ArtsVote Speech

On Friday, March 30, 2012, I was aaked to moderate an All-Candidates Forum on the issue of Arts Funding in Alberta. The event was organized by ArtsVote Calgary and held at the Central Branch of the Calgary Public Library.  Citizens of the province will go to the pools to elect an new government on April 23.

In setting up the discussion, I took a couple of minutes to discuss Alberta’s image in the country and the world.

For any and all interested, here is a transcript of my remarks.

A video of the event will be posted here. You can also follow the discussion on Twitter.

Photo: @Ashley ArtsWonderland

I’d like to welcome you all today and say thank you for showing up because as it’s been said, the biggest challenge in voting is just showing up.

I want to start with a quote from the comedian Steve Coogan.

In his role as clueless radio DJ, Alan Partridge, he played Big Yellow Taxi by that honourary, and indeed honourable Albertan, Joni Mitchell.

In backselling the song he says,

“That’s Joni Mitchell complaining they ‘Paved paradise to put up a parking lot.’ A measure, of course, which actually would have alleviated traffic congestion on the outskirts of paradise. Something which Joni singularly fails to point out, perhaps because it doesn’t quite fit in with her blinkered view of the world.  Nevertheless, nice song.”

The Arts and other social and economic priorities often find themselves at seemingly conflicting needs.

But let’s think of the world’s great cities or countries.

If I said London, would thoughts of The Beatles, Shakespeare or Ricky Gervais be far behind?

America. Birthplace of Jazz, Carl Sagan, beat poetry and the Broadway stage.

Egyptian history, Brazilian dance, French wine, German philosphy, Australian rules rugby.

However, when our fellow Canadians are asked to name the things that come to mind about Calgary or Alberta, what are we told comes to mind?

Rightly or wrongly, it’s things like Money, Jobs, Oil, Rednecks.

One way to look at a list like that is to say we are often associated with prosperity. And many would agree, that is a useful thing.

But Alberta is where Who Has Seen the Wind was written.

We are the birthplace of W.P. Kinsella.

It’s the home of the greatest outdoor show on Earth.

And as a person who first moved to Alberta from the East Coast in 1995, I can report that one of the most well-known Newfoundland songs, Sonny’s Dream was written in a car in 1976 on Highway 2 between Calgary and Edmonton.

We’re here today because the Arts matters to us. We have have different ideas of how it should be paid for, funded and consumed and if the local and world economy is telling us times are tight, how much publically and privately should we set aside for art?

However, if we are to say something to our country and the world, the Arts must be part of that discussion.

Too often, we take art and artists for granted. They are asked to perform for free or donate a piece of work to an event, because “it’ll be good exposure.”

But go downtown tonight or any night and you can see world class theatre, view thought-provoking art, see comedy, hear music, buy a local novel from an independant bookshop, or have Alberta beef cooked to perfection.

We don’t pick tourist destinations based on how many corporate headquarters a city has. We visit to see their museums, their music and their people.

So, instead of those four items I listed earlier, wouldn’t it be interesting if the things that came to people’s mind about Alberta were:

The political freedom of Nellie McClung

The musical brilliance of k.d. lang

The hockey knowledge of Ron McLean

The wit and eloquence of Will Ferguson

As a start, maybe these could be Alberta’s Four Strong Winds.


Now before we begin, I just want to say a word about bravery.

It’s brave of you, the audience to be here and show your concern for the future of Arts in the province. And while we may not change minds today, hopefully you will find a canadidate or party that reflects your values about Art.

And it’s brave of these candidates to be here. To associate with a political movement, and indeed stand for office is no small act of bravery.

As the election campaign proceeds, you should know what’s important to these people on the stage and they should know what’s important to you.

Because when the election is over, all these poor dears will have to go on is the popular vote.


And you try working out those numbers.