Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa (click link if you don’t know who he is… or even if you do)

I doubt that anyone of genuinely conservative leanings will read this unless they mistake it for an opera review.  Hm someday someone may write an opera about Lech Walesa, perhaps in Polish or Prussian.  But the title of such an opera would be Solidarność, not “Solidarity”.  So you can stop reading, conservative opera lover.

What was I saying?

Ah yes.  I can’t recall a period when class war seemed to be so central to our discourse.

We’re watching a showdown between the teachers and government in Ontario that seems to be calling the collective bargaining process into question, not so long after the Conservative Government in Ottawa seemed to do the same in their legislated solution to the Canada Post dispute.

The American election features two figures who are so wildly divergent that their positions are as different (if you’ll excuse the expression) as black from white.  In the past week Romney has been taking a beating in the social media that I read; but of course in Facebook or Twitter we always preach to the choir.  Those who disagree are not “friends” or “followers”, and so we can be seriously out of touch with popular opinion.  Just ask all those friends of mine who argued whether to support Pantalone or Smitherman in the last Toronto mayoralty election, blind to Rob Ford’s impending landslide.  Of course, as a Scarborough resident I wasn’t quite so blind given the signage (all for Ford) on my street.

The Occupy Movement has changed the conversation, even if the only real revolutions occurred on the other side of the ocean in countries experiencing the “Arab Spring“: or some of them anyway.  Percentages are now tossed about in this election with the vigour of baseball fans, and for the first time in a long time, capitalism seems to be on the defensive.

What is it in the optics around some conflicts that win our sympathy in some cases but not all?  My question is not one I address to the 1%, as we’d expect them to identify with rich owners rather than poor workers.  That dichotomy –rich owners and poor workers—seems to break down, however when we’re confronted by the millions earned by hockey players.

At least for most people.

Me?  While I am a poor skater, I identify with the hockey players, no matter how much money they make. The game of hockey belongs to those who play it.  I believe Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson and Oprah all deserve their millions, even if they’re so big that they’re like multi-national corporations.  I suppose I am talking about principles not money, even if those principles have exceptions in practice.

Hm…. The participation of money in our arts & entertainment usually taints it.   I grew up disliking PT Barnum for his cynical outlook, his riches made in the under-estimation of the public intellect, a kind of prophecy of modern dumbing down.  I have no real problem with entertainment if that’s what people genuinely like, so long as I am not forced to watch it.

Sol Hurok is another figure about whom I am conflicted. Yes he was a brilliant judge of talent.  But I heard an architect once explain to me that the reason so many concert halls had bad acoustics in the middle of the 20th century can be laid at Hurok’s feet.  It was all about money, about raking in dough with huge audiences who couldn’t really hear without amplification, of a star-driven business that ceased to be art.  If the attraction were using microphones anyway, no problem.  But if you were hearing the Metropolitan Opera on tour? Different story.

Where am I going with this?

Ken Gass

Ken Gass

I have been a quiet observer of the ongoing drama surrounding the dismissal of the Artistic Director of Factory Theatre, Ken Gass.  I didn’t need to hear the details –which created a great wave of sympathy for Gass—to know that I identify with the artistic talent, not the money.

The dynamic for non-profit arts companies isn’t the same as for sports franchises.  Those Boards are not making money from their contribution.  I’ve heard people try to make the case for the contributions made to the arts by boards of directors, the input from savvy owners in sports.

I submit that the primary qualification for Boards seems to be allegiance.  I’d be useless on a board –at least in the current model—because I don’t think like a banker or a lawyer.   I wear the rose-coloured glasses of an artist.  Even so, there has to be a balance.  Does your art sell its soul in pursuit of money?

I believe culture is a necessity.  We have other necessities that are funded by the government.  We don’t expect our firemen to work on a cost-recovery basis, but instead, they’re funded.  The defence of the country, the policing of our streets, these are necessities.

And so is culture.

I am old enough to remember other principles.  Our Canadian culture seems to be brand new, minted with the help of generous government support.  Without Canadian content regulations for broadcast media, we would never have the wealth of talent that we now have.  Without the Canada Council, performing arts companies likely would have been unable to compete with television and popular radio.

I identify with the hockey players just as I identify with the cultural workers.  I don’t believe in erecting class barriers between parts of society.  As Barack Obama has said, we must work together.  It’s not just about the economy, but the very fabric of society, which is woven from our diversity.


NDP Leader Thomas Mulhair (photo: Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

I’m hoping the NDP will aggressively champion the arts in the same way that the Democrats have bravely championed labour recently.  Do we contract out our culture?  That’s what we do when we allow our televisions to be filled with foreign productions, telling stories without any connection to our lives.  Mulhair needs to show the cost benefit of arts funding, the clear payback in language that the conservatives can’t refute.

But we need to stop speaking the language of the board, which is only couched in profit and loss.  That’s Romney’s thinking.  We need to be willing to spend on our cultural industries not because of profit models, because they are a good investment, but because we believe culture matters.

No more apologies.

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3 Responses to Solidarity

  1. Art Talk says:

    Well said!

  2. lighthouse75 says:

    I’m with you 100 percent. Am almost kind of surprised that there isn’t already an opera about Lech Walesa. Maybe something for Philip Glass to think about….

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