Thursday, January 28, 2010

and...back at the Toronto desk

catching up...last night was the launch of Toronto's Neighbourhood Arts Network which (if you believe the bumph) will revolutionize arts education in this city.

can't knock their goals: administration & networking to make art classes and activities accessible to kids and older students across the GTA. fabulous, and crucial. but when i go to an arts event and listen to feel-good educational stories from administrators, i get bored. fast. i would rather hear from the kids involved--what did they actually create, and what do they think about these new art skills?

last night's celebratory launch seemed to treat education in art as a spiffy extra that we can throw into the pot only when we have surplus funding. shouldn't artistic play be an essential part of educating the next generation? and if so, why isn't it important for the education minister to show up?

instead, we had Ontario's new Minister of Tourism & Culture, Michael Chan, who didn't address such questions--mind you, no one really expected him to (he's only had this portfolio for 9 days, so he's still looking a little shell-shocked, discovering all the cute artsy songs he now has to listen to). his speech emphasized that the new network is predicated largely on encouraging business to invest in the neighbourhoods in question. hopefully the network is going to spend some time talking about what kind of business these neighbourhoods actually need...or want...and where art fits in all this.

the idea of culture & arts education as a stimulus to animate the urban environment isn't new; the idea of capitalizing on the arts to revitalize the city isn't new either. but so far, Toronto's new network just seems likely to emphasize the divide between the people who talk about making art and the people who actually make the stuff. because playing with the idea of creativity, with cute little ditties and matching aprons, is all very well. but art, if it's actually art and not therapeutic crafts, isn't only a marketing tool and shouldn't be treated as such.

yes, the people involved in this new project seem very enthusiastic, and i do wish them the best. but just the same, it was an evening of Toronto administrators talking about art...even free food can't make that interesting. i left the event a bit down-hearted.

and then, art saved me.

i walked down the glass corridor of Harbourfront and noticed the gallery space was still open, with no one there apart from the woman at the desk. the thread installation by Amanda McCavour is what drew me into the space--because i could glimpse the work as i walked away from the launch (my photo doesn't do it justice at all). inside the gallery, i discovered Shuyu Lu's equally fantastic embroidery of small meticulous scenes of Chinatown & Kensington Market...detailed, thoughtful, mysterious, a real conversation with the city and with the viewer.

the work was gorgeous. complicated. technically demanding. and committed to considering Toronto through art.

while i was there, none of the arts administrators stopped in as they left the party. which seemed a pity.