Commentary: Why America is turning to Canada for arts & culture

Thomas Rogers, The New Republic, 11/9/12

If you've been listening to music, or reading books or paying attention to movies this year, you've probably noticed something strange. You've sensed that your pop stars are bit more likeable than usual, your Hollywood hunks more polite and your hipster literary icons more self-deprecating. Don't panic. Just let the Canadian cultural invasion take you in. Canadians, far more so than usual, have been everywhere in American culture. It seems like we're in the middle of a paradigm shift, in which Canada, long considered the U.S.'s boring, denim-wearing neighbor, has become America's leading purveyor of cool. How did this happen? How did we, dare I say it, become cooler than Americans? On one hand, you can credit Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, two unabashedly Canadian bands who pioneered the idea of Canuck coolness in the last half-decade -- and put Montreal and Toronto, respectively, on the international hipster map. You can also blame the global recession, which, even as it's eviscerated the American economy, has left many parts of Canada largely untouched. You can blame generous Canadian arts grants, and free health care, and the (for the most part) demise of separatism, and the rise of what some magazines are calling "The Arcade Fire Generation" of self-confident young Canadians. Ever since the market crash, experts have been lauding the Canadian way of doing business, a fact that, I can only imagine, has gone a little bit to our heads. But there's something else driving Americans to Canada's cultural bounty: the fact that most of our stars and our music and our movies share a subtle and sometimes even subliminal sense of wholesomeness. Given the many catastrophes that have rocked the United States recently, it only makes sense that Americans would turn to Canada for something a little bit more comforting.


Canadian movie chain doubles profits, raising prices for 'premium experience'

The Canadian Press, 11/8/12

Toronto-based Cineplex doubled its profits in the third quarter as the movie exhibitor countered a decline in moviegoers with higher priced tickets and more sales at its concession stands. Chief executive Ellis Jacob told analysts on Thursday that a strong start to the summer movie season quickly petered out as blockbuster hits like The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man were followed by numerous flops. Yet the company still managed to strengthen results, on ticket price increases in some regions and overall stronger concession sales, which it attributed to changes in its food selection and better promotions. Attendance was down 1% at its cinemas to 18.3 million tickets sold, but by raising ticket prices in some regions, box office revenue increased to a record $8.84 per person. Jacob said in an interview that he believes a combination of the NHL hockey lockout and cooler weather in some areas of the country has likely bolstered the box office in the current fourth quarter. Canadian box-office revenues for five weeks of the fourth-quarter have risen 18.8% over the same time last year, he said. "I think it might be the quality and the varied film product that's out there too." The Toronto-based company has been upgrading to digital projectors as part of a plan to make more of its theatres a "premium" experience. Cineplex has also ramped up the expansion of its higher priced "VIP" theatres that cater exclusively to adults by offering larger seats, menu service, and a licensed auditorium and lounge. The move is part of a broader expansion at Cineplex of premium priced ticket options, which have helped drive box-office revenue even during quarters when Hollywood movies fell short of expectations.


Is the 'shrinking-on-purpose' Canadian Stage company onto something?

J. Kelly Nestruck, The Globe and Mail, 10/15/12

Since taking control of Toronto's largest non-for-profit theatrical laboratory three years ago, mad scientist (aka artistic and general director) Matthew Jocelyn has aimed and fired his shrink-ray gun at just about everything.

ZAP! Audience attendance at the company's two indoor theatre venues has gone down to 71,000 from 98,000.

ZAP! Runs of subscription shows in the main, 876-seat Bluma Appel Theatre have been reduced to two weeks or even to as few as six performances.

You'd expect a story like this to be watched by the wider theatre community as a horror show with Jocelyn cast as the villain, flushing his theatre down the drain. But no, Canadian Stage's current direction is being carefully observed by theatre managers in other corners of the country as a potential new survival technique. Its new strategy of "right-sizing" may be the surest path to stability for the in-peril model of regional theatre -- and show that cash-strapped times don't have to mean downsizing artistic goals. Indeed, with the Vancouver Playhouse's shocking collapse under the weight of a perhaps outdated mandate fresh in minds, the choice could be seen in even starker terms: Adapt or die. Not everyone agrees smaller is the solution, however. Max Reimer, former artistic director of Vancouver Playhouse, is agnostic about companies "shrinking on purpose," noting the Playhouse's shift from 6 shows a year to five, and from 4-week to 3-week runs 12 years ago, didn't save them. Yet, Reimer agrees regional theatres' lack of flexibility can make them vulnerable: "Part of the problem is that these are very large ships that have a tremendous amount of momentum. They have an 18- to 24-month planning cycle." Ultimately, Reimer suggests Canadians still should view the regional theatre movement as "an experiment" that has yet to conclude, since it only dates back to the Manitoba Theatre Centre's establishment in 1958. "The whole process is younger than I," he says. "It could be that we'll been looking at this in 10 years as the best thing Canadian Stage ever did. Who knows?"

A Canadian curatorial agency is betting on big art and banking on ambition

Sky Goodden, ARTINFO Canada, 11/7/12

When ARTINFO Canada became aware of the Third of May Arts Inc., a Canadian curatorial commissioning agency that, like the UK's Artangel or its US equivalent, Creative Time, curates and produces large-scale public art projects, we saw a long-awaited answer forming to a long-standing gap in Canadian arts funding and production. Founded in 2009 by independent curator, Rhonda Corvese, and Toronto International Film Festival curator, Laurel MacMillan, the duo introduced their agency through a wildly successful inaugural project designed for Prospect.2 New Orleans. Recent news hit that this very project, Michel de Broin's monumental "Majestic" (2011), has been purchased by the National Gallery of Canada, and now comprises one of just three monumental sculptures marking their hallowed grounds. Built from lampposts uprooted by Hurricane Katrina, the sculpture was donated to the NGC by philanthropists Donald and Beth Sobey well-known for their longstanding support of the NGC and the Canadian visual arts community. ARTINFO sat down with the Third of May's ambitious founders on the cusp of the NGC's announcement, to discuss the project, the agency, and the gaps it's working to fill in the Canadian art world's landscape. [Read the interview here.]


Canada Council for the Arts says it is poised for changing times...

From a press announcement on the Council's website, 10/10/12

In addition to allocating $157 million to professional artists and arts organizations, the Canada Council spent last year laying the groundwork for organizational and program change. Details on these activities are outlined in its 2011-12 Annual Report. Holding strong to the five directions and three themes outlined in its Strategic Plan 2011-16 Strengthening Connections, the Canada Council reaffirmed its commitment to be responsive to societal change and to effectively manage its resources. Said Director and CEO Robert Sirman, "As artists move into new realms of creativity, so must the Council.  With stable funding for the next three years, Council has embarked on a significant change agenda, reviewing its programs and processes to ensure that it remains relevant." 


Commentary: ...or is the Canada Council just "funding hobbies"?

Peter Worthington, co-founder of the Toronto Sun,, 9/4/12

There was a rhetorical sigh of relief in the Canada Council for the Arts establishment that extensive federal budget cuts this year did not include them. Most areas of government funding are being trimmed. So why not arts grants too? A probable reason why is because any cuts to the artsy set results in a nation-wide howl that the Philistines are taking over, that cultural barbarians are in ascendancy. In fact, the Council grants basically go to artists of whom the Council approves and who don't make waves. At least to many, that's how it seems. Put another way, visual artists whose work the public purchases don't get grants. Those whose work doesn't sell often are the recipients of grants. To some, that's offensive and is seen as public money funding someone's hobby.

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