Edmonton Responds to a National Arts Debate

 Public Reading of Controversial Play Provides Canadians Opportunity to Make up their Own Minds

(Edmonton: July 11, 2011) – Leading theatre artists from across Canada are banding together to respond to a national controversy by staging simultaneous public readings of Catherine Frid’s Homegrown, a story of a Toronto lawyer/writer who meets and befriends a prisoner accused of homegrown terrorism – one of the so-called “Toronto 18.”

During its first production at the 2010 Summerworks Theatre Festival, Homegrown was the centre of political attention; Andrew MacDougal, spokesperson for the Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Office, was reported saying “we are extremely disappointed public money is going towards funding plays that glorify terrorism.” While critics strongly disagreed, citing the play an intelligent examination which neither supports nor romanticizes terrorism, but rather raises important questions about the government’s involvement, Summerworks Theatre Festival lost its federal funding for the 2011 season. Negative sentiments for both the festival and the play on behalf of the government were further compounded by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s recent remarks, saying “we actually don’t believe in festivals and cultural institutions assuming that year after year after year, they’ll receive government funding from the Government of Canada.”

In the vein of The Wrecking Ball – a grassroots political arts awareness campaign simultaneously held across the country during the 2008 and 2011 elections – theatre companies from more than five provinces will stage simultaneous public readings of Homegrown in an effort to provide audiences an opportunity to become informed and answer the question “What’s all the controversy about?”

Edmonton’s theatre community will respond with the expected passion and commitment. The reading, being held at the Stollery Gallery at The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts on Friday, July 15 at 8pm, will see local actors Michele Brown, Michael Peng, Jamie Cavanagh and Jason Chinn as directed by Garett Spelliscy take on the controversial script.

“The professional community in Edmonton has been very supportive of this project,” says director Garett Spelliscy, “I’m an indie guy and I have no real resources of my own, but senior industry professionals like Michael Clark, Keltie Brown, Eva Cairns, Elizabeth Ludwig, Kim McCaw and Caroline Howarth have all come forward with personal endorsements, support and advice. They encouraged me to approach this with curiosity, rather than judgment and accusations. I think the result is an evening that reflects Alberta’s independent spirit; a discussion rather than a rally, an artistic inquiry, not a protest.”

A demonstration to show support for fellow Canadian artists, and foster informed dialogue about the issues surrounding this controversy, the reading will initiate discussion with Edmonton theatre-goers.

“We want to start a conversation among artists and audiences about issues this controversy has raised,” continues Spelliscy. “These issues seem to concern the stability of funding for the arts, attitudes towards public funding, freedom of expression, and the role of the arts in Canadian society. This is a national debate, and one we hope Edmontonians are eager to participate in.”

A public reading of Homegrown by Catherine Frid
Stollery Gallery, Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts (11731 93 Street) Friday, July 15, 2011 at 8pm
Michele Brown, Michael Peng, Jamie Cavanaugh & Jason Chinn
Directed by Garett Spelliscy
FREE admission*

*Audiences are encouraged to donate to The Summerworks Theatre Festival, or two shows at Summerworks involving Albertan artists


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Seven Things you can do to Stick it to Sun News

Let us name Sun News Network for what it truly is: a sensationalist tabloid broadcast channel, the sole intent of which is to illicit reaction, drive traffic to an advertiser-supported website and increase profit to support poorly researched, melodramatic “news.”

As artists, supporters of the arts, and Canadians who enjoy living in a culturally diverse and rich nation, it is our responsibility to not only arm ourselves with the correct facts, but also share those facts with the watchdogs, politicians and public able to shape change.

Want to make a difference? Here are seven things you can do today to stick it to Sun News:

1. Arm yourself with the correct facts. The most recent Sun News report attacked Edmonton Arts Habitat Association for “feeding off” government funds – funds Sun News feels should rather support reducing crime rates.

Here’s the truth:

Arts Habitat applicants must be recognized, practicing artists or non-profit arts professionals with a gross annual income of less than $29,797 for one person. Monthly estimated housing charges are $775 per month, excluding power, telephone and cable. Each household must purchase $2,000 in member shares, $500 of which must be paid upon membership approval. By no means is this housing “free.” Read more.

The community in question is undergoing vast revitalization to address crime by reclaiming 118 Avenue as a drug and weapon free zone. This effort is being met by community members, local businesses, local arts organizations and the Edmonton Police Service together in a unified movement to restore a sense of safety and community.

Arts on the Ave

We believe in 118
Edmonton Police Service Neighborhood Empowerment Team
Alberta Avenue Business Association

Arts play a vital role in building and sustaining community. Here are just a few key statistics on Arts in Canada (via Arts Vote Toolkit – Key Statistics on Arts and Culture, Canadian Conference of the Arts):

The arts and culture sector contributed $85 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2007 (7.4% of Canada’s real GDP). SOURCE: Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada’s Creative Economy, Conference Board of Canada, 2008

The cultural sector generated approximately $25 billion in taxes for all levels of government in 2007. This is more than three times higher than the $7.9 billion that was spent on culture by all levels of government in 2007. SOURCE: Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada’s Creative Economy, Conference Board of Canada, 2008

The cultural sector has about 600,000 workers, which is about double the level of employment in the forestry sector in Canada (300,000) and more than double the level of employment in Canadian banks (257,000). SOURCE: A Statistical Profile of Artists in Canada : Based on the 2006 Census, Hill Strategies Research, 2009

In 2005, two thirds of Canadians read a book (66.6%), one in two attended a performance by professional artists or a cultural festival (48.8%), and one in four visited an art gallery (26.7%). SOURCE: General Social Survey, Statistics Canada, 2005

In 2008, Canadians spent more than twice as much on live performing arts ($1.4 billion) than on sports events ($0.65 billion). SOURCE: Survey of Household Spending, Statistics Canada, 2008

The arts are important for personal health and well-being, having an impact on personal confidence, sense of control, social connectedness, education, and ensuring supportive physical environments. SOURCE: Arts and Culture in Medicine and Health: Survey Research Paper, Cooley & Associates, 2003

Other key statistics on the arts in Canada: SOURCE Canada Council for the Arts.

2. Tell your city you support what they are doing to make Edmonton a vibrant and culturally diverse city to live, work and play in.

Write Mayor Mandel

Write City Council

Write the Edmonton Arts Council

3. Share your opinion. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council is an organization created to administer standards created by Canada’s private broadcasters. As a viewer, you are entitled to report something which concerns you. The CBSC asks you first file your complaint with the network in question. Unfortunately, Sun News only offers a standard contact form, and no email address, mailing address or contact telephone number. If inaccurate reporting concerns you, please take the time to fill out the CBSC complaint form, citing lack of contact information on behalf of Sun News as one of your reasons for filing a complaint.

4. Share your opinion again. When Sun News interviewed Margie Gillis on Canada Live, the CBSC was overwhelmed with complaints, so much so the volume of complaints exceeded the Council’s resources. Keep telling them why this sort of “news” undermines journalistic integrity.

5. Sun News isn’t worth watching. Nor is the website worth visiting. Boycott Sun News whenever possible. According to an article published by The Wire in April, 2011, Sun News Media ratings have dropped by the thousands since its launch.  Ezra Levant – the journalist responsible for this most recent un-reporting – reaches less than 19,000 viewers per week. Compare this to CBC News Network’s 263,000 and CNN’s 38,000 viewers.

6. While you’re at it, why not write a letter to Sun News advertisers explaining why you choose not to purchase their product? Advertisers will follow market dollars. Some online advertisers include: Subway, Free Credit Reports Canada, Capital One (ombudsman@capitalone.com), Match.com, West Jet, Ancestry.ca and Home Depot (ca_customercare@homedepot.com).

7. Write to your Member of Parliament. Artists, arts supporters and Canadians who enjoy living in a culturally diverse and rich nation vote. Good politicians should care about your vote. Ask your member of parliament what he or she is doing to protect journalistic integrity. Once you’ve done that, see point 4.

We are in this together and we are capable of shaping change.


Please note: the author of this post has chosen not to link to Sun News Media in an effort to boycott Sun News Media and its supporters. Thank you.

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