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Arts & Politics

Friday, January 28, 2011

UPDATE: HRM Cultural Awards under review

The awards are safe for this year, but the future is uncertain.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 2:55 PM


OK, so there's been a day of frantic emails, texts, Twitter and Facebook activity over news that the HRM cultural awards had been axed. I just spoke to Andrew Whittemore, HRM's manager of cultural affairs, who has the official word.

The news that the 2011 awards are cancelled is incorrect—according to Whittemore, this was a misunderstanding between a HRM staffer and Theatre NS. The theatre and book awards will go on as planned this year, but all future cultural award programs are under review, as is everything right now, for the following:

-what is the award program; what does it look like; and should be the money be placed there, or somewhere else such as calls for proposals.
-where does the money come from? "Who should pay?" asks Whittemore, suggesting that the private sector may be called upon to contribute. "We want to create a sense beyond art for art's sake, that culture has a real economic importance."

While I'm pleased to see the awards happening this year (bet there will be some excellent acceptance speeches), I still think that what this situation really reveals is that HRM still has a lot of work to do in terms of gaining the trust of its cultural community. These small awards, while important gestures, don't make up for the lack of other programs such as an independent arts council, grants for individuals, etc. Whittemore says that emerging artist studio program, a great pilot project from 2009 that gives recently graduated students a place to work, will be announced soon. Personally, I'd like to see more of these types of long-term sustainable projects that assist artists in creation all year around, not just for at an few minutes of clapping on stage.

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Mayor kills HRM arts awards

Small-purse, established books and theatre awards get the boot, with no explanation.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 9:30 AM


For every one step forward the city makes (Khyber/Bloomfield redevelopment, Nocturne, Emerging Artists Studio Program), all that good work got shot to shit with the news that HRM is cancelling the arts awards, including:

Mayor’s Award for Literary Achievement: $1,500
Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Book Illustration: $1,500
Mayor’s Award for Achievement in Theatre: $1,500
Mayor’s Award for Emerging Theatre Artist: $500

I'm not sure yet of the Contemporary Visual Art Award's status. We're having a tough time getting anyone to confirm anything. Now, $1,500 is not a lot of money, but it can make a huge difference to someone who has a low income (c'mon, no one makes art to become rich). But even more so than the dollar amount, it's the symbolic devaluing of art in a city that has no arts council or grants to individuals, as do most cities of Halifax's size. Also, when you consider all the high-profile expensive projects the mayor seems willing to throw cash at, $5,000 is like the linty pennies in the bottom of my purse.

We're going to keep on this, but until then, here are a few artists that received awards (the list on HRM's website hasn't been updated since 2008, which says a lot right there): Michael Melski, Mary Vingoe, Anthony Black and our own Mike Holmes. These are just some of the nationally/internationally recognized artists who get trotted out when the city wants to show what a diverse, culturally vibrant place Halifax is. Embarrassing.

I'm moving to Pawnee. We need a Leslie Knope.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Dave Sim comes to Halifax

Cerebus creator does his Final Signing

Posted By on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Cerebus "phone book" Volume One
  • Cerebus "phone book" Volume One
Kitchener, Ontario resident Dave Sim is the creator of Cerebus, the internationally acclaimed comic that ran for 300 issues from 1977 to 2004. It’s a massive achievement, by anyone’s standards, a 6,000 page work.

He published it himself, under his Aardvark Vanaheim shingle. He wrote and drew the black and white comic on his own until 1984, when he recruited background artist, the single-named Gerhard. Together, they became the longest-running creative duo in the history of comics.

Sim also has been a champion of creator-owned comics and worked tirelessly to support the rights of comic creators in an industry that often exploits the characters without properly crediting, or compensating, the men and women who wrote and drew them. If that’s changed in recent years, Sim can take a great deal of credit for it.

The story, of a short, curmudgeonly funny animal creature Cerebus the Aardvark, started as a satire of Conan comics, but Sim rapidly evolved his tale to comment on politics, organized religion---at one point, Cerebus becomes the pope---and the metaphysical.

Fans adore the comic---now collected in a series of phone book sized trade paperbacks---for the way he spoofs recognizable celebrities, politicians and even other comic book characters and creators. Supporting characters in Cerebus have included Mick and Keith from the 'Stones, a very Groucho Marx-like monarch named Uncle Julius, Oscar Wilde, and characters inspired by Mary Astor, Margaret Thatcher, Sheila Copps and Woody Allen.

Sim has also attracted what he considers more than his fair share of controversy. As the comic went on, the letters pages became as compelling a read as the comic itself as Sim shared correspondence with readers, other comic professionals and friends. All the subjects he so deftly skewered in his comic were debated in the many pages of letters in every issue. Women, a singular subject of interest of his lead character, have been trouble for Sim. He’s gone on record as not being a feminist.

“I believe any woman who can do the same job as, say, a male fireman---life the same weight, pass the same tests---should be considered on an equal basis,” he writes. “I think it’s crazy, however, to lower standards just so you have more female firefighters. I don’t think that makes me a misogynist. I think that’s just fairness and common sense.”

He’s had fallings out with peers, including Gerhard and Bone creator Jeff Smith, a sample of whose work Sim ran in the back of an issue of Cerebus in the early ‘90s. And as Cerebus neared its conclusion, the stories became bleaker and despairing. Fans of the comic often speak of the earlier years as their favourites as a result.

At a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival this month, Allen was quoted as saying this about growing old: “I think things get worse and worse. I see no advantages of aging whatsoever. You become shrivelled, you become decrepit, you lose your faculties, your peer group passes away.”

In this, Allen and Sim’s opinions parallel.

“The plain fact of the matter is is that life doesn’t get any funnier as it goes along,” writes Sim, in response to the suggestion that people are more fond of his early work. “The ability to do humour effectively in your 20s and 30s really comes from a fundamental ignorance of how mordant and depressing life is.”

Sim is now 54 and quite devout, incorporating in his worship a mix of elements of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. He no longer uses a computer, preferring a typewriter. He still creates and publishes comics, including a 56-page graphic narrative about the Holocaust and anti-semitism called Judenhass and the ongoing “fashion and pop-culture parody” glamourpuss, as well as a web TV series at

My interview with him was conducted by fax. I compared his work and public persona to Allen’s---since both have been steadily and inexorably devoted to their craft, both incorporated much more humour in their early work and then became more serious, both have endured criticism for their personal beliefs and choices, and both are fans of the Marx Brothers. Sim had both praise and serious criticism’s of Allen’s work.

The praise: “The line from Allen’s Stardust Memories. ‘We like your movies, especially the early, funnier ones.’ And telling him when he asks what he can do to make the world a better place, ‘Tell funnier jokes.’ It’s a magnificent piece of writing, totally cruel, totally cold, but totally fair ---and self-directed. I can definitely relate.”

And the criticism: “His job in the totalitarian construct is no longer to write funnier jokes but to make Scarlett Johannsen (sp) sound like a genius, as he attempted to do with Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow. He’s not very good at it. He keeps wanting to write women who sound like women, but that’s not what the Marxist-feminists are looking for. They’re looking for transformational rationales that will make their husbands and boyfriends go, ‘Oh, WOW! YES! YES! THIS is what women are ACTUALLY like!’ They mistook Annie Hall for a genuine creative expression instead of the serial womanizer tactic it was.”

Sim remarks that Allan has had an easier time of it that he has, from the press and public, and muses that other comic creators, specifically Bryan Lee O’Malley of Scott Pilgrim fame, are never questioned or assessed based on whether their work is autobiographical---many see the stubborn aardvark as Sim in fur with a sword. “Is Hope [Larson, O’Malley’s wife, also a cartoonist] the girl in the film? The question never came up as far as I know.”

As Sim completes what he calls The Last Signing, the question of whether his beloved creation Cerebus will ever make a return will certainly come up. He does, in fact, have plans.

“The only way I would revisit the character---and here’s a Coast exclusive for you---is if I was to do a miniseries or graphic novel, Cerebus: The Afterlife, which I have a few mental notes floating around in my head about. I might have to wait a few years. People were squeamish enough about seeing Cerebus in his old age, not wanting to think about getting---or being---old. Speculations on an afterlife would really push some hot buttons, I think.”

Sim’s appearance in Halifax is his first since a signing in 1983 at the now defunct Odyssey 2000 on Barrington Street. This time, as well as his appearance at The Last Signing at Strange Adventures (5262 Sackville Street, 425-2140) 10pm on Friday, September 24, he’ll be participating in an airport meet and greet. Sim arrives on Air Canada 606 from Toronto at 1pm Wednesday, September 22. Be there with a “Welcome to Halifax” sign---or something to that effect,“the maritimes welcomes Cerebus” etc.---and Sim will choose his favourite to win a set of Cerebus books, plus, you’ll get another set for your local school or public library. Wednesday afternoon there’ll be a Q&A and autographs at Strange Adventures from 4 to 8pm. Sim will do portfolio reviews of aspiring comic artists at the Spring Garden Road Library from 4 and 7pm Thursday and 1:30 to 4:30pm Friday.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

CTV reports NSCAD's financial difficulties

Art university appeals to municipal and provincial government.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 15, 2010 at 7:05 PM

NSCADs waterfront campus
  • NSCAD's waterfront campus

Last night, as I groggily analyzed Bruce Frisko's tie on the ATV 11pm news (note to news writers: referring to "starving artists" is as cliche as saying that TV hosts are shallow), he surprised me with a piece about NSCAD University and their current financial situation. The school isn't saying anything, but provincial (operating costs) and municipal (heritage capital costs) governments confirmed that the school is looking for a major financial injection. Dartmouth councillor Gloria McCluskey suggested that perhaps NSCAD shouldn't have opened their waterfront campus, which was a major expansion and cost for the school in 2007, but that's not really helpful in hindsight.

Actually, it wasn't a surprise to hear about this, as rumours are swirling in the community about where cuts could come next. The dismantling of the Dawson Printshop this time last year, was a sad sign of things to come. Coast's Vincenzo Ravina wrote last year:

Linda Hutchison, director of university relations, alumni & development, confirms that the Dawson was closed as a cost-cutting measure. When asked if NSCAD would hire a technician, she says she doesn't know. "We're not sure when we can reopen the Dawson. We certainly hope to, when the economic climate improves. It's a wonderful opportunity to show and display the letterpress work that's created in the Dawson. I personally love it."

When asked about NSCAD's current debt and whether it's related to the building of the school's waterfront Port Campus, which opened two years ago, Hutchison says, "That's not a question I'm prepared to answer.

We don't have specifics right now, but we'll keep on the story.

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Oh Canada! Pier 21 officially the country's national immigration museum

Designation should mean more money, more visitors.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 15, 2010 at 10:25 AM


It's official. On Monday, the House of Commons voted unanimously to designate Pier 21 as the country's national immigration museum. It's not just a fancy title: this means that the former immigration shed will be eligible a higher level of federal funding, as well.

Here is Sean Flinn's story from last year, when the announcement was made.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More Khyber reporting and discussion

Cultural planning panel discussion Thursday: hear from those who know it best.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 3:10 PM


Regional council has approved funding for the Halifax Central Library, but the fate of another cultural building still hangs in limbo. The “Final Report on Future Use of the Khyber Building” ( was released a couple of weeks ago, with updated observations from the public consultation sessions that happened late last year. The majority of the report remains the same—-read an analysis of the operating scenarios here—-but consulting firm TCI Management Ltd. updated pages of photos, as per the request of Khyber ICA staff. Gone are pages of dusty staircases, graffiti and dark storage rooms, replaced with photos of art exhibitions and people actually working in the space. This might seem like a petty consideration, but the next stage for the Khyber is a staff report to council, and although TCI recommends keeping the building as a cultural centre, it’s going to be a fight to justify the investment. If Dartmouth councillor Gloria McCluskey can vote against a library because of an auditorium and a cafeteria...

Perhaps this fight will be addressed April 1, 8pm at this panel discussion “revisiting the motives, challenges and consequences of cultural programming at 1588 Barrington” with those who know best: present and former directors and board members. Plus, it’s a chance to check out the Khyber archives poster show, which is a fun walk down music, art and old-school Mac font lane.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Video: iZrEAL on Africville

Spoken word artist's take on the Africville apology and settlement.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 10:43 AM


Another example of how complex the issue is: spoken word artist iZrEAL sorts out his own feelings on yesterday's apology and announcement that almost $5 million of gov't money is going towards a new interpretive centre in Seaview Park. Is this really for the community, he asks, or for tourists?

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Khyber Arts needs your oh-so wise opinions

Get details on the building's options, then fill out a quick survey and be heard.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 11, 2009 at 10:41 AM


A couple of good things happened Wednesday at the two public info sessions dedicated to the future of the Khyber building (1588 Barrington) as an artist-run centre:

1. Everyone was in the same room, hearing the same information from TCI Management Consultants, who prepared the feasibility study, HRM staff and Khyber board members, past and present. City staffers cleared up a few points, as did old Khyber supporters from back in the day who could clarify historical points. The Khyber's history is a bit like following the Old Testament. Maybe we need one of those sea-parting miracles now.

2. Khyber events coordinator Jody Zinner brought up the issue about the terrible photos inside the consultants' report, asking them to balance out photos of debris and graffiti with more appropriate and accurate photographs of events, the ballroom gallery, etc. It was clear that initially, the consultant seemed to think it was an "artists" thing until a few people brought up the point that evil, evil "graffiti" was one of the reasons that council closed down the Khyber Club space in the first place. If this is a document that council will be using as an aid to make their decision—and its clear that many of them have never been inside the building—then it should reflect all of the centre's activities.

3. Regardless of which of the five scenarios is selected, realistically it will cost $600,000-$1-million to bring the heritage building up to standards, in terms of accessibility and usability. The majority of the cost will go towards construction of an elevator and second set of stairs. However, during the meeting several people brought up alternative locations and possibilities for the elevator, based on original plans from back in the day, which could potentially reduce that cost and hopefully disruption to art activity during the renovations (it hasn't been decided yet if the gallery would have to move to another location during the construction). At this point the consultants haven't been concerned with physical design, just costs and benefits. Speaking of which, I am also curious as to why there hasn't been a peep out of Heritage Trust about these renovations. They have an OFFICE in the space. Ahem.

4. The costs in the report assume an average $20/sq.ft rental fee on Barrington. As Zinner astutely pointed out, this high cost does not reflect the street's current situation, but rather a cost of doing business on a hopefully revitalized Barrington.

Here are the five scenarios (six including a bonus). Keep in mind that regardless of outcome, the capital cost renovations need to happen.

A-HRM sells the building to Khyber Arts Society, with a buy-back clause. This is almost a break-even scenario for the city as HRM would provide subsidies to KAS for fulfilling a public service, i.e. free gallery space, art education, but would not be dealing with day-to-day costs.
B-HRM owns, but KAS operates the building. KAS receives rent subsidies; opportunity costs to the city (aprx. $100,000-$130,000)
C-HRM owns, KAS is sole tenant but can sublet; opportunity costs to the city (aprx. $100,000)
D-HRM owns, KAS is one of several tenants; opportunity costs to the city (aprx. $100,000)
E-HRM owns, leases to another organization to manage; KAS may/may not remain in the building; opportunity costs to the city (aprx. $130,000)

Not included in the report...a scenario that could happen.
F-City council decides to sell building as commercial office space; cost is eliminating the only cultural activities space left on Barrington. It's clear that there are dedicated HRM staffers working hard with KAS staff to keep this as an arts space, but ultimately it's up to council to decide.

Each one of these scenarios has its own set of risks and benefits, which you can find here, in the report. On this page there is also a link to an online survey. Read the report, then fill out the survey by January 8 (it's quick, I promise). These results will feed into the final report that is presented to council.

If you want to support the Khyber in a fun way, don't forget about Holiday Toast, the KAS/Eyelevel fundraiser, this weekend. The fun starts at 8pm, tickets are $10. For art collectors this is a must, as there will be items for sale by artists like David Askevold, Sherry Boyle, Daniel Barrows, Gerald Ferguson, Garry Kennedy, Alan Sondheim, Lawrence Wienger, Kelly Mark, UJERK5 (Jeff Wall, Rodney Grahame), Bruce Barber, Colleen Wolstenholme, Andrew Forester, John Greer and many more.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In your face, art

Bouncer photography aside, art interventions have a long, important history.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 9, 2009 at 1:16 PM

Last week’s news of NSCAD student Tyler Mumford’s photos of bouncers at the Halifax Alehouse (look for a news story tomorrow) has drawn a lot of online discussion about public space and privacy. But if this was, as what is being suggested by Mumford’s schematic illustration on a Facebook page, intentionally meant to provoke and video a bouncer’s aggression in order to capture a photo, it would be helpful if there was some sort of explanation as to his artistic intentions (Mumford is no longer speaking to media, and neither is NSCAD). Radical art interventions that pull activity out of galleries and onto the streets have a long, prominent history of kicking the establishment where it counts. Sometimes we do need waking up. Our systems need a check.


The Guerrilla Girls postered the hell out of New York, pointing out misogyny in public art institutions. In 2006, Banksy replaced hundreds of copies of Paris Hilton’s debut CD with his own work.


Closer to home, in 1994, NSCAD artist Lucy Pullen, reinterpreting a 1960s conceptual work, planted 50 packages of homemade sugar cookies in Sobeys, where almost half were sold, until the police and health authorities were notified. And I wish I was here for this one: early one morning in 1997 Sandy Plotnikoff and Pullen dropped 2,500 Superballs off a downtown Halifax parking garage. Dangerous, sure, but can you imagine how glorious that would be?

Lucy Pullen and Sandy Plotnikoff, 2500 Superballs
  • Photo by M Donavan
  • Lucy Pullen and Sandy Plotnikoff, 2500 Superballs

But Pullen and Plotnikoff articulated their purpose. It might not always be clear or easy to understand, but all these artists had motivations beyond pissing someone off. Yes, there have been some plain stupid ideas like OCAD student Thorarinn Jonsson’s bomb hoax which closed down the Royal Ontario Museum during a high-profile AIDS fundraiser in 2007, and maybe this bouncer photo stunt should be slotted in that category too. But it's still no excuse for assault, or the some of the violent comments posted on Facebook demanding that Mumford and his accomplice be tried/beaten/banned/expelled. We need artists with courage who are willing to step out and mix it up, just a little bit.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Secret art installation, Saturday night

Art happens in mysterious places

Posted By on Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 4:23 PM

This Saturday night at 8pm, artist Jyelle Vogel has taken over the vacated upholstery shop at 5682 North Street for an installation. This is the third and last showing before she gives up the space. She describes the candle-lit installation: "There are four mobiles hanging from the ceiling. They are made from bicycle rims and fishing line. Spinning the bottom rim brings the fishing line into the center creating an hour glass shape. The mobiles can spin for up to 10 minutes, gently winding and unwinding."

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Khyber and the city: public consultation!

2 consultations wednesday, December 10 from 1pm-3pm and 6:30-8:30 at the Bloomfield Centre.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 26, 2009 at 4:11 PM


It's no secret that the Khyber ICA and HRM have endured a rocky relationship, but today feels like the beginning of a whole new love affair, or the most passive-aggressive Sid and Nancy-style punch-up around.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Let the urban revolution begin: Spacing Atlantic launches

Public spaces blog is a promising sign of new thinking around our city.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 12:20 PM


If the last week is any indication, there's reason to be hopeful when it comes to conversations around Halifax's urban affairs and public spaces. In the past, any discussion about architecture, development, transit, etc., has been monopolized by two groups: the rigid heritage-savers vs the tall offices=economic progress crew. The debate has been shrill and uncompromising. But in between the sound of downtown wrecking balls, there's another group whose voice is emerging. People that are actually concerned about solid, sustainable design.

First there was the 4 Days un-conference, led by design visionary John Thackara and TEDx,. Last night, Spacing Atlantic launched at Eyelevel Gallery. A locally run offshoot of the award-winning Toronto magazine, the blog's editors are planning extensive coverage of "public spaces, transit, cycling, city hall, community development, urban design, green spaces, infrastructure, public art" and more. It sure will be great to have company at events.

Publisher Matthew Blackett and editor Emma Feltes (sharing duties with editor Jake Schabas) seemed pleased with last night's turn-out. A good-sized crowd gathered around a Halifax map trying to pinpoint their homes (with the aid of street names), while others sorted through a bowl of Halifax buttons adorned with major street names.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Khyber building unavailable for rentals

HRM puts hold on activities until consultant report comes in.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 2, 2009 at 2:21 PM

Some of the best events I've been to in the last couple months have happened in the Khyber building—like the Obey Convention and the Totally Wicked Music Festival. Well kids, just when you think that things are finally getting settled under that old turret, last week we heard from Steven James May, one of the organizers of the Salon des Refusés Atlantique, which, annually, has applied salve to filmmakers' bruised egos by screening local films rejected by the Atlantic Film Festival. Every year since 2001 the salon has taken place at the Khyber, but not this September. According to May, when he tried to book the space, he received this note back from Christine Lavoie, team lead for HRM's Culture & Heritage Development: "The Khyber is presently not available for rent (no HRM staff on site to operate it). However, we are working with a consultant who's developing a plan to address the future of the building, in consultation with the artistic and cultural community."

Lavoie confirmed her response to May, and says that the consultants—Toronto-based TCI Management Consultants—are planning on releasing their report in the late summer/early fall, for consideration to council. Let's hope the city can get their shit together (pun intended) on this one. It would be a terrible shame to lose this space, or for it to lose its raggedy, grassroots spirit. In the meantime, show your support for the Khyber ICA, which is still programming exhibitions—go see Chris Foster's Notions of Progress, on until July 24.

UPDATE: Just received an email from May stating the salon will continue on with its Khyber-location legacy, but not in the old Khyber Club, as in past years. The Khyber ICA's Ballroom is the place to be Saturday, September 19, from 7-10 pm. "Let's hope that by September 2010 the Khyber Club will be up and running in time for the Salon to celebrate its 10th anniversary."

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is Stephen Harper taking our advice on Pier 21?

Look for our story on the immigration museum in tomorrow's paper

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2009 at 10:34 PM

In tomorrow's paper, Sean Flinn writes about Pier 21's 10th anniversary and its pursuit of national museum status. Already a national heritage site, Pier 21 hosts Stephen Harper tomorrow, and the PM is planning an announcement with premier Dexter at 10:30am. Hopefully this means good news for Canada's immigration museum, putting it on par with five other institutions; most located in Ottawa, including the Museum of Civilization, and Winnipeg's Museum of Human Rights. For the last decade, Pier 21 has worked toward broadening its scope and bringing stories of immigration to Canada to all Canadians. Be sure to read Sean's story tomorrow for background on its efforts, which will be updated with any news from the press conference.

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Vol 28, No 3
November 12, 2020

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