Posted on 6/21/2007 by Sam Varteniuk
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.