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Community Arts Celebration Winspear Centre March 15 and 16 2008

Posted on 3/20/2008 by Amy Fung

The Community Arts Celebration was an apt end for Edmonton’s year as Cultural Capital of Canada. Apt in its sense and standard of community art as the benchmark for what constitutes as culture in this city. Edmonton very much favours the community spirit of artistic excellence, often conflating the two into one, and the weekend revealed many new questions into our city’s  identity.

In Paula Jardine’s presentation as part of Saturday’s morning symposium, the ex-Edmontonian showed slides from her heyday during the glory years of creating civic art. Rice Howard Way filled with 20 ft puppets created by Peter Field surrounded by towers of backlit dancers in office windows during an era of extravagant parades, alley art bombs, and fire sculptures against the city skyline. This was nearly 25 years ago, and yet, the Edmonton in those slides is almost unrecognizable to anyone who has ever tried to do anything publically artistic for a civic audience. The freedom, support, and creativity initial to those late 70s-early 80s projects were rooted in a community spirit, a spirit that has been quickly weighed down with a funnel bureaucracy and stayed down.

In comparing the era in those slides with present day, it becomes obvious that all existing artistic projects have come into existence by trying to fit into a system that once set up, has not been updated. All day Saturday, I felt the fatigue and exhaustion of drifting from one project to the next, wondering where this was all leading and why these are individual projects happening within set time frames and what or if these cultural projects will even leave a legacy. To get some fresh air, I ended up taking a bus tour that went from point A to B to C as a prepackaged tourist would instead of an active citizen, culminating in the five person audience for “Words of Exposure,” a sample of readings from Edmonton’s first ever queer arts festival. At that point, I wondered if this umbrella of community arts wasn’t segregating communities in the long run. The artists performing within Exposure’s showcase were by far the most professional artists I had seen all day, yet their audience was one of the smallest turn outs. Perhaps the ideal would have been a huge turnout coming out for each community, and in so doing each community would have seen each other’s communities, and it would really have been a celebration of each other, only then it wasn’t until Sunday evening where snippets of each group were offered did this point almost realize itself.

Sunday in general was far more energetic than sleepy Saturday. The morning symposium on how outreach with non-mainstream communities can propel social change was a blunt dose of reality starting with Wallis Kendal of Edmonton’s ihuman, the uplifting and eye opening changes of art’s empowerment with UK based Michael Etherton, and the spiritual journey and congregation of Xstine Cook and Stephanie Hawking’s White Buffalo project with inmates from a Southern Alberta correctional facility. The transformative power of art was the basic thread, and in the context of marginalized groups such as incarcerated individuals and oppressed youths, the healing power of art and culture shines a little brighter.

The next bright moment came during Linda Goyette’s “The Story that Brought Me Here,” where women writers and poets read aloud their first generational Canadian stories in several languages. The brightness was not just in their readings and their shared experiences, but in the interruptive flow of other communities and cultures wafting through the Winspear Centre. From below the third floor of the Winspear, Cree drumming and chanting echoed up; on the other side of the room African drumming drowned everything else out as we before and behind the podium all waited obligingly for their song to subside; and the overall commotion of the building and people within the cluster of community arts shined through crystal clear.

Mention must also be given to Old Earth Production’s “A Must-Be: Maskihkly Maskwa Iskwew.” Putting forth the harsh reality of the institutionalization and its affects on Aboriginal women handed down from residential schools to the cycle of the penal system, the hurt that continues was felt strongly with the presence of one and others who is living and being within the damaged cycle. As the entire audience began in a communal prayer ceremony, and the off-mic performance/story telling began, the trauma of our collectivity, afflicting one, afflicted all.

The one question that consistently came up over the weekend, often posed by the same person, was the aesthetic standard of community art. True, community art differs in aesthetic and presentation from institutional art, often for a certain lack of professional polish, but the Community Arts Celebration presented a mixed bag of professional and community artists. At the end of the weekend, the overarching theme seemed to override the artistic merit or professionalism of any of the artists, but the connection and impact arts and culture has on our lives and communities. Our culture will go on as the legacy and memory of our times, and a city’s cultural output is its greatest achievement to the outside world. This point has been hammered home many times, but we seem to suffer from a reoccuring short term memory. With the new hype of Richard Florida’s latest book, “Who’s Your City?” buzzing through the lips of all urbanites, the argument that a city’s cultural diversity and open-mindedness is not just why people drift to certain cities, but why they stay and live and produce in those cities.

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John Holden: Culture and Politics

Posted on 1/27/2008 by Amy Fung

John Holden breezed through last week and shared his model understanding of Culture and its relation to Politics.

According to Holden, there are three value systems of Culture, the first being an Intrinsic Value. Intrinsic Culture often eludes quantification and cannot be measured for statistics; it is created in and for itself and therefore has the specter of elitism and consequently alienates the majority of public audiences.

The second is Instrumental Value. The "using" of culture to regenerate an area, an economy, and to recover a loss. Richard Florida is its best salesman. 118 Avenue is Edmonton’s best example. In an other city, the area may be just described as "in transition"; but because of city council’s emphasis on pushing art and artists into the neighborhood in hopes of pushing drugs and prostitution out (to where remains to be seen), 118 Avenue is slowly becoming the shadow spokesmodel of its own Revitalization Plan.

The third is Institutional Value. This is culture's interaction with the community at large, such as the day to day operations of libraries, museums, and other public institutions where the public can visit and engage with culture. This is Culture with a capital Mandate, and culture created under this value often loses sight of its own purpose in fulfilling policies.

In short, Holden mirrors his model after the economic model of public, private and state operated corporations. For a healthy and vibrant economy, a balance must be struck between the three. There cannot be sole focus on any one facet, as that will debilitate future growth. It is a delicatly intertwined system, and if applied to Edmonton's culture scene, what we find is a very ill imbalance of culture.

Culture has been poorly funded by institutionally sanctioned grants, creating art that must follow "project" guidelines and work towards meeting and achieving preordained and systematized guidelines. Holden's personal example was that the non profit arts organization he chaired could only receive a certain grant if they made the project, a musical performance, relevant to youth crossing guards. This and its many variations happens all too often under local, provincial and even national funding models, limiting artistic direction and challenging the integrity of artists as independent professionals. The result is that the quality and vision of culture declines to fit itself into funding models and rhetoric, and the works produced can be dull and uninteresting for everyone from artists to audiences, but satisfies clinical political and institutional checklists.

Privately funded culture keeps most of our buildings, festival, and organizations afloat. Sponsorships have become so natural that we must call it the Syncrude NextFest and people automatically think TransAlta owns and operates the ArtsBarns. Companies become dollar dispensers and are no more connected to the community and the arts then they were before the stamp of their logo; and artists must spend their time jumping through more administrative hoops than working on their work. Because creating art is work, and currently, making art and sustaining your art are strained as two separate occupations--each requiring full time hours and two separate skill sets. But culture is seen as a frill, with a cool factor for those who may invest a minimum, and the industry is not taken seriously as a business endeavor by businesses themselves.

Instrumental and institutionally sanctioned culture often loses sight of the quality of art generated, conflating spurts of unprocessed creativity as a work of art if they meet and satisfy a guideline. The intrinsic value of culture, of art, is this: That it allows us as flawed and inexperienced human beings to experience the world through a lens slightly different different from our own. That Art challenges our beliefs and questions our understanding of the world, and makes us look at things from another perspective, with hopes of making us understand something greater than ourselves. This is also the value of science (only science can be measured). A quality work of art that fulfills all of Holden's value systems can only be created under limitless circumstances, where artists can be trusted to create without project barriers and suffocating guidelines. Art is not democratic. Its end result may be for the people, but its process should not have to suffer under a dozen different hands.

One audience question asked Holden what he thought about graffiti. Smartly sidestepping the question but ultimately answering it, he replied that he has experienced uncomfortable graffiti (those that are thoughtless and unprocessed like crude defamations), but that he has also experienced the witty and challenging works of Banksy right by his office in London, and that it was brilliant. And he is absolutely right. Graffiti canbe brilliant, but in Edmonton, it has become such a politicized issue of private space that the question was asked not even about the artistic value of graffiti, but more likely about the legality of public art on private buildings. There may be a lot of poorly made graffiti in the city, but there is also a lot of poorly executed public and privately sanctioned culture. It is not just about throwing money into funding (which has just happened) and it is not just about throwing tax breaks at businesses (which has also just happened), and acknowledging the importance of culture in our society from leaders (ditto), it is about breaking down those barriers that view graffiti as harmful to a city (how can public art made out of free will and time be harmful?) and to begin valuing culture as so much more than a charitable hand out, a decoration, a quantifiable block of expression, and to begin understanding that culture is an investment of a community's well-being and long term identity.


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New Years Eve

Posted on 1/10/2008 by Jason Kodie

Did you make it Churchill square on New Years Eve? Were you part of the 30 000 strong who rang in 2008 under a spell of hypnotizing fireworks? Did you catch any of the magnificent bands, 14 in total, all hailing from Edmonton? Were you part of an amazing celebration?
I ask these redundant questions to those who were there, with a hint of smugness to those who weren’t. You would have been hard pressed to find any dissappoinment in anyone who attended the Nightworks celebration. There was magic in the air.
Edmonton Cultural Capital and Events Edmonton collaborated in this effort and gave Edmontonians an evening to remember as the year we rang in 2008 as the Cultural Capital of Canada. This massive undertaking was made possible through a string of emails that would stretch from MillWoods to Belle Rive, through meetings that would envy the Presidential race currently running in the States, and through patience and focus befitting of a Buddhist temple.
The cost to Edmontonians, Free!
What more could you ask for -  an evening of fantastic entertainment highlighting some of the best musical talent in our town. Neighbourhood comraderie under the chill of a prairie eve, replete with a waning full moon. At midnight, as per usual, came the fireworks. This spellbinding visual feast of exploding sounds and colour put together by ProFX, (Calgary, ok, we can let that one go), was stunning. The soundtrack to the display featured the music of the majority of the evening’s performers. The sea of 30 000, and growing by the second, revellers in Churchill Square swayed harmoniously to the sights and sounds that filled the air with hope and joy. Magic. Did I mention this was free?
This years event was a co-pro which allowed for Edmonton Cultural Capital to fund the entertainment and for Events Edmonton to fund the production. ECC of C had indicated in their initial application that this event was part of their vision – a celebration for all Edmontonians that would usher in the New Year. They delivered as promised.
Sadly, this may not be the case next year as this was perhaps a one time happening for such a large scale event. Events Edmonton has been producing the event since the demise of the former « First Night » celebration. They graciously allowed for this co-production, and will continue to handle New Years Eve celebrations for the future.
I for one believe they could use more assistance and a larger budget which will allow them to continue in the same vein. Next years celebration should be better than the last. Alright, I could handle a reduction in the fireworks as them there things are damn expensive and can eat up a huge part of a budget. Next years celebration should continue in the same vein with all Edmonton bands. 4 stages again, with some re-tooling and ironing out of the kinks, allowing for an even better event that will continue to enforce the legacy and strength of our culture, cuz we will never forget that we were, and still are, the Capital of the Province, and the Cultural Capital of Canada, right?
Call your alderman. Insist upon it.

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Ted Kerr's Towards Seeing Everything

Posted on 12/23/2007 by Amy Fung

Gathered inside The Artery, the newest alternative venue in town, Kerr invited panelists from all of the non-profit organizations he has worked with in his photo-based project, Towards Seeing Everything. Representatives from HIV Edmonton, Changing Together, Chrysalis, Mile Zero Dance and additional reps from PACE plus Kerr and moderator Karen Lynch headed an open dialogue about the intersection of art, social awareness and how and what it is to be creative.

Kerr’s impetus to put a face to the non profit sector is literally represented in the piece for Changing Together, a NPF for newly immigrated women in Edmonton. The piece stands as polariods taken of women born outside of Canada, with a short self-written bio consisting of their first name, place of birth, and their “role” in society. By far the strongest piece in the set of four, which also consisted of a photodocumentary of a day in the life of someone with HIV, a three panel series of developmentally challenged individuals in the workplace, and an abstract collage of the body, the Changing Together piece at once calls on our categorization of race, but at the same time surprises and challenges our notions of Otherness. 

The challenge of creating art to reconcile social issues is too great a task, as art at its best cannot reconcile anything, but only push and pull us into different directions. The overuse of the word “creativity” was thoroughly annoying; the badgering that we are all creative beings is one thing, but to use one’s creativity in a succinct and applicable manner is completely another issue that was not discussed beyond “how to creatively stay afloat with a small budget.”  Whether we are to semantically rename non profits as “public profits” eventually comes down to the bottom line, an issue that is too deep and really calls for greater arts lobbying. Tax breaks, incentives to invest and endow, artistic standards that reflect the diversity of the city, and spaces to produce and exhibit are just the major tips of a disintegrating iceberg.

The segregation of Edmonton art from social issues, from business, and from science, is very troubling. Kerr’s project points to putting some of these things back together, but why have they been separated in the first place? This is the foremost reason why art is not valued in a city like Edmonton, because the integration of art into our daily lives has been nil. There are spots of decorative art, but that does not speak about anything to anyone. Since when has art existed as a form wholly unto itself? Art is a barometer, a document, and an interpretation of society. Any form of expression is a direct reflection of our times. The work may not always communicate anything profound, but then that is the separation between being creative and being an artist.



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Yann Martel: Anti-Dentite

Posted on 12/13/2007 by Sam Varteniuk

It really feels like Yann Martel is a man who has answers.  At least, if feels like Yann Martel thinks he has answers, or thinks he ought to have answers and is working hard to be definitive in delivering them to his public.  Maybe that’s because so many people have read his book Life of Pi and responded positively to the simple, allegorical nature of it.  It seems as though there are answers to some of life’s most complex questions in that book, and that the answers are so uncomplicated that they must be true.  I certainly would not deny anyone the comfort of finding answers in a world full of questions.  I personally loved the book.


There’s something you learn early on in academia if you’re at all serious about it, and that’s to be wary of making broad, general comments.  If you’re going to present yourself as an authority then you have a responsibility to be as accurate as possible in your statements.  It feels really good to start a sentence like, “since the dawn of humanity people have . . .” or “there has never been a single work of fiction that does not . . .” The problem is that those sorts of statements are usually more aesthetic than factual.  They are grandstanding, theatrical moments, designed to wow an audience.  They are used by religious leaders to fan the flames of passion in their followers, brushing aside contrary opinion in the fervent need to be devoutly committed to something.


So maybe Yann is just trying to live up to the expectations of his adoring audience when he attempts to define the nature of art for us as it pertains to life.  “Art is the life of the mind,” he declares.  Good, I think, I can get behind that.  “Art is amoral,” he continues, “a gadfly, completely free to be objectionable.”  Well sure, I can see that.  Art needs to have the freedom to explore things that others may consider taboo; it is in this way that minds are opened, new possibilities introduced. 


Yann goes on to make a distinction between art and entertainment: the former is nutritious, the latter is candy.  Entertainment is moronic, he explains, and the enjoyment of it is shameful, albeit satisfying.  I’ve heard this kind of talk before.  It smacks of elitism and I don’t see how it helps, but I see where he’s going.  Art is that which is challenging, questioning life and encouraging thought.  Entertainment is escapism.  Part of me wonders why something as amoral as Art should be concerned with the lack of social conscience evinced by its unruly sibling Entertainment, but then I think I might be playing word games and decide to give my career a rest and just listen.


“Religion and art are the only ways of exploring life.  Science is mechanical, and commerce doesn’t even come close.”  Here is where he starts to lose me.  I get the whole anti-commerce thing – corporate irresponsibility is out of control, and I think we need to start recognizing how soulless business can become if it’s only about money.  But science?  Science is wonder.  Science is discovery.  Scientists speak of their work with the passion of artists.  It is nature, a truth that is constantly being questioned by people eager to have their beliefs changed.  Why is he attacking science?


“Dentistry is the opposite of artistry.”


This is where Yann loses me.  The comment smacks of someone who really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but is determined to talk about it with authority.  Maybe I’m sensitive because my mother is a dental hygienist.  I just never would have figured Yann Martel for an anti-dentite.


A few notes: German culture did not commit the holocaust; to be satisfied is not moronic; men are not the only ones who work themselves to death.  You’re a smart man, Yann, and you tell a good story.  That’s plenty to be proud of.  You don’t have to feel as though it’s your job to deliver the meaning of life to humanity.

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Yann Martel

Posted on 12/5/2007 by Amy Fung

Promoting his new book, A 20th Century Shirt, which he carefully explains to be a flip book of a novel and an essay, Yann Martel weaved through what can only be described as an infomercial for his new illustrated copy of Man Booker winner 'Life of Pi' before moving onto his digression on how the Holocaust is not fictionalized enough. There is certainly a gap between event and representation, but the denominator of experience was glossed over by examples of fiction versus non fiction, which Martel aims to conjoin once again--and rightly so. Only fiction takes liberties with a lived experience that non fiction can only investiage, and in applying that approach to the Holocaust, Martel seems oblivious to the problematic nature of fictionalizing an event that is simultaneously denied by some, never to be forgotten by others, and completely unimaginable to many of his fellow humankind.

A famed and celebrated author, Martel is undeniably a gifted wordsmith: intellectual, insightful, but ultimately and unfortunately he is also an extreme elitist. His push for reading as a path to wisdom and greater experience may be fair enough to believe, but his idealistic vision only reaches the converted, and even then, has the ability to alienate. Poignant and patronizing, his outlandish and at times outrageous insinuations of PM Harper left many laughing, but his asinine approach left others reeling at the dumbfounded assumptions of art's role in society. Art in all its levels whether it is pure entertainment of low brow nature or challenging experimental works from a prestigious canon co-exist together and should be acknowledged in equal weight for different audiences. One is not greater than the other, perhaps more accessible or stimulating, but both should be proudly consumed. Prefacing his nonchalant admiration for mindless entertainment art and dividing art against itself for the sake of elitism (and not even merit), Martel and similiar thinkers are only further marginalizing culture from our already-unsatisfied society. Quipping that the mindless art of television or thrillers as samples of childhood shame and are today ingested as "candy," Martel implicates high esoteric art as the equivalent of brocoli, condenscending the issue to extremes. Simply needed to achieve balance, Art in its many formations needs to be consumed in order to expand the palette. Feeling shame or guilty as Martel admits when enjoying "moronic" entertainment does not expand the dialogue. Rather, this perspective only creates a greater divide between who should enjoy Art and who can enjoy Art.

Martel beautifully captures the notion that "life is interpretation" -- that art can help us explore life and its capabilities, and that sentiment was important to share in a city like Edmonton, a city experiencing tremendous growth and transition and not enough reflection of where this boom is taking us as a community. Edmonton is still quite young, and our sense of legacy is dwindling with the grab for fast and easy cash, but once we realize the need to invest in our own legacy will we begin to invest in the arts. Edmonton needs art to reflect our changing city and culture, and the only real stipulation is that the art being created be interpreative and reflective of the real lives that are happening, and be challenging, pushing all of our boundaries, and be more than just intellectually satisfying, but a creation that reflects a grain of shared experience.

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Art & Science Symposium

Posted on 11/11/2007 by Amy Fung

The unnatural separation of art and science came to a head in various incarnations during the Art & Science symposium held November 9 – 10, 2007.

Kicking off with a keynote by physicist novelist Alan Lightman, the packed Bernard Snell hall in the Health Sciences Bldg, U of A campus was given a lot to disseminate over the nature of practicality in relation to aesthetics.

Broken down as science being the purification and identification of a “thing” in contrast to art’s purpose of reflecting and conjuring a “thing” – the common denominator, according to Lightman, is that both require imagination and compulsion.

It has been a pit between art and science since the very term “science” came into our lexicon during the 19th century, as historically, art does not deny the presence of natural truths and neither can be said of the reverse. Lightman advocates the extremes in his very self, being an accomplished physicists who loves the poetic undulations of language, but through his dual means, he argues for art and science as different tools, to be used in different ways, in our metaphorically toolbox of knowledge. To understand or to even exist as being in the world, we ultimately need to work with both together. Though our minds may prefer one strength over another, as do our economy and social values, he left off with his personal thought that I construe as: arts and culture needs to better translate their inherent value into capitalistic value in our day and age. This is the era we live in, and art as we have known it, must lobby itself as equally important as economic gain.


This thought was referred to throughout the rest of the symposium.


Highlights included Alan Bleakley’s presentation on Peninsula Medical Science’s groundbreaking work with bringing in the ambiguous and abstract to the repressed scientific world. Estrangement, he and others have argued via Shklovsky, jars you from your every day experience into experiencing something richer. [At this point, I can’t help but think of Sheila Heti’s interview with Dave Hickey that blasts this all from inside out in Nov/Dec’s issue of Believer . . . but carrying on]  Bleakley presents that art’s nature for complexity and unpredictability is cause-and-effect tamed by science who tries to control and distill information. Pushing for ambiguity as a resource for exploration rather than a hindrance, the separation of art and science, along with body and mind, is at the crux of our modern civilization.

Also exciting is news that Peninsula is now working with Turner prize nominee Christine Borland where “audiences” may make incisions into faux cadavers and stitch them up again. Though all agreed that there has been an issue over the medical world being easily fetishized by art, the issue also exposes interesting intersects of who is allowed to practice what.


Day 2:


Ellen Dissanayake argues art as an innate biological ritual. Though there’s no denying that every culture and creature in the animal kingdom has a ritual that is construed as artistic or creative, there is a gaping hole between the creation of art and art as life lived. Anthropologically, art was certainly more integrated with our everyday life, and one audience question wondered aloud what had replaced art as ritual in our lives? Technology. Technology has replaced, but that’s not to say technology is not artistic expression, as it holds possibilities many of us can never dream of. Graduating from cave paintings to nanotechnology in how we communicate should be embraced if we are to understand art as a biological trait. Interesting, but perhaps too broad in scope and definition of “art.”


Sid Fels, from west coast Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Center (MAGIC), brought along short videos much to the glee of many audience members. [If you missed, you can perhaps see them here: or] Revered for his human-computer interaction work, biomechanical modeling and intelligent agents, his work is one the most base level: cool. An interactive human sized kaleidoscope that was eventually bought by a centre for autistic children (some of the children, who have never displayed interest in playing before, were found playing in front of the machine); biomechanical gloves that “speak” on motion (I imagine it works similar to the theremin, but more acute and designed to hit the human vocal range instead). On another level, Fels body of work exemplifies the combination, and not opposition of art and science into the creation of an experience that is truly extraordinary to the human body and mind.



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Roberta Brandes Gratz & Tim Jones: Creative City Conference speakers

Posted on 10/19/2007 by Amy Fung

Brought in from New York and Toronto respectively to discuss the issues of urban revitalization and renewal, Gratz and Jones certainly gave us some food for thought.

(A week before the civic elections, Gratz's comment on how we shouldn't turn our cities over to developers struck a chord. We may not turn anything over, but is it okay if we vote them in?  Similiarly, Jones askewed opening example of how the then newly elected artistic mayor of Tirana, Albania, painted the city's run-down buildings in different colours mattered in revitalizing the former Communist country . . . questionable as painting initiative was doubtfully on the election platform, and support of the arts does not resonate with the majority of voters . . . )

At this stage, Edmonton needs further development, but that is re-development of a city construct gone awry. We do not need to build out any further, we need to fill in existing empty pockets and focus on density and expand the diversity of this city if we are truly to grow into an urban place.

Living in another boom time, the legacy left behind by any era is its culture; what will Edmonton be remembered for 100 years from now besides one of the worst urban sprawls in North America?

Gratz addressed issues from the root and up, honing in on the need to create for the local before attracting the global. The idea that creativity will lead to revitalization is a conclusion in and of itself. Stepping back, where are the creative folks in this city going to live and create to make this city so creative and prosperous? That is the first issue we should address before marketing the city's (completely unsustainable) creative culture to its citizens and elsewhere. A city does not become world class by catering to the fluctuations of global standards set for some metropolitan paragon; a city gains the world's respect by retaining and nurturing its local gems and thus attracting visitors from the world over.  We are losing our gems one by one and we need to focus more on the capacity to produce culture rather than jumping ahead to how this end product of "art" is so great for a city.



Jones, on the other hand, who is the CEO of Artscape, pushes for "art" as a trigger for revitalization of cities and cultures. Diversity was a key word for Jones' speech, as was "innovation"--leading to an overall gloss of what these words could possibly mean in context. He is succesful at what he does, but I question the cracks in approach and not the noble intent.

It is admirable that Artscape has succesfully taken over abandoned spaces in major urban areas and turned them into functional art spaces to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood, but Jones points to the psychological barrier that he thinks has been preventing art and diversity from overflowing into the popular mainstream--and this is where the lecture crumbles.

The viability of economy may have more to do with the profileration of art and culture than our mental barriers, which does not directly implicate economics, but really should.

There are often questions and comments concerning funding and privatization. Artists want to know how to access private funds to continue their craft, but if treated as a business, you propose a detailed plan and budget with a projection on the anticpated return on investment. (I do believe that is how the public funding bodies have been created?) 

Jone's use of "pyschology" gives an easy and unexplained out for the public, but it is the psyche of artists and arts professionals that needs conditioning on the economic impacts of their craft.

If we continue to segregate art as just "enrichment" to our lives, we will forever be at the suckle of government subsidies and living off the charity pot of those other successful businesses.



In conclusion, the city of Edmonton needs greater diversity and density to grow. Edmonton has a great number of empty buildings, often blocks at a time, privately owned. Developers are sitting on land waiting for the arts to revitalize the area. Edmonton artists need space to create and produce.

We're so close, so far away.

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Edmonton's Poetry Festival - A Darn Good Road

Posted on 9/26/2007 by Sam Varteniuk

At the launch for the poetry festival Mayor Stephen Mandel put his foot in his mouth.  He was in the middle of reading a poem that had been inscribed onto a commemorative plaque when he arrived at an image that disagreed with him.  I don’t remember the poem, but I do remember that the thing he didn’t like was the simile ‘like a darn good road.’


“Who thought of the road analogy?” Mandel blurted in the middle of his reading, his distaste obvious.  He kept reading, but interrupted himself to reflect on what an awful, common, and flat image was that ‘darn good road’.


As he finished his reading, outgoing poet laureate Alice Major whispered something in his ear.


“The road analogy was Alice’s” Mandel proclaimed, not missing a beat.  “And it’s a darn fine one at that.”


I had to admire the seasoned politician’s ability to roll with the situation.  I was even reminded of our once fearless leader Mr. Klein and his determination to speak his mind regardless of how poorly informed or disillusioned he was.  People seemed to like it.  I found myself wondering if Mandel had done it on purpose, knowing that Edmontonians like a certain brusque, blue-collar abrasiveness in their civic leaders.


But it also got me thinking about how subjective poetry can be, and how a poetic image can go from banal to darn fine depending on who wrote it.


So it was with that in mind that my wife and I made our way to the Axis Café on Jasper Avenue to take in the readings of four poets last Friday.  One of the poets was my friend Karen who I know from the Schizophrenia Society.  I had initially asked her to accompany me to a poetry reading event since she’s a poet and even got a grant for it once, so I was pleased to discover that she was actually involved in one of them. 


The Axis Café is a trendy little joint near the corner of Jasper and 104.  It’s got a balcony that spans half the length of the main floor, overlooking the rest of the café – it was up there that they’d decided the poetry reading would take place.  When we arrived there were four or five other people on the balcony so we took a seat on a pair of cushioned leather chairs in the corner.  Then a few more people showed up.  Then some more.  Then a couple of large groups.  The café produced some folding chairs and we crammed in as best we could, but by the time the readings were scheduled to commence there was standing room only and we were packed in like sardines. 


“Is there a weight restriction up here?” the man beside me asks.


“No no,” the poet emcee replies confidently.  But there is.  There has to be.  And we’re definitely over it.


I remember Karen telling me once that she doesn’t like small or crowded places and wonder how she’s doing.  I’m also becoming aware of the fact that there might actually be a danger here, crammed overweight into a small space.  But it’s somehow fitting: dangerous poetry.


Karen uses a pen name when she writes – ky perraun.  I ask her if I should call her that instead of Karen. 


“Yeah,” she smiles.  “Call me jelly.”


“Attention,” says a pretty young lady who’s stepped up to the microphone.  “Downstairs there’s a nice little stage and, while it’s not as cozy as up here, there’s seating for everyone.  Vote?”


Half of us raise our hands.  Maybe less than half.  But somehow that’s enough.  We are in Canada after all.  So we trundle off downstairs to discover a perfect little performance space all ready to go with a microphone and sound booth and mood lighting, and I’m thinking why the crap were we upstairs in the first place?


The first poet (the pretty one who’d arranged the move downstairs) isn’t a very good reader.  She doesn’t enunciate and speaks in monotone.  She rushes from one poem to the next, a series of images that wash over me.  She pauses at one point to explain that the lack of pauses, descriptions, or titles is intentional, part of the stream-of-poetry consciousness she’s going for.  I suppose she’s aware of an unspoken request from the audience for greater clarity.


The second poet is Karen.  She’s a good reader, but then again I’m biased.  Her poems are stories of being on the psych ward, of a person’s reality breaking down.  I am thankful that I won’t have to lie to her afterward when I tell her she’s good.


The third poet reminds me of the first.  Her reading is a bit more energetic, but her poems are a series of images, word pictures, written for the aesthete who wishes to savour each word, sucking on it like a Werther’s Original.  I never went for that sort of candy.  I prefer things I can chew on.


Which is why I like the last poet.  Her poems are all about sex; dirty, zipless, lusty, torrid sex.  I can connect to it.  There’s a story there, and the images are serving it rather than fighting with it for centre stage.


And in the end I suppose poetry is like a darn good road.  It’s best when it’s headed somewhere with clearly marked signage.  Some poetry is like those roads in residential sub-divisions, the ones that bend all over in cul-de-sacs with speed bumps everywhere, never travelling very far in a straight line.  They’re meant to serve the people who live there and to confuse everyone else, discouraging motorists from blasting through looking for shortcuts.  Good roads take you somewhere interesting.  The traffic on them moves.  There are nice things to look at out the window, but the things whip by, forming a blurred backdrop to the journey which is the real thrill.  If you stop too much to look at the sights you may not end up arriving where you were headed in the first place.

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Posted on 9/24/2007 by Amy Fung


Scythe, choregraphed by Amber Borotsik in collaboration with partner Jesse Gervais, Jason Carnew and Linda Turnbull had the audience pleasantly murmuring in between bites of pie during its post-opening reception.

Whether you see Scythe as dance-based theatre piece or narrative dance piece, or whether if that should even be an issue, the work as a whole was firmly rooted in an organic creation process between Borotsik et al, who but for Turnbull, all move fluidly and frequently between theatre and dance. In turn, Turnbull was in good company as she stepped up in the narrative moments of this largely movement-based work.

The need to categorize the discpline is only an afterthought it seems, as the piece undoubtly touched the audience and expressed an original voice that was highly conscious of its prairie surroundings. Setting the stage at a bare minimal, with an intricate lighting design by Kerem Cetinel, Borotsik makes the experimental highly accessible and estranges the status quo standards of performance into high art. Prairie life as portrayed by artists is finally catching up with contemporary times, and perhaps our classification of discplines can also catch up with our contemporary multidiscplinary era.



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State of the Art

Posted on 9/24/2007 by Amy Fung


As a collaborative exercise between muralist Ian Mulder, graffiti artist Clayton Lowe and iHuman (along with the help and coordinative efforts of Andrea Lefebvre and Mike Debruin), State of the Art will wrap up on October 6th as the winner of their design contest will realize their design on the south wall of the new iHuman building on 102A Avenue and 95 St.

As two workshops held over two September weekends, the culmination of the activities ended with a disappointing panel discussion on "State of the Art" between iHUman ED Wallis Kendal, outgoing councillor Michael Phair, Vue Weekly News Editor Ross Moroz, Clayton Lowe, and another fellow graffiti artist who was well-versed in the Brazilian graffiti scene.

I say disappointing because:

a) The panel was imbalanced. If we are to talk about public art in Edmonton, it would only be appropriate to have the new Public Art Director, Kristy Trinier, on site. From the existing Art and Design in Public Places, any one of the participating artists or Linda Wedman herself should have been present as the talk ended up being highly skewered. As there was an obvious issue with the quality of public art on display in our city, talking with the people who put it there (instead of talking about them) would have helped.

b) Talking about doing graffiti often came across as redundant. Graffiti happens. The paradox of these street artists asking for public sanctioned space to do their work, at the same time bemoaning commisioned public art works, seems at best, trite.  I do believe graffiti safe zones would benefit the city in various ways, but I also believe first and foremost that the graffiti (along with the public art) in this city has to get better. We can have all the space we want for art, but at the end of the day, it should be thoughtful and challenging art for the public to view. As the lecture about Brazilian graffiti even stated, the aesthetic here hasn't developed and for a transient medium like graffiti, a lack of studio space and community is not to blame.

c) Kendal, who was first to speak, set the tone with a brash statement saying that there is a simple solution to improving public art. There are never simple solutions and the tone set from that overstatement resulted in many more off-the-cuff remarks that did not progress 'the state of the art', but let it continue to fester in a 'us' versus 'them' mentality that only exists so long as we continue to manifest it aloud.

A more balanced and thoughtful discussion is certainly welcome in your comments.


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Art in the Hood

Posted on 9/23/2007 by Jason Kodie

Art in the Hood

I attended a poetry reading at Norwood school and listened to two poets – Robert Stevenson and Robert Heidbreder (hereafter Rob S. and Rob H.) They were but two of the many featured poets giving in-school readings, all part of poetry week. I arrived just before 9am, just in time to witness the aerobic warm up and doling out of snacks to the kids. Schools have evolved greatly since my elementary days and are far more in tune with their communities - Norwood School is no exception.
Rob S. recited to grades 4-6. He employed urban myths - monsters, aliens and werewolves as his poetic vehicle. To his credit, these were not tricks to get the students attention as his 3 novels confirmed. Sometimes the toughest crowd to win over are the 8-12 year olds as attention spans, lack of visuals, and booming music are non-factors for the acoustic and accapella poets. While there was bum squirming and wandering eyes, Rob S. held the attention of the majority of the students with his various monster poems, change of voice, and student participation. Well done Rob S.
Upstairs to the library I went to listen to Rob H. who was reading from his published books to Grades 1 and 2. The term ‘cagey vet’ came to mind almost immediately as it was made quite clear that this was not the first time Rob H. had been before this type of crowd. His use of dynamics including shrieks to inaudible whispering in the same phrase, held his young audience captive. His presentation was inspiring and infectous.
I was more than pleased to learn that Norwood school continues the poetry curriculum beyond one token day of visiting poets. The grade 5 and 6 classes maintain their own poetry journals throughout the school year, with grade 5’s re-visiting their work into grade 6. In my view, both poets delivered the goods in their respective presentations. Tough crowds, tough subject, all made entertaining, educational, and inspiring.

The same week, I attended a mural unveiling in the same hood, this time at the Métis Regional Council Zone IV located on 95st and 117ave. This project was a collaboration between two artists, Pedro Rodriguez de los Santos and Duane Linklater and nine indigenous youth from the Edmonton region. On paper, this seemed like a very cool cross-cultural exploration. My expectations were maybe a little higher, but I was let down by the mural they unveiled. Calling this project a mural is somewhat misleading. I would venture a « mural-panel » exploration highlighting aspects of First Nations imagery.  Allow me to preface that with what I think constitutes a mural.
A mural :
•    should be visible from afar, say a block away
•    should not make the viewer squint to see the details, especially when standing underneath it
•    should convey a clear message and an aspect of unity throughout the work
As let down as I was, I dug a little deeper.
The spark of colour this panache yields, I can easily say that it adds colour to a street in dire need of community expression. I can also attest that the speakers and presenters in attendance were nothing short of inspiring. J.R. Larose, the Edmonton Eskimo is a role-model and inspiration for aborignal youth struggling with identity and hardship. His speech spoke of overcoming adversity and allowing misfortune fuel his desire to succeed. The Métis Child Little Jiggers were delightful and were backed by two capable musicians. Man I love the métis fiddling style! Where’d that beat come from? What the, why the? Cool. Freshly Squeezed, the Aboriginal hip-hop group is a dynamic force that is taking their culture and its’ expression to a higher level through a mix of dance, street cred, and a level of respect for their roots while being in touch with the now in the world of hip-hop.
So yes, I was initially confused by the mural and let down somewhat given that the presentation was in a parking lot with a huge blank canvas of concrete where I assumed the mural was going to be (and is in sore need of). However, hopefully this is the start of an outdoor expression of Native art and imagery which this town could unquestionably use more of.

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Fringe Ticketing 2007: The Baby and the Bathwater

Posted on 8/23/2007 by Sam Varteniuk

The new Fringe ticketing system was designed, as I understand it, to address the problem of volunteers having to carry around large quantities of cash.  This is fair enough – a volunteer should not be expected to carry hundreds of dollars late at night.  I’m sure there were other concerns about the old ticketing system too – it required a lot of volunteers posted at a lot of stations, which meant a lot of cashboxes that needed to be prepared and maintained.  I had the sense that many aspects of the Fringe were fuelled by the very souls of the employees and volunteers, if their weary and ragged looks at festival’s end was any indication.  I certainly don’t need people to be burning out to facilitate my Fringe experience, and I’m not afraid of change.


But here’s the problems with the new system:


1. Last Minute Tickets 


There is no mechanism for the sale of last minute tickets.  Someone who walks by a theatre and, on impulse, decides to buy a ticket five minutes before curtain now has to walk to a ticketing booth which can be up to two blocks away.  If there’s a line up, which there often is, or the system is down, which it often is, then they can’t make it to the show on time.


2. Line Ups 


I think part of the appeal of buying tickets online is that you don’t have to waste time waiting in line once you get to the theatre.  And this is true if you go to the main Fringe office to pick up your tickets, however if you go to one of the booths you still have to wait in line along with everyone else.  Then you have to go line up at your Fringe venue. 


3. Technical Difficulties 


Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like at least one out of every two ticket stations is not functioning due to technical difficulties.  Having a new-fangled online ticketing system is all very well and good, but it’s dependent on a stable system.  It doesn’t even seem as though they have a Plan B for when the computers crash.


4. Price Increase 


At the end of the day price increases are always a tough sell, and in this case there’s been two of them.  Maximum permissible ticket prices were increased from $10 to $12 (which almost every show has done), however on top of this the Fringe has instituted a $2 surcharge on all advance ticket sales.  Since all ticket sales are now technically sold in advance, this not only adds a total of $4 to the standard Fringe ticket price, but arrives in a muddily-communicated doublespeak that does not reflect well on the organization.  Some people are upset at the mere principle of what they see as a Fringe tax; traditionally all money from ticket sales has gone to the artists.


The problems with the ticketing system are even more acute for the BYOVs (Bring Your Own Venue).  They are typically the furthest away from satellite ticket booths.  There is no longer a Fringe ticket booth in front of BYOVs, which make them more difficult to identify as venues.  Further, BYOVs operating out of bars are having to turn away regular patrons who would have usually simply paid the $10, watched the show, then enjoyed a night at their favourite bar.  When faced with the prospect of walking two blocks away, waiting in line, and paying $14, many people simply choose to drink at another bar.  This becomes a serious issue for BYOVs who wish to retain their regular clientele through the run of the Fringe.


While the new ticketing system may have addressed some problems, it has created more.  I think that the satellite ticket booths are a good idea and should be maintained, along with the option of online purchases.  I do not, however, think that we can afford to do away with ticket sales at the door.  The world is not so ubiquitously online that we can abandon the human element.  Perhaps security guards could be hired to accompany volunteers with cashboxes.  Perhaps the Fringe should consider the printing and sale of “Fringe Bucks”, a standardized voucher that could be used at any show.  There are a great many things that are good about the new system and it does us no good to demonise it entirely, however I hope we can come up with something for next year that is not only good for the administration, but is equally good for the artists and, most importantly, the audience.

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En Route Baby!

Posted on 7/16/2007 by Jason Kodie

I’m flying with my band to Toronto to attend and perform at NXNE – North by Northeast – which is a smorgasboard of over 400 bands in 40 venues over 4 days. Your standard schmooz fest for the music biz where too many gigs happen in too little time, so I say, bring it on!. Some bands open and close deals, others, like mine, play the gigs and attend as many open bar BBQ’s as we can . While we took many cabs, we neither opened or closed any deals.

We flew Air Canada, and shortly after takeoff, I opened a new edition of ‘En Route’, their in-flight in-house magazine. I do enjoy the ‘En Route’ mag, it makes me feel a little more worldly and a tad more mysterious when reading about the latest buzz in the bars of Budapest or how Istanbul is a hot stop for today’s jet-setters, a crowd I can hang with for the duration of my read.

The cover of this edition features Hayden Christensen, an actor people may know better as the young Darth Vader. I’m intrigued and ready to dive into the June edition of ‘ER’, check my fake Rolex, and consider ordering a fancy Hungarian cocktail.

I always read ‘ER’ from cover to cover, a practice I recommend for the full jet-set rush. What I consider to be one of the many highlights of this fine publication,  is you have the option of either one of Canada’s official languages.  Every smidget of the magazine is written with English in the left column,  and en français in the right. C’est magnifique!

I’m having a jolly time catching up to the hip and cool when my ‘En Route’ experience hits somewhat of a de-railment. I happen upon a full page display ad for the Edmonton Cultural Capital project. I examine the picture. From what I gather, the shot was taken from Gallagher hill during the Folk Fest, circa 1993. The band on stage is indistinguishable and I can only tell you that Big Rock is a sponsor. The sky is grey. While there is a large crowd on the hill, the out of date skyline and the empty streetlife leave me sterile. My drink order becomes the usual, tomato juice.

The jet-setter in me is grounded. Surely this ad is an error, surely this is an insert – one that was inserted while the aircraft was re-fueling in Edmonton where we boarded. Wrong. Each copy of ‘ER’ is shrink wrapped, crisply packaged for the next voyageur. I was miffed. Beyond being a poor photo, it felt out of place. How is it that when stacked beside the exotic locales and other worldly destinations inherent in the pages of my beloved magazine, this ad creates a feeling in my stomach that can only be described as when your cousins’ homely friend has a crush on you. I guess my disbelief had caught the attention of the guy beside me. I meet his gaze and point out the ad. 

« Look at this, Edmonton, Canada’s Cultural Capital » .

His eyebrows raise. I ask him where he’s from – Vancouver he informs me.

« What’s so great about Edmonton? » he asks

« Lots I suppose, just depends where you look and what part of town you’re looking at» I retort.

I’m caught off guard and unable (willing?) to defend my city. My entrusted magazine has shone a spotlight on the River city, yet I can’t shake the fact that it seems out of place. While one feature is extolling the virtues of Sao Paolo Brazil, the next full page ad is about...Edmonton.

He chuckles and so do I. A brief moment passes, then I turn the page.

I read about young Darth. I learn about the new BMW Boxcar. I am enthralled by a report of a father son bike journey across Germany. I finish the magazine and realise I have 2.5 more hours to kill. So I go back to the ad and try to look a little closer.
I love my city but my struggle is with displaying that fact on a national/international level. Are we really that and are we ready for that attention? As a rapporteur for this event, I’m kinda stuck in the muck.

I try a re-frame of the situation. Perhaps one of the goals of this project is to challenge the stereotype of Edmonton so that an ad like this does not seem like an error.

The Cultural Captial project is more than just a spotlight on our diversity. This is confirmation, not validation. This is celebration, not competition. 

To the uninformed and uninitiated, Edmonton can be easily pigeonholed into a bit player in the cultural landscape of this country. Having lived in Montréal, believe me, it’s easy. Slightly older and possibly even less wiser, I now know this to be the secret and strength of our city.  My apprehension is that now, we must to present this secret on a larger scale and prove why Edmonton holds the title, and acronym, ECC of C.

It’s the picture that has me squirming, not the concept. Beyond the surface of SUV’s and misguided architecture, Edmonton is one of the best Canadian cities with pockets of smart people, great communities, great festivals, yadablahetc – hey, I’m a convert and have been for years. The ad department may need some better pics, but the ad does belong in ‘En Route’, rightly amongst the hip and cool.

I’m ready to defend my city and yelp « Edmonton » to any passenger on this flight and fiercely hoist my magazine in the air while showing the entire passenger cabin the ad I was ashamed of. The guy beside me is, of course, sleeping. His loss I shrug.

Consider the Alberta Scene in Ottawa (2005), and Alberta at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (2006) – two massive projects which showcased the diversity and richness of our province, while featuring some of the best in Edmonton’s theatre and music scenes.

Consider the cities across the country who applied for the priviledge of being named Canada’s Cultural Capital – all with merit, but Edmonton was chosen. That in and of itself is cause for a 5 day civic holiday. When we get past the overlooked and not included, we can’t dispute that these events happened, and this one is happening. Likewise with the ECC of C, there will be unsuccessful applicants who are just as deserving to be called upon to strut their cultural stuff right alongside their fellow Edmontonians, but economics and time fall into the equation. Were it feasible, this event could easily become an annual festival that would foster the numerous cash-strapped arts and cultural groups.

This isn’t something you can buy, or comes in the mail, or can be summed up on one ad. This isn’t a shrink wrapped package labelled « Cultural Capital » that you mix with water and enjoy. This initiative is an acknowledgement of our city for its’ cultural divesity.

Here’s a fact Jack - Edmonton is the Cultural Capital of Canada for 2007.
2008 will be another year for another city, so lets enjoy it while we can.

The slick ads and glossy pages of ‘En Route’ grant me vicarious access to a world I can only fantasize about. This isn’t fantasy, this is opportunity.

Bring it on, and bring on the attention. Bring on the jet-setters, we’re ready.

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Video is replacing the art of storytelling

Posted on 7/11/2007 by Sam Varteniuk

The earliest instance of storytelling must have happened, I figure, out of a need to communicate danger.

Picture a hunter-gatherer clan of early humans. Thag (who is named that because it seems an appropriate name for an early human, the "John" of pre-history, if you will), a young hunter, goes over a particular hill on a particular day in search of more food for the clan.

As he enters into a clearing Thag spots a fawn. He hefts his spear, but before he can launch it he spies strange movement in the grass near the young deer. Suddenly, with shocking speed and ferocity, a python springs from the grass and bites the fawn in the leg. The fawn starts, trying to run away but is quickly overcome by a strange lethargy. It falls to the ground in an almost drunken stagger, whereupon the snake advances, envelops, and eventually consumes the animal.

Thag is frightened by what he sees - never before has he seen such a predator, one that kills with a single bite. The fawn, Thag realises, was not much bigger than Thag's own son; Thag begins to worry about the toddler, who is curious, adventurous, and may one day wander over the hill . . .

Thag returns to the clan with a mission. He gathers all the children of the clan and frightens the wits out of them with his tale of the python and the fawn. Thag's son cries out as he re-enacts the grisly scene, describing in as much detail as he can how the snake moved through the grass, sprung with lightening speed, bit the fawn in a non-vital area yet still managed to kill it within seconds. Thag does not tell the story to win the praise or admiration of his peers; he has no desire to be recognised for the creativity or virtuosity of his storytelling. He is simply trying to communicate, in as clear and striking a fashion possible, the danger over the hill.

Today, Thag would not have to tell his son about the snake. Today, Thag could log on to the internet and show his son videos. If there are no videos to be seen, Thag can borrow the video camera from work and take it out to the field with him, capturing on film what he would have previously had to recreate in a story. After all, it's better to see a thing with one's own eyes than to simply have it described.

I offer this not as a condemnation of video - for the purposes of capturing and documenting events it is far more accurate than storytelling, which is prone to exaggeration, fragmented by memory, and ultimately at the mercy of subjective interpretations. I simply cite it as a fact. It is happening.

After all, why bother to tell the story when you can just show the video?

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Speakers Series - Glen Murray

Posted on 6/21/2007 by Sam Varteniuk

Speakers Series

Glen Murray

Politician, urban advocate, educator, consultant
Keynote Address: “Cultural Capital – Building the Future”


Date: June 6, 2007, 8pm
Location: Conference Theatre, 5 -142 MacEwan Centre - 105 Street Bldg.


Glen Murray is the former mayor of Winnipeg.  He is a talented and affable speaker.  The tech is a bit confused, but Glen is smooth through it all.


I’m here with my best friend T.  I brought him along because he’s sceptical of these sorts of things.  He’s naturally opposed to anything that seems optimistic or designed to inspire.  I’m not sure why – I’m even less sure why I decided to bring him along.  Maybe I, too, share his mistrust of anything ebullient.  But maybe I don’t trust my own ability to remain sceptical given that I’m being employed by the Edmonton Cultural Capital Project.  Maybe he’s my attempt to keep it real.


T is enjoying himself.  Somehow this makes me more sceptical.  Why am I always compelled to adopt whatever attitude not being represented?  In a room full of conservatives I’m the liberal, but if everyone starts talking about being free-form and organic I’m the one stamping my foot and demanding greater control.


For about twenty minutes I forget to take notes and just listen.  Glen is talking about cities with character, cities that were built for people to live in rather than as a furious attempt to subdue and dominate the countryside with residences and Wal-Marts.  He really gets my attention when he mentions Galt, which is only a short drive from where I grew up.  He holds it up as an example of a beautiful city.  Then he actually mentions the city where I grew up, and describes it similarly.  I feel my chest swell with pride.  I’ll see the same thing happen later to T when Glen talks about Cape Breton.


This is one of the things I’ve learned about audiences: they love to hear about themselves.  I can see Glen knows this, because at some point he mentions virtually every province and territory in Canada. 


A cell phone rings.  The disturbance caused by a cell phone is two-fold.  The first wave is the ring itself.  The second is the causal reverberation of everyone else in the room fishing in their purses and pockets, followed by a chorus of happy beeps, chirps, and chimes as they turn off their phones, not wanting to repeat the mistake of that first individual.


T laughs at something Glen says.  I miss it – too busy writing about cell phone fallout.  So I lean over and whisper, “What did he say?”


“I don’t know,” T replies.  “Other people were laughing and I wanted to be polite.”


First watch check occurs at 8:45 PM.  Pretty good considering the talk began at 8.


Here is what I take from the evening: 




Developing the arts is not just about funding or acquiring new capital.  This is a veneer.  We need to move outside of the conventional, blow the walls off our old institutions, turn the streets themselves into cultural institutions. 


Suddenly I want to design subway stations.  I dismiss the idea after a brief consideration of how much extra schooling this will necessitate, but I like the feeling all the same.  It’s a goal that seems tangible, do-able.


T leans over and says, “Do you mind if I write something down?  I didn’t bring any paper.”


“Sure,” I say, and surrender my weapons.


T scribbles something Glen has said: 


Hang out with people whom you are afraid of.


Glen starts to wrap it up around 9:30.  As soon as T gets the sense that things are winding down he whispers, “I’m going to take off duder.”


He gets up and leaves just as the audience begins to applaud.  I am disappointed.  There’s a good feel in the room, people are going to hang around and chat, eat, drink.  I had wanted to get T’s reflections on the talk, and now I begin to wonder if he really did enjoy himself.  Maybe I was hoping that, somehow, the energy of the evening would overcome his essential introvertedness.

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Culture is your breakfast and more.

Posted on 5/11/2007 by Sam Varteniuk

Culture is your breakfast and more.  Culture is an opening sentence that the Marketing Director for Edmonton’s Cultural Capital Program sends you, prompting you to write a blog entry on the topic of culture.  Culture is that hastily written blog entry, typed furiously as you try to eat your shredded wheat and thank yourself that you had the brilliant idea to add raisins. 

Culture is adding the word ‘blog’ to your Word spellchecker so you don’t have to stare at all those squiggly red lines, trying to make you think you’re making a mistake when it’s really the software that hasn’t caught up with the times.  Culture is pausing in your blogging to draft a quick note to Microsoft, informing them that they need to have more active updates to their spellchecker so that words like ‘blog’ and ‘googling’ and ‘bi-podding’ are included, that language is not a static thing on a page but a living, growing organism of expression.  And isn’t it odd that spellchecker knows to capitalise Microsoft?  That ain’t culture.  That’s branding.

Culture is making it up as you go along.  Culture is not pausing to consider what others might think of your cultural output.  Culture is not self-conscious, nor does it depend on the approval of others.  If culture were a person she would walk around naked when it got too hot for clothes.  Culture would probably get thrown in jail.

Culture is the person you admire for being funny, witty, irreverent, attractive.  Culture is not being jealous of that person, but deciding to watch them, appreciate them, learn from them.  Culture is nothing without an appreciative audience.  Culture IS an appreciative audience.

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, culture knocked on my email. 

“Hey Culture,” I said.  “What’s shaking?  What’s the word on the street?”

Culture brushed past me without saying hello, poured herself a bowl of shredded wheat, and sat at my computer beside me.

“You should add some raisins to that,” I said.  “It’s better.”

“I like it just fine like this,” says Culture.

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