Big Music Fest is NOT Coachella and the comparison is daft. Kitchener culture fail.

So city a councillor tries to liken the transplanting of the frequently homeless Big Music Fest to Coachella. Coachella booked musicians based on artistry instead of radio popularity. And it wasn’t just music. Coachella focused absolutely on innovation.There were installation artists, performance artists, and so many other amazing things sprung out of this.

(I don’t have permission to post any Coachella photos, but here’s a link to Coachella Art – Kitchener does not have even close to what it takes to make this happen. It can barely support its own contemporary arts festivals and organisations)

It is now the largest grossing music festival in the USA. Some say it’s corporate beyond belief. Criticisms abound.

But the point is, Coachella was built from the ground up and focused heavily on the interesting, the different, the weird, so long as it was artistically sound. It was built with the inclusion of several forms of art, making not just a music fest, but a culture of creativity surrounding a desire to build something new.

The Big Music Fest is a transplant. It’s imposed on a neighbourhood. It’s lining up acts that have nothing to do with each other than they could be booked, no ethos, no commonality other than they attract us who are on the edge of grey hair. It isn’t making a community around art or creativity. The comparison is completely stupid. Pulling old rockers out of their mausoleums to grace outdoor stages is not innovative. It isn’t fresh. It happens in every major Canadian city at outdoor venues.

It isn’t that Coachella is some precious, true to form always authentic music fest. But the way it was grown was through a curation beyond… OMG WIN! Rod Stewart! It was aimed at being anti-popular, even earning the monicker Anti-Woodstock after the Woodstock 99 crapulence (which is more what the Big Music Fest looks like).

If there was money to do this, it should have been placed in a way to build something new. Something interesting. Yes, attract big names (even Rod Stewart) but the nonsense of getting art-in-a-can, microwave for 3 minutes and serve can never, ever hold a candle to true excellence, true artistry, and real, actual culture. Kitchener, you will never learn.

Much like how you will never be Silicon Valley (North or otherwise), you will never be Coachella (North). And why do you find it so appealing to copycat other good ideas? Why do you need to find someone else to follow around like a cloud of gnats on a hiking trail? You want culture? Start supporting your own. You sure aren’t going to get it in a drop-in music fest. You will just get… drop-ins.

When will you realise that our city is already great? But that anyone who has talent has to high tail it out of here as if the ground is made of artist hating lava and their shoes are on fire?

2,441 people respond to a survey in Kitchener. What does this actually mean?

The percentage of people who cared enough to respond to the survey who were strongly opposed to the statues project in the park is higher than the percentage that voted in any Canadian government ever. That record is 54.9% that won the Liberals the election in 1940. The voter turnout that placed Zehr in office in 2010 was 27.41% – and you can bet that not all of them voted for him (although he did quite well). Regional Chair Ken Seiling received 70,354 votes in 2010 with a population of around 553,000. That means 12.7% of the Region voted for Seiling – the number representing the entire population and not the voting public. The voting public of Waterloo Region is 355,857 – putting the number to roughly 19% – but according to voter turnout of 108,095 – Seiling was supported by 65% of people who turned up to vote – whopping good support, and significantly more than 19%.

Bad_MathThis is the game The Record is playing with the percentage they claim in the survey representation of the population of Kitchener. 2,441 people filled out the survey. 29,939 voted for Mayor Zehr at 79.17% of the popular vote. Roughly 20% of the people who voted for Zehr filled out the survey – making the survey numbers much more significant than the scant description in The Record.

Another way to look at it:

Total respondents to the survey about the statues 2,441 – Councillor Frank Etherington slid in with 1,689 votes in 2010 – 1,920 respondents opposed the statues – Councillor Etherington on a motion to stop the project: “I would suggest we’ve got 1,920 good reasons to support this motion.” 231 additional people against the statues than the amount of people who placed the Councillor who represents the entire park ward – elected in a well advertised election.

A full 79% of respondents were categorically against the statues project. 79% of people who cared enough to respond and who are represented by the officials that we elected – those hijacking counsellors. The Record editors – your trivialisation of the significance of this survey is an insult to the overwhelming voice of those who cared enough to respond. And on any measure, 2,441 is not a trivial amount of people. Imagine if even 20% of the 2,441 decided to show up to a council in session – that would be 488 eligible voters. Does council chamber even have capacity for that number? (**Note to The Record: If you want to use tricky math, don’t do it in a city full of people who love numbers and are armed with Google. It just makes you look bad, especially when you provided me with some of the data. Maybe next time you should consider that when you try to do your own analysis. But.. thanks?)

There is shame to be had, but the mayor of Kitchener has it sorrily misplaced



  • 1Illegally seize (an aircraft, ship, or vehicle) while in transit and force it to go to a different destination or use it for one’s own purposes:a man armed with grenades hijacked the jet yesterday
  • 1.1Steal (goods) by seizing them in transit:the UN convoys have been tamely allowing gunmen to hijack relief supplies
  • 1.2Take over (something) and use it for a different purpose:he argues that pressure groups have hijacked the environmental debate

Mayor Zehr, you have taken a city that was so troubled and so angry and turned it around – downtown was like a hornets’ nest. I remember Kitchener being referred to me at one point after I had chosen to make it’s downtown my home as the “Detroit of Canada”. That was hyperbole on behalf of the person who said it, but when I moved here, they had a point. When I moved here I got yearly calls from Statistics Canada to survey residents of a neighbourhood that had a current problem with and a history of hate crimes. I used to walk by a neo nazi flag every time I had to catch a bus (daily). Crime was rampant. Stores, houses, whole buildings were vacant. Fear and annoyance accompanied even a daytime walk through most spaces downtown – King St, Victoria Park, the bus terminal… Skinheads… skinheads. You, and some other very visionary people turned this around.

I was also active in the downtown, Mayor Zehr. I campaigned heavily while the sidewalks shut for two years – the goal was to have not a single business close (and almost none did, despite people not wanting to engage in the downtown – mud… and mud… and noise and dust). I helped organise festivals. I was called in for consultations on development. I was consulted about culture planning with my other colleagues in the culture industry.

And with all of this work, and all of these consultations, all culture workers, artists, and those who work actively to make a difference almost every day have to painfully follow the City of Kitchener’s process. Even when the things being done were overwhelmingly for the good of the downtown by extraordinary and well established groups – layers upon layers of red tape need to be clawed through. The city does not make it easy to shift anything even when it’s for the greater good. When you try to work for change, there is even a popular idiom “You can’t fight city hall.” When I read your comments calling the city’s overwhelming objection to the statues project a “hijacking”, I became livid.

How well he spoke for our country.

How well he taught us to deal with those who disagree. Fuddle duddle/hijack…

Let me remind you that it was you who first wanted to push this project through without due process. You, Mayor Zehr, circumvented the Public Art Working Group and the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee – both councils who work on behalf of the city, as educated members of the public in the matter of art. Yeah… that due process. This was not a thing that was going to be submitted to any consultation process. This was something that you saw as a cast bronze legacy. Your bullish and pushy attempt to build something that had no discretion or artistic merit, that didn’t consider other work installed in the space, or even the citizens who would have to stare at it every day. You pushed… you acted covertly and ignored the processes in place to even begin to consider the appropriateness of a project that simple consultations would have rendered the same result. We do not want your statues!

There is a process to even approach the subject of installing public art in the city. It requires jumping through hoops and navigating seas of red tape. Placing art anywhere in the city even temporarily requires a huge amount of fiddling with city process. This project usurped the entire process when the mayor placed it at the forefront – his own agenda. And now that it has failed, he is crying about the lack of use of process – with the Record licking the mayor’s wounds. What? Did I hit my head and miss something?

Chretien Shawinigan Handshake

The Shawinigan Handshake – a lesson taught by Chretien on how to deal with democratic protest.

Let me remind you, Mayor Zehr and The Record, about a particular aspect of hijacking. Hijacking is an act of terror against a people. Hijackers are a small set that violently takes over a space and uses that space to try to manipulate a demand. In this case, it’s a violent and inappropriate metaphor.

I, like the counsellor I voted for to represent me in council, am not a hijacker. I have never once in my life tried to illegally seize a vessel nor do I think any of the councillors in city hall could be accused of such a thing. I do, however, see a mayor who tried to seize a process at the ignorance of all.

Your turning the city around was legacy enough for me.

22 things I would rather have in Victoria Park

There is a project proposed to put 22 statues of the Canadian prime ministers around the Green in Victoria Park- Kitchener. I would like to propose 22 things that I would rather see.

  1. 22 rare Canadian flora introduced to the park
  2. 22 musicians, paid year round to serenade the park with the blues
  3. 22 stone cairns – designed by artists, chosen through a competition – to commemorate great Canadian accomplishments
  4. 22 dancers – they would compliment the physical activity in the Green
  5. 22 picnic blankets – free to use for those who want to stop for a bite
  6. 22 everlasting fires… take a hint from Parliament Hill
  7. 22 small hills – a neat wave pattern and fun for running
  8. 22 chairs in the shape of geese. At least they don’t poop
  9. 22 obstacles for dogs
  10. 22 bird houses
  11. 22 bird feeders
  12. 22 chess boards
  13. 22 picnic tables
  14. 22 new gardens scattered about the park
  15. 22 statues of dogs (from my son Alex)
  16. 22 trees (from my son Liam)
  17. 22 Canadian red cattle – the only breed of cattle that are Canadian – a bronze herd
  18. 22 commemorations of extinct Canadian species
  19. 22 installations of modern contemporary art – all around the park
  20. 22 typewriters to write messages to the future
  21. 22 theatrical performances throughout the year
  22. 22 fruit trees – a sharing of bounty at harvest

What would you rather see?

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.

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.


The Day the Music Died

Warning: Seriously upset pint-in-hand writing ahead…

This is not structured. This is not a post essay. This is not a deep, well researched post contemplating my navel. This is straight from the poet-soul artist gut. And this is part of a larger reason why leaving downtown Kitchener wasn’t sad move for me. The things that meant something downtown are all disappearing.

Something seemed fishy. I mean, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but when I read the piece about Kevin Doyle from the Boathouse in Victoria Park locking out his staff and patrons, something just didn’t add up.

Let’s talk first about Kevin and the Boathouse

This is a man that didn’t just give his artists a fee, but often most, or all of the door as well. From charging 5 a pint, and 7 for a glass of imported wine, Kevin also gave appropriate remuneration for artists. Maybe that is just me, as an artist, thinking that those who work to entertain you and succeed enough to grace a stage regularly should be compensated appropriately.

Kevin gave everyone a chance. The open mic nights often presented amazing emerging artists and gave them the ability to test new material, but also allowed the wannabe to feel like a star for five minutes. Diversity was the name of the game, and no one vetted the list. You got the raw offering of the community, as they were… and let the audience decide merit with their applause.

The Boathouse was the legendary home of several artists. The features in this venue ranged from Mel Brown to Julian Fauth to Lucas StaggMiss Angel and the Homewreckers, Paul MacLeodBig Rude JakeLynn JacksonBusted Flat Records, – just to mention a few, and the countless headliners over the years. The Boathouse was the Waterloo Region home of music. Legends were born here on the rough honky tonk piano and crackling amps. Legends returned and loaned support with every shift and change in appetite. The performers where as dedicated as the audience. The change in times and trends were reflected, but the tradition of excellence was upheld.

And did I mention remuneration? Let’s go back to that for a minute: Waterloo Region is a horrible place to practice as an artist. You perform/play/paint for exposure here. But who are we exposing ourselves to in this city that is near devoid of real arts culture? Is there some brilliant critic, or talent scout lurking in the audience? Not bloody likely. Exposure here is like being naked in the north: you can die of exposure. Several have. The successful leave.

And yet, this city doesn’t see the plethora of artists who leave every year because there is no possibility of a career here. But somehow those artists remember that something was here, and come back for the festivals. There is no benefit in our postal codes.There is no benefit to a Waterloo Region address.

You want to talk about talent retention? Detroit at least hits the world’s stage with the Heidelberg project, Theatre Bizarre and the brilliant music scene that keeps bubbling up and challenging the world’s sensibility. Hamilton has an arts crawl that attracts the tens of thousands. Windsor maintains a vibrant scene. We have great festivals, but nothing supported that would have the possibility of reflecting in art what we claim in innovation… which is oddly generated by creativity. Man.. what a mindfuck.

It isn’t that we don’t have great art here, it’s just you don’t know about it. It’s not celebrated, supported, written about – it’s treated like a fart in the night. Even if it’s a loud bang, we are kept darkly asleep through all the noise.

And just when you would get the chance to hear about it, it leaves. I watch with every passing year as the newest and most amazing thing gets neglected, or at worst, scorned for their innovation.

Kevin gave the possibility of great art a chance to thrive

In the performance and music genre, Kevin had everything from burlesque to spoken word, and big band to bluegrass. Kevin allowed culture to thrive without imposition of elite standards, but supporting what his audience and the community sensibility would support. He would take risks on the unlikely. He allowed the gamble.

Kevin has great judgement in music, but he allowed his community to set standards as well. There was no elite standard. There was just good music. And community.

So then I really wasn’t surprised when I read the piece in The Record by Terry Pender talking about absolute neglect and culturally cleansing gentrification. But still… ugh… punch in the gut. What utter contempt.

Now how about the Boathouse culture

I walked home from Laurier to my Queen and Courtland home for 4 years down Park St.

Victoria park is a daunting space. With a legacy of hate crimes and skin head swarmings extending to everyone in the buildings around the park receiving phone calls from government institutions surveying about perceived safety in a neighbourhood of high diversity, and a past of extremely violent crimes – – The Boathouse was a sure place where anyone could stop in. It was halfway through the emptiness of a night time darkness. You could enter for a moment of safety, a free phone call, or even a teddy bear of an operator who would pull out all of his most scary tones and bigness of self to appear more intimidating.

The Boathouse, and mostly Kevin’s Boathouse, was safe. From unwelcome advances on women patrons being dealt with by the owner himself, to a late night place with an affable take-no-shit staff who would form a perceived barricade between danger and person, and yet never making you feel the victim.  (I am not the only only one who felt this way…)

Disclaimer> Let’s make something perfectly clear. I have never been a damsel in distress or a shrinking violet – but Kevin would sense trouble and make it clear that distressing people is not ok in his place. Even in my most justice-seeking books, this was great. How often does an owner/operator truly try to make a venue woman-safe? How many pubs can a young woman walk into and sit by herself at the bar just to listen to music and almost never be subjected to harassment in some form or another? 

How can you talk about the loss of all these most important things in an aspect of city culture? How can you talk about how you feel deceived and yet not surprised by a community that would rather give money to people who talk about art then make art?

Culture doesn’t grow out of back door corporate meetings

Instead, it is much like how babies are born. Art is messy. Art explodes into the world screaming and crying. It grows through rebellion and anger. And it finishes in a beautiful blossom that enriches and feeds all of our better sensibilities.

If you want art clean, you get Bieber. You get N-Sync, NKOTB, One Direction and every other band that amounts to nothing but background sound on CHYM FM that is trend today and out like dirty underwear in a year. You get the most boring, and cleansed (gentrified) product you can think of with production enough to makes sure not a single middle class head is turned or disturbed.

Fuck. That isn’t art, that is status quo. That is the lack of innovation, the lack of critical matter, the lack of anything that begs questions and forces you to pause. That is bland. That is boring. That is life devoid of meaning. That is reification and no challenge ever. That is the absence of thought. It’s owning an Ikea shelf and thinking yourself special for it.

Birth is never clean. If you want clean, get your Starbucks and never leave your television happy endings, and be surprised when your relationships and job supernovas around your blindness. Life is about the mess. And art is about the connection to that mess, and being able to see ways through it. Art is the lens we use to see our meagre existence and project it as something more important than just planetary noise. It is the relief, the dialog, the word writ and unwrit. It is the ease from turmoil and the expression thereof all at once. It is the agreement and contradiction. It is the discussion. It is the conclusion. And in the end when we are all dead and gone, it is ARTefact – the only remaining feature of anything about who we are is left in our art and in our waste. Welcome to why art is important to life for sentient tool-building beings. Without it, the only immortal echo we produce is waste.

So… If you want art, it is the Boathouses with Doyles. It is melting clocks without watches to tell you different. It’s about dust bowl faces playing blues. It’s about being there, being present at the transitions in our crazy world and saying SOMETHING. 

Art is the moment when you need that chance after your partner leaves you and your wealthy tech company lays you off with half its workforce in a year. It’s the chance. The hope. The birth.

Keep your hand-sanitised world to yourself… just please… give me back my art.

(I know I am railing against an unstoppable force. I am not naive. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get to mourn the good things when they are killed.)

(Now I need to swallow my own fear as an artist in this blasted region and hit <send>)