Executive Editor's Letter: Compassion and the Value of Culture

CONFRONTATION: A screen grab of Sun News’ interview about arts funding with contemporary dancer Margie Gillis; interviewer Krista Erickson (left) and Gillis.CONFRONTATION: A screen grab of Sun News’ interview about arts funding with contemporary dancer Margie Gillis; interviewer Krista Erickson (left) and Gillis.CONFRONTATION: A screen grab of Sun News’ interview about arts funding with contemporary dancer Margie Gillis; interviewer Krista Erickson (left) and Gillis.

Last June, the online Sun News network (aka, the Fox News of Canada) aired what was probably their most-watched interview, ever. In it, journalist Krista Erickson attempted to skewer Order of Canada recipient Margie Gillis, an internationally renowned contemporary dancer, in what was supposed to be a conversation about arts funding in Canada. Rather than pursuing a proper discussion, a condescending and rude Erickson attempted to portray Gillis — who remained calm and gracious — as an artist who has spent years mooching from taxpayers’ pockets.

The public’s response to the interview was surprisingly heartening. (If you want to watch the video, Google it. I’m loathe to put up a link to it here, quite frankly.) Major national news outlets expressed horror at Erickson’s interviewing ‘style’, which involved shouting over her guest several times. The Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council received a record number of complaints about the interview — so many that it issued a statement telling people to stop contacting them.

The word “compassion” came up in this interview, for no real reason other than it gave Erickson an opportunity to display mock outrage. Stuck in Erickson’s craw was a moment in a performance when Gillis expressed the opinion that Canada is not as compassionate a country as it once was. In a twisted bit of logic, Erickson suggested that, by saying this, Gillis was an ingrate who didn’t appreciate the support she’d received from Canadian taxpayers via grants and didn’t support our troops in Afghanistan. Needless to say, Gillis didn’t quite know how to respond. A lot of viewers probably didn’t see that coming, either.

COMPASSION: Attendees at Casey House’s Art with Heart fundraising auction bid on a work donated by emerging Canadian photographer Meryl McMaster, October, 2011. Photo: Magenta.COMPASSION: Attendees at Casey House’s Art with Heart fundraising auction bid on a work donated by emerging Canadian photographer Meryl McMaster, October, 2011. Photo: Magenta.This made me think about compassion, and how we demonstrate it in the arts. Artists are some of the most generous, hard-working, resourceful and compassionate people I know. When people attack the arts, I wonder if they have ever met an artist, or stepped foot into a gallery, concert hall or dance recital. We have all heard about the economic benefits that culture brings, and that investment in the arts is often returned many times over. (For example, I’m sure taxes collected from ticket sales to Gillis’s performances make up for the grants she's received in the past decade.) Theorists like Richard Florida have posited the idea of the “creative class”, and how urban areas with high populations of artists, musicians and technology workers are likely to experience economic benefits, as people with capital want to live in cities with vibrant cultural scenes. In Toronto, we’re seeing this play out on Queen St. West. Once the home of many an artist, the face of Queen St. West is slowly being changed by condo developers looking to cash in on some of this artsy cache.

We ask a lot of artists. One example of which I'm intimately aware: fundraising auctions. Six yearly fundraising events in Toronto alone immediately spring to mind – for arts publications, museums and hospitals – and artists are asked to donate works to all of them. For example, Casey House, an HIV/AIDS hospice in downtown Toronto, held their very successful annual fundraising auction earlier this month and, in the coming month, the Lesbian-Gay-Bi-Trans Youthline and Gallery TPW are having sales of donated artworks. As governments cut funding to community, arts and health programs, such fundraising efforts are more important than ever. Artists seem to understand this and, in my experience, most don't balk at requests for support, often donating works outright that they could have sold instead. (The galleries that represent artists also don’t profit from sales at fundraisers; their generosity should be acknowledged, as well.) At such events, you see art and compassion working hand-in-hand.

Do you ever wonder what Canada would be like without the arts? If so, just watch the exchange between Erickson and Gillis. What sort of Canada would you rather live in — the one personified on the left of your screen, or the one on the right? I certainly know which one I prefer.

About the Issue

The Sound of Art: A live performance by Art Fag City’s Paddy Johnson, and artists Paul Slocum and Lewis Kaye, at Mercer Union, Toronto, August, 2011. Photo: Magenta.The Sound of Art: A live performance by Art Fag City’s Paddy Johnson, and artists Paul Slocum and Lewis Kaye, at Mercer Union, Toronto, August, 2011. Photo: Magenta.This issue marks the end of our second year of production and focuses on sound- and music-based art. I was thrilled to interview for this issue the U.K.-based artist Graham Dolphin, whose work I have admired for years. And I, for one, nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement when Lee Ranaldo, of the iconic experimental rock band Sonic Youth, agreed to talk to us about his own sound-based art practice. The other artists featured in this issue — the influential Gordon Monahan, and emerging artists Derek Liddington and Rose Eken — demonstrate just how wide-ranging art inspired by music is.

In addition, I’ve often been asked by readers how they can support the magazine. We finally have a way! By clicking on the DONATE button located on the right of this issue’s pages, and giving whatever you can, you can help keep Magenta Magazine Online going. If even 500 of the 7,000 of you who are reading Magenta regularly donated five dollars just once a year, we’ll be able to broaden the scope of what we bring you.

And, lastly, please join the Magenta Foundation in Toronto's Distillery District as we celebrate the seventh year of Flash Forward in early November. See the Editor's Picks section of this issue for all the details.

Bill ClarkeI hope you enjoy rocking out with our Art, Sound and Music issue, and thanks for reading!

Bill Clarke
Executive Editor, Magenta Magazine Online

Thoughts on this issue's contents? Share them with us at info@magentafoundation.org