Just to Be Clear: I Am Not Afraid

To the Editor of The Toronto Sun, to Mr. Don Peat, Councillor Norm Kelly and Prime Minister Harper:
I know that you understand the dramatic resonance and power that the Arts have in this country. I know because your continual desire to silence these voices, to squash the intelligent and insightful questions they raise and your attempts to convince the citizens of Canada that protecting its culture, telling our stories and being proud of our artists in the same way we are proud of our athletes is somehow elitist, indulgent and a waste of taxpayers’ money- I can see that this is all clearly indicative of your fear.
I understand why you are afraid. Artists love to push boundaries and their masterpieces are often hotbeds for critical thinking. They provide space for a myriad of perspectives to intersect and to incite discussion and debate in an immediate exchange with their audience. Artists are often political because the freedoms of this country allow them to challenge the status quo and to dream of a better world. There is a George Carlin video where he says that the “owners” of America are not interested in fostering a society capable of critical thinking, they don’t want intelligent, insightful citizens who ask questions and form their own informed decisions about the issues that affect them and the rest of the world. No, according to Carlin, it is in the best interest of these owners for Americans to be utterly reliant on the safe, intricately constructed media to dictate what they should think, believe and care about. Canadians are not immune to this either. Examining issues from all sides, asking questions, listening to diverse viewpoints, pushing boundaries, refusing to accept the one “official story” and delving beyond the surface makes us that society that Carlin was advocating, one that does not follow blindly like sheep toward a slaughterhouse, but who are able to make active and informed choices.
These people are difficult to lead because they require a strong leader. They require a leader who is capable of critical thought, who is respectful of other people’s perspectives and opinions and who can eloquently and intelligently make decisions that will benefit not only the citizens of Canada, but also the future of this country. Stephen Harper is not this person and he is aware of it. He is like the Wizard of Oz, a corrupt, inadequate puppeteer hiding behind a curtain trying to create the illusion of power, the illusion of leadership, but it is all a very sad facade. Every time Stephen Harper attacks the arts and threatens to stomp out the voices of Canada’s artists he reaffirms their power, he reaffirms their strength and he reaffirms the staggering influence that they have not to sway the public to any one opinion, but to inspire them to form their own.
Don Peat recently wrote a sensationalist piece concerning Catherine Frid’s play Homegrown, a play that he has not read or seen, and, taking a few sentences from the description of the piece out of context, he spun a wildly unprofessional outcry that suggests that by providing funding to the Summerworks Festival, the Canadian Government has funded a story that is sympathetic to terrorism. This story has spiralled out of control, which has given Summerworks, Toronto’s small Independent Theatre Festival, an unexpected publicity boost which will no doubt benefit not only Frid’s play, but the Festival in general, but it has also raised once again the question of how much control our government should have over the content of art that is funded through the government’s organizations such as Heritage Canada, the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council etc.
What really disturbed me is the following quote from the most recent of these stories about Homegrown in the Toronto Sun entitled PMO frowns on terror play funding by David Akin, Parliamentary Bureau Chief, which says, “”I would hate to see them use this play as an excuse to pull funding for anyone,” said a Toronto theatre worker who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal by the Conservatives.” I half suspect that this is some sort of propaganda that The Sun has constructed to make Toronto theatre artists feel as though they should be afraid. Who is afraid?! Not Summerworks Artistic Director Michael Rubenfeld, who has spoken about this issue since it became a controversy, not Catherine Frid. Are you afraid? I’m insulted. It is the Conservatives who are afraid! Their backlash and using Arts Cuts as some sort of leverage to punish those who do not retreat nicely into subservience is the most cowardly action a government can take. We have the power. We have the leverage. There is no need for anyone to be afraid. We ARE the majority.
I want to remind you of Margaret Atwood’s beautiful article that appeared in the Globe and Mail in 2008 where she spoke about creativity and artistic talent being intrinsically Canadian. “The artists” are not some elite group of avant-garde, snobby freaks who are set apart from the average Canadian tax payers. We are the people who teach your children how to draw, how to sing and who write the books they read. We are your neighbours and your friends. We are ordinary, average Canadian tax payers just like you. If Stephen Harper wants to cut music, art and drama classes from school, if he wants to cut the Pride Festivities across the country, if he wants to slash amateur festivals and professional ones of all different genres of art and music and theatre and dance, then he is going after everyone. His fear will be his undoing, his paranoia will be his downfall, because these tirades only rally the people together. His childishness and unprofessionalism only expose his weakness- the man behind the curtain.
We are not afraid of you, Mr. Harper. Summerworks begins tomorrow and runs until August 15th, 2010. For all the information you need visit this website. Go forth, Toronto, and relish in over 40 pieces of theatre, music, dance and multidisciplinary art that will make you proud to be Canadian.

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