This post is not about the art being presented at Luminato. There are a lot of really cool works being presented at the festival and I wish all the artists involved enormous success. Except for Joni Mitchell. What? Joni Mitchell is a visual artist!?!
This post is about money. Cash dollars for the arts. How it is spent, who decides, and for what purpose. I didn’t really understand how off the rails this whole spectacle had gone until I read Kate Taylor’s May 24th , 2008 article From zero to $22.5-million in 2 years in The Globe and Mail.
And then my head exploded.
Taylor begins by answering some of her own questions:
“How did a 10-day Toronto arts festival, which had completed only one season, win a direct provincial grant of a kind usually reserved for established government agencies? How did Luminato, that ill-defined grab bag of splashy public spectacles and pricey international performances (which gets underway for a second season on June 9) come out of nowhere so fast?She comes to the conclusion based on the following evidence:
The answer is: one part strategy, one part timing, many parts political connections.”
The festival was founded and is co-chaired by Tony Gagliano and David Pecault. Gagliano is CEO of St. Joseph Communications, which publishes Toronto Life, and is also friends with Greg Sorbara, former Liberal finance minister and architect of McGuinty election victories. To complicate matters, his family also donated $10 million to the recent AGO renovation. This is relevant because the three major grants for the arts by the Ontario Government recently have been to the AGO, the ROM and Luminato. There is a strange, out of my just-trying-to-make-rent league, cycle of money going on there.
Pecault is Senior Partner with The Boston Consulting Group but, surprise, is married to Helen Burstyn, a prominent Liberal supporter who used to work inside McGuinty’s office and is now volunteer chair of The Ontario Trillium Foundation, another provincial arts granting body.
These well-connected founders managed to immediately, out of nowhere, get our Ontario government to commit $7.5 million dollars towards this festival over its first three years. What the? Praxis Theatre has to receive three successful project grants before we can even qualify to apply for operational funding. But fine, the post-SARS tourist economy ain’t what is used to be and some stimulus that skips the red tape is perhaps in order. But this latest, no-application process, trust us we’ll do something good with it, extra $15 million dollars – which Luminato admits that they don’t know what to do with yet – is quite frankly beyond the pale.
Here’s the top three reasons why:
First, access to public arts funding should not be political. Public money can’t and shouldn’t be about who you know. We have a hard time making the case for public arts funding period. Why not house the homeless, make the TTC cheaper, and paint some more bike lanes instead? If it begins to be even perceived as a slush fund for political friends to throw exclusive red carpet parties, while they wine and dine international artists, we’re screwed selling this idea to the rest of our citizens. The connection between the co-chairs and the Premier’s office are embarrassingly obvious. For all of us in the arts.
Second, there has been much to do in the media, and on this blog, about what’s wrong with theatre in Toronto as of late. In particular the lack of strong new voices and the conditions many artists work in. Alec Scott’s Toronto Life Article (who publishes Toronto Life again?), comes to mind. A lot of arguments have debated whether or not the criticisms are valid – not much talk about why they could be true. I think the answer is money and access to it. The more people that live here, make plays, and can find a way to live, the more exciting new art will be made. Throwing $15 million at Luminato will do little to address this for Toronto theatre.* If you think you know about the other disciplines being presented at the festival, let me know. It’s going to do very little to address the root causes of what plagues us in Theatretown.
*Note. Yes. The Luminato windfall was immediately followed by a $5 million increase to the Ontario Arts Council yearly budget to deflect this sort of criticism. But consider these #s: With the new money, The OAC distributes $60 million a year to roughly 400 organizations. This is peanuts, we’re talking $150,000 a piece after a rigorous process of peer review. Right now Luminato is rocking along with an average of $7.5 million a year and they just invented themselves.
Third, and most importantly, this is bad strategy. It’s the same kind of Lastman-era flawed logic that got us a basketball team named The Raptors and the notion that somehow we can buy a world class city instead of building one. Hiring a high-priced American Artistic Director to bring World Class shows to Toronto will not put us on the map as an international hotbed of talent. People travel to London and New York for this reason because of the shows that are created there, and the tradition the community has of making great works that push boundaries. That’s when the rest of the world follows suit and tries to participate with it as well. Until we have more legitimate domestic talent, stars, and the hits that go with them, we’re never going to achieve that sort of status.
So I’m Lumi-not-going. There are a bunch of shows, both domestic, and international, that seem really interesting. Normally I probably would check them out. But I’m disturbed enough by all of this to opt out. I’ve got a grant application I should probably be working on anyhow.
This is the first in a series of four blog posts on theatre by Michael Wheeler.