Hatoum’s single-channel work; all of Richard Fung’s experimental documentaries; Mike Hoolboom’s video titles; Steve Reinke’s videos; and all of Robert and Donald Kinney’s videos.

Do you only distribute works made by Canadians?
75 to 80 percent of our titles were produced by Canadian artists; the remainder are American, British, Japanese, and “other.”

How is the collection organized?
We have a very user-friendly database which allows people to search in almost limitless ways. So in addition to searches by artist and titles and the more traditional genre categories (documentary, experimental, performance, etc.) and subject categories (gay and lesbian, environment, law, health, etc. ), you can also search only new titles, only titles under five minutes, or titles produced by Aboriginal artists. You can also search by key word, which allows curators and programmers putting together thematic programs to see descriptions of a range of materials they might not otherwise have access to.

How do you decide what to add to your collection?
We are an inclusive distributor, but we do look at all work submitted to us and decide if we are the best place for your title. If we think that you should approach an educational commercial distributor—based on your expectations and the work itself—we provide you with that feedback. We also try to be realistic with all artists submitting work—especially the first title to come into distribution; it is important that artists understand that they must provide V tape with sub-masters and dubs, information and signed contracts before anything happens. It takes a certain amount of commitment from the artist to make the relationship with the distributor work. We operate on the model of a visual artists’ agent; we bring artists—not just individual titles—into distribution. It is important for non-Canadian artists to realize that the Canadian market is quite a small one—our population is 10 percent that of the U.S. Therefore, potential for screenings is more limited than in the U.S.

Where do V tape titles generally show?
Museums, art galleries, university lecture halls, libraries, community centers, and festivals around the world.

Most unusual place a V tape title has shown:
During the 1998 CAA (College Art Association) meeting in Toronto, V tape presented a screening of Aboriginal artists’ videos on a bus trip to Woodlands Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ontario. A good time was had by all.

Range of production budgets of titles in your collection:
From $50 to $200,000+.

What’s the basic structure of a filmmaker’s distribution deal with V tape?
We pay all Canadian artists twice per year; all others are paid once per year. Our artists receive 75 percent of all monies we collect on their behalf. It’s a very high percentage, but we feel the artists deserve it.

The biggest challenge in reaching your audience is:
achieving adequate publicity and promotion from mainstream media sources. When you’re shut out of the papers and local coverage, it means new viewers—what we call the next tier of audience—isn’t even aware of your activities and thus can’t decide for themselves if they want to come for a screening or not.

Biggest change at V tape in the last five years:
Arts organizations have had to adapt to rapid changes in the way they receive economic support from public and private funds. We have had to wrestle ourselves into a very responsive and very flexible organization at the same time trying not to lose sight of the 8 ball. And, most importantly, our partnership with Aboriginal media artists, which has resulted in two catalogs of works by Aboriginal artists, several regional tours of Reserves (in the U.S. you call them reservations) in Canada, numerous new artists being brought into distribution, and a number of screenings and mini-festivals of Aboriginal titles being sponsored and co-sponsored by V tape.

Where will V tape be 10 years from now?
We will be working more and more on the restoration of older video works as well as with new technologies of distribution, such as web delivery and video on demand.

The difference between V tape and other distributors of independent work is . . .
well, one difference is that we do not de-accession work. We believe a work gains in value as it ages.

Other distributors you admire and why:
Electronic Arts Intermix because of their commitment to the classics, and Women Make Movies because of their effectiveness in marketing.

Upcoming V tape work and projects to keep an eye out for:
See our web site [www.vtape.org] for updates on all our new releases.

Famous last words:
As distributors we constantly remind all levels of funding and support for the media arts that distribution is a vital link in the ecology of media arts. Everybody wants to fund and support the artist directly—to fund production. It’s sexy. But without distribution, nobody will see the beautiful works being done today and the artists get discouraged and move on. We are always aware of this.

About :

Lissa Gibbs was a contributing editor to The Independent and former Film Arts Foundation Fest director.