Labour Arts Guild

July 1944 - 1947?

John Goss (1894 - 1953), a baritone singer born in England, co-founded the Labour Arts Guild in 1944. They quickly developed an ambitious schedule of events. In 1944 the Guild held the First Annual B.C. At Work exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. There were 153 artworks exhibited in the show.

Application form for the 2nd Annual exhibition

In 1945, there were 117 exhibitors and 204 artworks in the Second Annual B.C. At Work exhibition. Eleven prizes were awarded.

Prize winners from the 2nd Annual exhibition

The following year the Guild asked the Art Gallery for a list of artists who could be invited to participate in the Third Annual B.C. At Work Exhibition. The Gallery provided the Guild with a list titled "Leading Vancouver Artists." The third exhibition was apparently not held.

The Guild's offices were at 641 Granville Street, Vancouver, in 1945, and its letterhead listed John Goss as the Director and Julia Christensen as the Secretary-Treasurer.

Unfortunately Goss fell afoul of the US authorities who branded him a communist sympathizer. He couldn't keep working in Vancouver, and moved to England in 1950 where he later died.


1944 First Annual B.C. At Work
1945 Second Annual B.C. At Work



"Labour Arts Guild" by Ruby M. Sutherland
      Canadian Art magazine, October-November 1945, p. 6-9, 40; 3 illustrations

     "The Labour Arts Guild, organized in July, 1944, under the direction of John Goss, eminent musician and writer, was a community effort on the part of workers in industry, business and in the various arts. It was designed to foster closer co-operation between organized labor and those engaged in advancing the progress of music, fine arts, literature and drama. The Labor Arts Guild held the conviction that the Labor Movement has need of the artist to give voice, colour and dramatic emphasis to labor's contribution to the cause of social welfare and national unity. It is equally "convinced that workers in the arts, if they would avoid isolation, futility and the shabby-genteel snobbery which in recent years has come to be associated with artistic endeavour must place their talents at the service of the politically and industrially conscious working people."
     During the first eight months of the Guild's existence four major projects were successfully undertaken. The first of these was a competitive Art exhibition, B.C. At Work.
     This was the first exhibition of its kind to be held in Canada and was unique in that the subject matter of the competitive works dealt exclusively with the industrial and working life of the Province through the media of painting, sculpture, drawing and woodcarving. And for the first time in Canadian history, Trade Unions concerned themselves with such matters by contributing over $600.00 in cash prizes.
     Other completed projects of the Guild included a series of People's Concerts held on Sunday evenings, an author's contest for the purpose of stimulating contemporary Canadian writing of one-act plays, short stories and poems on democratic themes, a stage production of Norman Corwin's famous radio drama, "Untitled," and a full-length production of Hamlet.
     The possibilities of the Guild with its backing from the Trade Unions could be of immense significance in furthering the Arts in Canada. Unfortunately, the Labor Arts Guild is not in operation at present."
     A Short Art History of British Columbia, by Charles H. Scott.
     From Behind the Palette, 1946-47 issue, VSDAA.

Information courtesy Vancouver Art Gallery Library & Archives