Victoria Park Prime Ministers Project – Point by Point. An Open Letter

Dear Council of the City of Kitchener,

I read in the The Waterloo Region Record that a new public art project was being considered for our beautiful flagship park – Victoria Park. Initially I was impressed with the notion of more public art in this space. When I found what this project would constitute, I was deeply disturbed.

Prime Ministers and a multicultural neighbourhood

Victoria Park Green

The Victoria Park Green, at sunset

First, I would like to point out the make-up of our city. Waterloo Region boasts an enormous cultural diversity with strong Serbian, Chinese, Somalian and many other cultural communities. These communities are active and contributors to the economy, and powerful voices in the city. We can boast:  we are the largest secondary immigration community in Canada. This means people who immigrate to Canada choose primarily Waterloo Region as the place to settle. There is something tangibly good about coming here, and staying here. Downtown Kitchener is especially diverse. On the average day, one can walk from King and Cedar to City Hall and hear multiple languages spoken by people who have come here from all over the world. In just a few blocks, there are food markets that cater to the Latino, the East African, the Serbian, the Portuguese, the German, the East Asian, the Japanese-Korean, the Vietnamese communities and many more. It is a space that has a multicultural centre, a multicultural film centre, a multicultural theatre company, a multicultural arts company, and many services all dedicated to honouring, assisting and celebrating the diversity of this community.

This project will illustrate a history of white men. This is not reflective of Canada, Waterloo Region, Kitchener, and especially not reflective of the space that is proposed as the home of this project.

In the Prime Ministers project, we would see known racists, eugenists, and even a public supporter of Hitler all placed on pedestals. From documented fascists to leaders who have ignored genocides, these are the men that will be placed as the people who have built this country. Some will argue that they built the country in other ways, but it really cannot be ignored that there are some very dark periods in our history that should not be memorialized. Will Mackenzie King’s statue hold a plaque with his famous “None is too many” when he refused Jewish refugees in the throes of the holocaust?

Will these leaders be placed within a sight line of the Luggage Project located near the Clock Tower – an installation that honours the immigrant, the refugee who built the voices of this country? This would be a deep dishonour to the multicultural community that has settled around this park and enjoys it daily, tainting the Common Green with darkest parts of Canadian politics. Will Harper’s plaque read that he tried to refuse a UN inquiry on the missing First Nations women? Will Chretien’s thrust into war with Afghanistan and his ignorance of the pleas from Rwanda be mentioned – both events that have caused massive amounts of diaspora, some of whom have made Kitchener their home? It doesn’t need to be mentioned. Many of us will look on these leaders and remember where they led.

Maybe this could be viewed as a really great illustration of the sad nature of our politics in Canada – like hanging out our political dirty underwear. A sober tour of our lack of diversity in parliament, scandal, and bad policy. I could take my sons and show them: look – white men. All of them. Oh, her? That’s Kim Campbell. She wasn’t elected… and lasted 6 months. Oh and Chretien there… yeah that one. From the beginning of the 22 to that guy? That was the length of support for residential schools. So kids… feeling patriotic yet?

Public art and the process of installation.

The process of choosing public art for the Region of Waterloo and the City of Kitchener passes through several steps before any project is deemed to be suitable for artistic merit and for the placement of these projects. These competitions are fierce with artists from all over the region, the country and even internationally all competing for space to place meaningful work. Love the art or hate it, there are several voices that curate the art chosen for these spaces. This idea completely ignores this process and the competition dictating a vision that is not accepted.

The people who sit on the committees that choose public art are citizens of the city who have a background or education in art. These volunteers work hard to make determinations on value and benefit to the community. Love the art or hate it, the process sees several eyes, passes through several steps, and is eventually approved by a council of citizens before moving to City Council.

This project has seen none of that process. Artists do a lot of work to create proposals… mostly they follow the rules.

We are not a nation of leader worshippers.

Graeme MacKayI think of places in the world that have emphatic and patriotic ties to their leaders. I look to statues of Stalin. I think of the statue of Saddam Hussein. I remember all the different media images and videos of protesters tearing down statues of the deposed leader when they have finally escaped that person’s rule.

I think also of the nature of worship and the blind following of leaders – the lack of protest and the brain washing that goes into this type of rule. I think of the sycophants and the cult of personality types. This project does not come with the critical essence that comes with Canadian politics. We do not follow our leaders in this way. We do not elevate them to a god-like status that we see from our neighbours to the south. We are extremely happy when we are rid of their leadership with elections that whisk their powers away with Canadians breathing a collective sigh of relief.

Why would we want to put these people on pedestals?

Bad art. Bad idea.

Bad artThis project contains no nuance. It has no critical value. It is dull and lacks anything that would make it art. It is a series of bronze photocopied images of mostly white men. It is a direct ratio of the object of the statue to the ideological subject or the men they represent lacking any subtlety or greater message. From a purely art criticism perspective, removing the implications of the legacies involved, it is bad art.  There is nothing in this project that inspires or speaks about these people, or the quality of Canadian politics beyond placing likenesses of dead politicians in a park.

Has no one considered that if you load a space with a bunch of politicians, you create an ideal space for public protest? I am a full supporter of dissent and protest, but this park was built as a place of détente and enjoyment. Relationships to leaders are not candid. They are charged. This is another reason why this project should have gone through a public art process – these processes examine the nature of the relationship of the people to the piece. One may dislike Rabinowitch’s Waterloo Bell located in the Waterloo Town Square. One can never accuse it conceptually or otherwise of affiliation with genocide, controversial war, racism, bad governance or other political strife.

22 statues in a public green is also a lot of clutter. This will create something that resembles a graveyard, or a temple, or some other monumental space… but in a most tacky display. 22 statues. Go stand in the green. Picture it. 22. That is all of your fingers, two times, with two added.

An experiment: Go to the Green and stand in the middle. Hold your hands up with your fingers splayed with your arms outstretched and look through them and picture statues around the green counting that twice. It’s a simple action that will give you an easy picture of how this will destroy the quality of the space.

Recognition of the unrecognised… and for no good reason.

If you take a gander over here – Prime Ministers: The good, the bad, and the downright ugly – you will see the quality of the people who have served in office of this country. A few of them were great. A few of them were despicable. A handful of them were completely unremarkable – serving less than a year in office. Do they get an equal pedestal to the beloved Lester B. Pearson? How about the plethora of them who were not elected, but appointed? Do they get equal consideration? We didn’t choose them.

Place, space, and turning a public green into something else.

Clutter. The future of Victoria Park Green.

Clutter. The future of Victoria Park Green.

One of the things that bothers me the most about this project is that this spot in the park is the equivalent of our commons. The open green space near the Clock Tower is used for festivals (like the Multicultural Festival), as a sports park with soccer and frisbee in the summer, and skating rinks in the winter. It is a place for picnics. It is a place where the average Kitchener citizen can come and enjoy an afternoon close to the lake with their families.

Placing these will interrupt the games, placing enclosures around the fun. They will create obstructions and safety concerns. They will occupy a good amount of real estate in a park that is already jam-packed with activity. When we see a lawn cluttered with pink flamingoes or some other ornament in our neighbourhoods, we desperately hope that it is a joke for someone’s birthday. Why would we want to turn our park deliberately into a space like this?

The claim that this could be a draw for tourists

Simple answer: No. Fuck no. A museum of bad art would be a draw for tourists… and this could possibly be a lowly single exhibit therein.

A horrifying view of the future of this project.


Almost the same number as that of Canadian prime ministers.

What happens with each new leader of the country? Do we add to the clutter of hatred and place each politician we vote out into the fray? When the country voted Mulroney out, they did so with such gusto that they destroyed the Progressive Conservative party – leaving it with just two seats thus removing official party status. Does the city think that each leader will be embraced and not be subject to graffiti or other problems that face public art? Placing polarizing figures in a public space almost begs this treatment.

The statues will also cast several shadows, and create more dark space. In a park that has a history of hate crimes and violence, this is a really poor idea.

There has been no consideration of legacy, or the deep water into which this project could tread. At 22, there are already too many for a space that has hit just the right measure of stuff vs open space. Do we want to recreate a terracotta warrior tomb of politicians in our most treasured public green? And more importantly with legacy – who is going to pay the tonnes of money to fix, clean of graffiti, fro possible policing or additional security, and just generally maintain these bronze statues? This could easily rack up a huge cost for an already polarizing project.

Some people have argued that this project would be better suited in Ottawa. I have my money on this never flying there either. I would say that there is a very good reason: Even Ottawa has better taste than this.

And as a final point against those who argue that the politicians built Canada – stop with the nonsense cult-of-personality rhetoric. The PEOPLE who LIVE in Canada built the Canadian identity – which includes the politicians, but this is not exclusively their honour. In fact, those who many of these would scorn (or hang in Louis Riel’s case) likely served more in this vein then they ever did. To borrow from their own rhetoric, this project is downright un-Canadian.


 Terre Chartrand

Prime ministers. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly

If we are to understand the implication of having bronze statues of our prime ministers placed in Kitchener’s Victoria Park, we should first understand who they were. I tried not to ignore the good parts of these. I promise. I will write more on this project later, but for now, get informed.

From the first to the most recent. Here’s a list of the Prime Ministers – dirty laundry and all. Not included is the complicity in domestic genocide of the First Nations with residential schools starting with the Indian Act in 1876 and the last one closing in 1996. This taints the tenure of almost all of these prime ministers.

Prime ministers of Canada

John A Macdonald had the honour of being one of the founders of confederation and the first Canadian prime minister. He was an alcoholic. Internationally, he was the broker of high trade tariffs, ensuring that Canada would not make it out of the gate economically. He would be best known for the hanging of Louis Riel – becoming also the first Canadian prime minister to cause major division between the new country and both its First Peoples and Quebec. His rule also represented the beginning of the Pacific Scandal  – which also caused his resignation.

Alexander Mackenzie served a single term. He was a working class bloke who refused to be knighted three times. His greatest accomplishment was to break down high trade tariffs with the US. Perhaps too sweet to stay in office. He lasted a single term. Surprisingly, after the Pacific Scandal, John A. was elected back into office.

Sir John Abbott would be the third prime minister, and the second rich white guy in office. His early attempts to rise politically were tainted with bribery scandals. He hated politics and would be best known for several attempts to hand the leadership over to another conservative, John Thompson who would not be accepted until he was elected by the people due to the hatred of Catholics in the conservative party.

Sir John Thompson had the honour of being the first Catholic in office. Thompson was Justice Minister when Riel was hanged. He stated that anyone who encouraged Aboriginal Canadians in their protests against the state would also face justice. This shot him forward in popularity in the Conservative party.

Sir Mackenzie Bowell was appointed on Thompson’s death. He resigned. Neither elected, or suited to be in politics. He just generally sucked.

Sir Charles Tupper lasted 69 days in office.

Sir Henry Charles Wilfrid Laurier was Canada’s first Francophone leader, and considered one of Canada’s greatest statesmen. He built the industrial nation of Canada, and ushered in massive amounts of immigrants. His efforts bolstered Canada as a nation independent from England through economic growth. This guy was pretty good. His worst scandal was a reputed affair.

Sir Robert Borden was the second prime minister to be a Freemason. He is well known for the Conscription Crisis in the First World War – a deeply divisive issue between French and English Canada. He was, however, a supporter of the suffragettes, and ushered in more equality for women voting in Canada. He also asserted Canada as a nation politically separate from England. He was also a strike breaker, squashing the Winnipeg General Strike. This strike was against long working hours and dangerous working conditions (and unreasonable charges to workers such a blanket rentals). The assumption was Russian support. After a violent breaking of the strike, an inquiry found no foreign influence. You can thank this strike for better modern working conditions.  This was the first violent government oppression of the average working Canadian.

Arthur Meighen was appointed, and lasted a single year – he was defeated. After a single Mackenzie King term, he was appointed again. He resigned his second term. A very insignificant leader. A place-holder in Canadian politics.

William Lyon Mackenzie King saw the CBC, the NFB, the nationalization of the Bank of Canada, the entry into the UN and some other great progressive actions that built Canada as a country and as a cultural entity. He was the longest serving prime minister, and the tenth white guy to be in office. He also created the Conscription Crisis of 1944 – building a rift between English Canada and French Canada that would last for decades. He created internment camps for Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War placing whole families into these internments. He famously uttered “None is too many” during Canada’s refusal of Jewish refugees and immigrants from Europe. He was an admirer of the eugenics movement – forced sterlisation and all. He was an admirer of Hitler. He received political advice from spirits who communicated through his dogs.

Prime Minister poster

Robert Bedford Bennett is the 11th prime minister of Canada. Ultimate rich guy who thought sending unemployed men to toil in the bush for 20 cents per day was a solution for the Great Depression – these camps resembled penal colonies. He abolished the presumption of innocence until proven guilty when it came to political dissent. He eventually built a “New Deal” modelled on the American version but it was far too late. Overall just a shitty person.

Louis St.-Laurent established NATO and helps solve the Suez Canal crisis. He also supported Britain’s Clement Attlee’s push to change the Commonwealth from a white dominion to a multi-racial partnership. This was not widely supported by other Commonwealth leaders. He paved the way towards healthcare. Another decent one.

John Diefenbaker built the Canada Bill of Rights. He was brought down by his cabinet in a vote of no confidence. He is famous for stopping the Avro Arrow. He was weak next to the US president Eisenhower. The second worse thing he did was just be desperately less sexy than Kennedy.

Lester B. Pearson is our most beloved prime minister. Universal healthcare, Canada student loans, Canada Pension Plan, Nobel Prize winner, creator of Canadian Armed Forces, new Canadian flag, kept Canada out of Vietnam. We could use another Pearson.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau was the 15th white guy to serve as prime minister. Nuanced… Famous for paving the way for multiculturalism, grandfather of metric, “keep government out of the bedroom”, Official Languages Act. Also October Crisis – Canada’s first instance of domestic terrorism – he averted the worst. He abolished the death penalty.  Canada fell into a deep debt with this leader.  He called Nixon to offer support. First leader to deeply alienate western Canada. As much as he provided measures that created real change, he also placed a lot of bandaids. Trudeau, hubris be thy name.

Joe Clark lasted less than a year.

John Turner held the PMO for 79 days.

Brian Mulroney built NAFTA. Best pal with Reagan. Created and implemented the GST. Failed two attempts to build a new confederation for Canada – Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accord. Leader in the Gulf War – yes, we were there. Oka crisis is a mark on his term in office. Managed to not be convicted by the skin of his nose in the Airbus scandal. A demonstration of big power. The line between government and corporation becomes much thinner.

Kim Campbell was the first and only female prime minister. She lost her seat when Canadians overwhelmingly ousted the Conservative party, decimating it across the country as a protest against Mulroney-type rule.

Jean Chretien was swept into office with huge support. He prevented a Quebec separation and increased national unity. Chretien also began to climb the country out of the enormous debt created by the Trudeau and Mulroney goverments. He ignored the plea for help from Rwanda concerning the genocide and apologised later for showing indifference. He invovled Canada in the war against Iraq and brought the nation into active combat in Afganistan after 9-11. He also made Canada complicit in activities at Guantanamo. But he balanced the budget.

Paul Martin was the 21st prime minister and the 20th white guy. His office was tainted with the Sponsorship Scandal. He did legalise gay marriage, and made real attempts to build a national childcare scheme. Most of his efforts were kiboshed due to his minority government (opposition – conservative).

Finally, we come to Stephen Harper. I will let you draw your own conclusions about this leader. He is still in power. Look him up. Watch him.

Music Building Bridges – Joel Maripil at Kultrun

An award nominated Best International Indigenous Artist of 2013 by the Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Award will be joining us at Kultrun next week. Joel Maripil will be one of the highlighted international artists featured in the programming.

Joel Maripil“Here, put this in your CD player.” In went the CD and the car full of people went silent. The music confronted us – traditional sounds and voices blending with modernity. It was sounds of history meeting a contemporary context. The voice of Maripil played in the surround sound, bringing those sat in the car into a space where we could hear a natural prose blend beautifully with the poetic.

As the music continued to wrap around the car, with each track unified but very different from the previous, the minimalism of the music constructed an intensity in the listening. The deliberation of play, the ritual of sound, and the experience of a language I had never previously heard presented an intrigue. The cross-cultural language of sound and music created a dialog despite languages, and built a bridge of understanding over the thousands of kilometers between Maripil’s home and my experience of him here.

We sat and listened. I knew that this experience, as it is with almost all music, could not possibly compare seeing a live performance. Each sound, the voice, and the texture of his creation built a desire to be in a space. His love of his language and people is instilled in the consolidation of tradition with the now, comfort in culture, and an outreach to his people within this music.

This music has a purpose. The sounds exist to be heard.

Maripil’s contribution to Kultrun Festival range from a performance, to a workshop, to a symposium. The music itself was enough to draw me to the performance and workshop. The symposium will add the voice of this elder into the space of a symposium.

Maripil comes to this festival from WallMapu, First Nation in Chile. He is a Mapuche, and a cultural elder for the Kechukawin community (a Werken).

Maripil’s performances in Kitchener during Kultrun Festival this week are:

Thursday November 14th at 2pm
The Courtyard, 141 Whitney Place, Kitchener

Concert Series
Saturday November 16th at noon
Queen St. Commons Cafe
43 Queen St. South, Kitchener

Saturday November 16th at 6pm
The Conrad Centre for Performing Arts
36 King St. West, Kitchener

Sunday November 17th 2pm
The Walper
20 Queen St. South, Kitchener

Region of Waterloo Arts Fund Audit – Are there 10 hermits amongst us?

The impossibility of the Waterloo Region recommended amendments for the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund (RWAF) based on a just a few principles. In this one I am thinking about our community and the impossibilities of this policy according to inappropriately simplistic assumptions.

Six degrees of separation

According to the KW Community Foundation Vital Signs report, there are 1120 practicing artists in Waterloo Region. The Region’s recommendation to have 10 artists on the board who are recruiting unassociated members on the regular is impossible. It cannot be done.

Say we have 1 artist. They have only 1 friend in the arts community (this would never actually exist). This represents 2 artists because they know each other.

So if every artist on the board only knows 1 other artist in the community, we have a community of 20 artists. But, we know each one of these people will know many more artists. People have up to 140 connections in a network (community) according to Dunbar’s number. So, our 10 people, assuming there is some overlap, is already well over 1000. Given that most of these people have several connections in the arts community through both tight and loose ties, it is possible that 10 members on a board could have close ties with all 1120 artists in Waterloo Region.

If we think about this in another way, and we think about how many artists attend the Arts Awards every year, how many years would it take for everyone in that community to be sat in the same room? Centre in the Square holds 2,500. Last year, the Arts Awards hosted just under 1000 people. In 2 years, every artist in the city has probably sat in the same room with another artist, and shares several close ties by minimal degrees, even if they have not met yet. They will have several close friends and associates in common.

Now, let’s assume that there are 10 artists in isolation in the Region. How would they maintain that isolation, and are these really the people who should be deciding on a jury based community grant? I would argue that this is not only unfeasible, or impossible, but bad policy.

Now also, by all measure, this number is diminishing. Artists are leaving Waterloo Region as quickly as they can (a decade long trend in the same report). With a high turnover board (another recommendation) and assuming lack of relationships with board members, this will present an ungoing and more urgent impossibility in a diminishing community building additional connections through board placements.

This is a job that requires a level of education and expertise. Expecting a community to recruit board members who are not associated to the board requires recruiting without knowledge of a member’s expertise. Not only is this near impossible, but could make an already tedious job much worse by having to educated new members perpetually.

All this being said, very few artists want to be on boards unless they are paid. How many people really want to do jury duty. Ever.  Oh, and jury duty is paid.

The unnecessary necessities: an art bus?

We have one theatre in Waterloo Region that suits a mid-size audience, and has all the proper accoutrements of a dedicated theatre space.

The Conrad Centre for Performing Arts is an ideal space for building and mounting productions. It has excellent rigging for lighting, nice acoustics, flexible seating, a good back stage, green rooms… and costs $6000-8500 per week. For this, let’s use the lower range. Say we don’t want box office, or tech or any other services… so $6,500.

Conrad Centre for Performing Arts

Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts

Think of it this way: in a week, you get three days for performance. The rest of the time is rehearsing in the space – Thursday to Saturday are the show days.

Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto is a beautiful space – with many of the perks of the Conrad. It is also a performance space and has the benefit of being a place where people will just go to see theatre. There is the possibility of people dropping in for a piece – audience development is instituted. People go there (and to other small Toronto houses like the Factory, or Tarragon – comparable in price) just because they know good art will be there. This could never happen at the Conrad. It is a very private space with no public reputation for housing anything other than the occasional symphony concert. People won’t go to downtown Kitchener to the Conrad just to see what’s going on. Toronto sells based on consistent and exciting variety.

Most important, the Passe Muraille non-profit rental rate is $3900 per week. But that price, according to their website, includes:

“Full bar. Dressing and green rooms. Basic rental rates include technician, full lighting and sound equipment, bar staff, front of house staff* and box office services.”

Whoa. Everything including a kitchen sink! So not really a fair comparison, but I don’t have the itemized list for every additional service cost at the Conrad. Just based on these prices, I have a feeling about that $8,500 tag. Back to it – we will give them the benefit of the low-ball.

Ok… so let’s take a look at this.

6500 – 3900 = 2600

Wow. $2600 dollar difference. I don’t need a business degree to see a deal! But there’s a not insignificant problem here: How can we make Toronto accessible for our loyal Waterloo Region audience?

Art bus

A bus for each night of the performance!


A charter school bus costs $610 per day. So let’s say you rent a charter bus every day to bring 52 audience members from Kitchener to Toronto.

610 x 3 = 1830

So we bring 52 people to Toronto on our budget for the 3 performance days.

52 x 3 = 156

Certainly our production is good otherwise it wouldn’t be made at all – so we rely on Toronto to fill the other 100 or so seats each day.

Let’s take that difference in cost and subtract the cost of our bus because this is looking promising.

2600 – 1830 = 770

We still have $770 left over before our Conrad Centre cost is covered. So let’s rent 2 buses on the Saturday so we can give the Waterloo Region audience a better chance at seeing the inside of an actual centre for performing arts.

52 x 4 = 208

Let’s say that none of the Waterloo Region bus people are receiving comps. Let’s say all of them are paying $25 for this show – pretty reasonable.

25 x 52 = 1300

Each bus pays for itself. $1300 of audience in each bus. Maybe we should drop that second Saturday night bus.

I suppose if business acumen was important to the arts, those who have even a little can see how this is all a very bad deal whether or not we send a second bus on a Saturday.

This is positively ridiculous when one considers how we are the home of an innovative and outstanding genre in theatre – an unusual process, a specific style, and a unique identity created here.

A stark reality is that we don’t need the bus from Waterloo Region at all. Our highly successful theatre companies have no problems with full houses in Theatre Passe Muraille. Again: artists come HERE because of greatness they see in our companies. There is that combination of things that make for innovation, and it started here long before the tech sector boom. Waterloo Region is a special place, and one that many artists have chosen as their home.

We shouldn’t have to rent buses to Toronto to give Waterloo Region audiences a chance to see performing arts, and not bust our own bank accounts.

Arts and culture fail miserably in Waterloo Region – I need to hear from YOU

Take a quick gander at the latest Vital Signs report issued by the KW Community Foundation…

Download it: WRVS_2013_FINAL_FOR_WEB

K. Look at page 8. That is the arts and culture indicator. There is a graph that shows the decline of workers in arts and culture. And a pie chart that shows the different types of workers in arts and culture sector – and their numbers.

Two mega huge problems

From 2011 – 2012, people working in the culture sectors have declined from nearly 9000 in Waterloo Region to 6000. That is a whopping 3000 fewer arts and culture workers in a region that already suffered from too few to begin with.

Now look at that pie chart. The largest piece of the pie represents all the gears and mechanics going into the arts and culture sector: technical employees.

The creative arts on that pie represents 1120 workers. That means just a little over 1/6th of people doing cultural things in the city are actually involved in the creative arts instead of creative commercial business. Not negating the rest of the culture pie you see there, but this is a miserable number. Half a million people in Waterloo Region.. 1120 working in creative arts – likely includes organizational administrators and others similar – not purely the creative artists themselves – I wonder what that number would be. Your odds of dying in a car crash (1:5000) are close to your odds of meeting a genuine, bonafide working artist in Waterloo Region.

This is abysmal. What a hell of a failure, Waterloo Region.

Robot Unicorn

The artist in Waterloo Region: As rare as a robot unicorn

The lack of authenticity and concern

Can we stop listening to business people about building the arts community now, and start talking to the arts community about building their own? If I need to know about a car, I ask a mechanic. If I need to know about my persistent toothache, I talk to my dentist. Why does the city think the mechanic can cure the toothache without making the pain worse??

Successful business accumen doesn’t lead to understanding in the arts. These operations run on a shoestring budget – some hiring up to 200 artists in a year (MT Space) on an operating budget less than a single C-Level executive salary in a tech company – and they persist! Condescension on behalf of enabling organizations (there’s a backward thing for you), goonish behaviour on behalf of our bureaucrats and a serious desire to be hands off is destroying the core culture of this Region. The problems are extensive: From funding to facilities. From zoning to endless red tape covered permits. Art here needs to be more than a function of economic development, even if it does develop the economy.


This is where you come in. Why don’t you help me out here:

Why are arts and culture failing in Waterloo Region?

What can we as culture workers, artists and arts lovers do to change this?

Should we meet for a conversation cafe – I would happily convene one, or several! Should we build a new advocacy council? This is horrifically upsetting news, but we see it every day around us. Can we put a tombstone in the Victoria Park green representing every artist we know who had to leave this community because of the utter lack of support? I would love to hear your creative ideas, and pragmatic ones.

So many ways – comment on this blog post, email me, facebook message me – if you know me there, dm me on Twitter – let’s get this conversation going.

How iRan (to the Kitchener Public Library)



  1. Enter the Kitchener Public Library.
  2. Follow the signs to find How iRan – ask the very helpful desk staff if you have problems locating the table with the iPods and volunteers who will assist you in your tour.
  3. Trade a piece of ID for an iPod.
  4. Plug in and put your headphones on
  5. Listen, hit shuffle, travel – repeat.

How iRan is the latest creation by Productive Obsession from Calgary featuring a non-linear narrative crafted through the use of iPod technology.

The concept is simple – when considering this technology, artist Ken Cameron determined the two most important features of an iPod. iPods remove a listener from others, effectively isolating them in public spaces, and iPods have a decent ability to create randomization through the use of shuffle.

Consider the isolation – this project relies on a narrative told over a series of ten tracks. Each track contains a piece of a story as it pertains to one of three characters in a play that makes use of the library for an environmental theatre piece. The isolation removes the audience from one another, and from the interactions of the library space. The other members of the broader community fade into a back ground, and the level of immersion through the aural response to the technology transports the listener sometimes out of the library and into the spaces created around the building.

There’s a bedroom in a quiet reading room. There’s a circle of children’s shoes. There’s artifacts and pieces of the lives of three characters that get wrapped into a story with the narrative pulling each listener deep into a tale. It is you, the objects, and an engaging story.

The shuffle as a part of the technology has allowed iPod users to build playlists and shift to a different random song in their chosen tracks on demand. The story here is build to be listened to in random order – thereby having to piece together the narrative to rebuild it. This is further gamefied into a collaborative practice by only getting one character’s story out of a trio. The idea is that with the shuffle, and the single story, the audience will need to meet to piece together the rest of the tale from all perspectives – thereby getting the complete story.

Consider this: a single story with ten different scenes over three characters. When you add the unexpected possibilities of this being in a vibrant public space, there becomes an uncountable amount of ways to experience this narrative.

The story happens primarily in a library where the three characters’ lives bring them in and out of this space. In times when the narrative is not located in the library, artifact, art and even an installation of a bedroom (details right down to a plate with cookie crumbs) builds a detailed world inside a single building. The ability to interact kinetically, aurally, and visually through artifact gives the impression of listening to the echo of something that occurred into the physical spaces visited. The reading room used to illustrate the bedroom is so detailed and removed that the participant feels transported away from the library in the moments when the story is located in that manufactured space.

An additional layer is the addition of unexpected elements within the space – other people. This piece occurs in a live location milling with energy and library patrons. The movement of a person on the other side of a stack can be enough to build a different aspect of this carefully crafted story. Running in to another audience member who may even be a close friend becomes a non-interaction.

There is a subversion in the performance of a sometimes loud play that includes panicked phone calls and romantic strife in a space that is the emblem of temples of silence. There is a breaking of a code and pushing against an ideology in the function of space. The piece does not create strife in the space, or rally against the institution of libraries. What it does do is force the mind to push beyond the limitations of space – a library is not a library just through bricks and mortar. A library is a space with institutional conventions and rules (and books!!), and in a piece like this, these rules slip and allow for a transcendence. The temples of silence becomes pure temples of story: temples of information through the arts. The subversion echoes through the piece in rebellions, acts of passion that end well, and in a struggle to triumph over oppression.

You can check this piece out at the Kitchener Public Library.

Global Savages: Fire in my kitchen

IMPACT 13 banner

Native tradition on stage – field – land.

Settling in at the Debajehmujig Storytellers by the Global Savages, our storyteller announces that they list as a requirement for the show to have a fire. Half jokingly he tells us that he was told that the problem with permits in having a fire in the city had been solved through the existence of a fire in a fireplace in the lobby of the Walper. Now they will say that they need a fire – – and the sky.

This performance by a company from Manitoulin Island brings us on a journey into the primeval. They take us into this nation before  Canadian nationhood was at all a contemplation. The company weaves us through the 18,000 years of indigenous history (as it’s known) with three male characters representing each one of the identities in the Council of Three fires and one woman who represents Sky Mother. This piece reinforced the notion that the currently told and perceived history by colonizers is flexible and often wrong even in their own estimations.

How can anthropology establish a case for a people so innate to this land when every time they find another artifact, it takes the history back several thousands of years. And even with artifact, how can empirical calculations establish the connectivity to a land that birthed a beginning?

This company builds a simple narrative of the history of the Anishinaabek and their connection to the land, interweaving it with the ancient people of Europe, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. They use comparative narrative to establish timelines, reinforcing thoroughly the belonging of indigenous people to Turtle Island. They peal the mythologies off layer by layer to reveal a people, a civilization, an active and vibrant culture, and a spirit that exists to this day.

The power of the piece is in it’s context as builds in emotion as the description of colonization through the depiction of traditional notion (the Black Robes) mounts. And when we come closer to the current condition of genocide – a crescendo through the telling of residential schools and cultural cleansing, we watch a sky mother’s wailing.

I have to stop – I cannot review Theatre when the acting throws you gently over into the position of a reality check. The normal disconnect that a critic must use in the writing of a review has been shattered in this show. This is simply too close to home. The sensation of a wail, a true cry for a people is beyond theatre to this writer, and echoes deep into places in my psyche. There is no way to connect across horrors that have not ceased. There is no way to cross a Highway of Tears where lost sisters, mothers are never found in the country in which policy and politic does not care. There is no way to bring children killed through neglect and active experimentation back. You cannot build understanding where unmeasurable loses are deemed unimportant.

Theatre as we know it is a Eurocentric tradition with the most repeated voices being primarily white men: Beckett, Pinter, Shakespeare. This is not like those. This is not following a contemporary genre that blends into dance. This is storytelling taken to deeply emotional level where the pain of the last few hundred years is written in the text on the soul of the performers. It’s a truth-telling by an indigenous company finding a voice. It’s the kindest version of speaking truth to power.

We are asked to suspend our colonizer/settler beliefs about indigenous people and what we have been told. From common misconceptions to revisionist history, we are welcomed to challenge notions that simply have never been true, and then asked to accept that different people separated by seas could have different practices and beliefs. I

I want to be critical of the show – as in establish a dialogue around theatrical merit. But in this instance, I am reminded my own roots, my own complicity in silence that has branched across generations and genocides that aren’t simply absorption of practice or loss of language but total loss of identity. I am not your critic anymore. I am an Anishinaabe woman. I am a non status Anishinaabe woman whose family is the product of this genocide. Not that quantum should matter but if we count on that level, I am hovering around one third. I have Lost Grandmothers who were erased from their culture, from their connection to self. And at this point Theatre stops being a platform for critique, and is instead a platform of connection, activism, dialogue, and realization.

“We do not know how to make the ceremonies that can forgive this yet” says the storyteller from the Global Savages. This is not a negation of forgiveness, but a welcoming to a new intervention. “The Great Spirit does not make junk” he reminds the audience composed primarily of Canadian settlers. And then this company tells us how to be gentle people. They speak of the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers and the stunning pain of complicity and complacency without use of lectures or news media anywhere present hits but only with the pulling of our settler culture into a new possibility. There is a place of understanding of a space in which cultures can allow forgiveness, that these ceremonies can be wrought. I will be half way in between. I will be sat in my mother’s genocide, and in my grandfather’s colonization struggling to find definition and identity, and all the while hoping for a gentler world.

You must see the Global Savages. You must, as Canadians, as Canadiens, as new Canadians. Perspective. For all of us.


Occupying the Stage – The MT Space Delivers a Powerful New Creation


What do you get when you combine three major world movements, an ensemble of artists, the powerful media of storytelling and physical theatre, and projection?

Occupy Spring is an examination of a world in conflict through the eyes of the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and Idle No More. The MT Space wowed audiences in a powerful first workshop of its latest creation.

As a testament to this company, this piece has only been built over five days rehearsal, and typical to Majdi Bou Matar’s process as the artistic director of this company, he opened the floor to a talk back by audience for the development of this new work. The commentary was vibrant with lots of feedback from an audience left impressed. Could Occupy Spring eventually resound with the same power as MT Space’s The Last 15 Seconds?

The Staging of Innovation

The audience enters the Registry Theatre with the stage covered in a scrim. This device immediately removes the audience from the stage and serves the purpose of separation and inclusion as lighting and projection onto the scrim highlights, adds images, paints scenes and builds a conceptual set decorated in moving and powerful images. The projection closes the stage through overpowering the scrim with its brightness and then opens hole when darkened with the performers lit from the backstage. In this moment when these holes open, the actors emerge with monologues, and then the physical ensemble builds metaphors for the stories told.

The stories themselves range from an indigenous woman (Monique Mojica) describing a 1960s protest against the Bureau of Indian Affairs; a man from Halifax NS (Nicholas Cumming) speaking about the long term effects of herbicides on the health of his community; a Syrian woman (Nada Humsi) reminiscing about her peaceful life in her home country compared to it now – torn in conflict – and its terrifying future as she waits to see the outcomes of foreign intervention on her beloved home. Each actor of the cast of seven presents how their hearts, their philosophies and their bodies are affected in a world torn.

Despite the abstraction of physical theatre, the metaphors presented by the ensemble are clear. From comparing extreme human behaviour to instinctual animal reactions, to a humourous display showing a sleeping, boastful Parliament Hill, the stories come alive with the well honed control of this cast so well experienced with telling their tales through their bodies.

The use of projection, sometimes too distracting in this first go, creates an ever changing and animated set. Bou Matar has proven in this minimalist concept by Alejandro Valbuena that opulent effect can exist despite the lack of physical set. Light designer Jennifer Jimenez showed extraordinary capability in her offset from the projections with lighting ranging from the subtle to the highly dramatic. This blend of animation and stage has placed the flexibility of film and the powerful connection of theatre into a single venue. The combination of lighting, projection and movement theatre provides flexibility and power on a stage, but will require more consideration to minimize distraction from monologues and ensemble work.

This innovative development left this reviewer hungry for The MT Space and their unique style. Seeing the addition of projection and stories of a large ensemble brought to life in an experimental, yet accessible way connected me to actors and left me desirous of bearing witness to the entire process of creation.

You can witness this iteration of Occupy Spring tonight at the Registry Theatre at 7pm.

Youth Voices Speaking Louder Than War At IMPACT13


In the decision by a country to go to war, children’s voices are unheard, and are rarely heard as the conflict progresses.  The disconnect of the child from basic human consideration is so complete that their bodies are counted with their stories and voices largely ignored by those who make the decisions that place them in these conditions.

In The Gaza Monologues by Ashtar Theatre – a part of IMPACT 13 – a cast of four youth actors presented the stories of youth and children from the conflict in Palestine. Youth drama is the beautiful genesis of talent – these four are building their discipline and are doing so with attention and skill.

An integral part of this experience is that the monologues are presented in Arabic, with overhead projected subtitles. Hearing the stories in the language that built them adds a poetic connection to place and people. The sounds of Palestine as carried by language enables the audience to be aurally present despite our physical distance.

This performance also makes use of movement, and various props to establish narrative delivered through the bodies of the actors. The rawness of the physicality, the heart wrenching honesty of loss, objectification, and the candid things that adults do not notice add an important layer of understanding of conflict.

The stories of children echo with honesty – the piercing gaze of eyes that have seen too much. They live in a world where they have little choice but to accept the horrors adults have built. They accept, but they don’t always comply – seeing through the injustice and alienation built in the conditions of war. Keep in mind that much like our own North American countries, children in Palestine do not have the right to make decisions about the conflict brought upon them any more than they have the right to vote, or decide what to do with their daily lives. These stories are about that condition when it is taken from being taken care of to feelings of total powerlessness and lack of agency. If children’s voices were counted, would our world have so much conflict?

The notion of occupier/occupied, powerful/weak, us/them are reversed and turned around in a series of stories that do not lay blame, but challenge overtly how a world can work to destroy the vulnerable. And by these stories carried and voiced over and over all over the world, the vulnerable ultimately triumph.

If you go, and you really should – bring tissues. This powerful performance evokes strong emotional reactions.

IMPACT 13 schedule.