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Why great culture needs a greater vision

Margie Gillis, celebrating the 40th anniversary of her performance career this year, will be dancing on Nov. 12 and 13 at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre. She will be at the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., on Nov. 9. And last week she danced at the Cultch, the well-known East Vancouver theatre and cultural hub.

It is not coincidental that the Cultch is also celebrating its 40th anniversary. Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre and the revitalization of London’s venerable Grand Theatre also have their origins in the 1970s. In towns and cities across Canada, dance fans (as well as theatregoers, Can-lit readers, music-lovers, and gallery visitors) are benefitting from a cultural infrastructure that, in many instances, was put in place years ago.

The audience that gathered at the Cultch on a beautiful autumn evening last week in Vancouver to see Gillis, like the crowds that recently lined up on lively Granville Island to hear Margaret Atwood, and Tomson Highway, and Elizabeth Ruth, and Michael Crummey, and Michel Tremblay (among many other Canadian and international authors) at Vancouver’s popular Writers Fest, are not part of a cultural scene that was born yesterday.

Many, if not most, of the venues and the institutions that we now take for granted were established by visionaries who, in marked contrast to the prevailing political and social preoccupations of today, were thinking beyond the fleeting moment of their present.

Whether dance companies such as Gillis’s, or venues like the Cultch, or institutions such as Harbourfront or the Grand have been directly supported by federal, provincial and municipal funding agencies is not the most important factor of either their origins or ongoing existence — contrary to the criticisms of those who believe the marketplace, and not tax dollars, should decide what does and does not constitute Canadian culture.

These critics, like the politicians who pay attention to them, tend to be unable or unwilling to look forward. Not for them, the business of planting a tree they will not live long enough to see mature. What sense does the marketplace make of dreamy nonsense like that? Equally, they seem to be unable to look back — to remember a time, not so long ago, when Canadians simply did not imagine that they could have their own Margie Gillis or Margaret Atwood. Somehow the critics of public funding for the arts imagine we have always been the way we are.

The creation of an artistic culture, as well as a culture of dance-lovers, readers, theatregoers and gallery visitors, has required investment that might not have made sense at year-end, or even for many years after money was spent. The establishment of a culture — a culture of creation, a culture of appreciation, and a culture of expectation — is not principally a matter of accounting, however much journalists who purport to know something about accounting like to argue that it is.

The payoff is never immediate — which is something our parents’ generation understood to be true when they invested in tricky, long-term expensive undertakings such as defeating fascism, or building new schools and highways, or putting sewage or hydro lines in place for suburbs that did no yet exist. They believed in planting trees.

In Vancouver, Margie Gillis and the actor Elizabeth Parrish performed Bulletins from Immortality … Freeing Emily Dickinson. In London and in Toronto, Gillis will be performing a different show — the Ontario premiere of The Light Between. And if you want my suggestion, you should get a ticket because, if the Vancouver show was any indication, it will be exquisite. Or go to the Grand Theatre or Harbourfront simply to see the legacy of a less-selfish past bequeathed to our present.

Source : David Macfarlane, The Star.

Filed under: Analyses, Evénements, Gouvernances, Politiques culturelles, , , , ,

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