The following column is being donated by Rino Bortolin.
I’d like you to sound off if you agree or disagree.
I know I have some things to say about this column…
The Lack of Traction in the Windsor Arts Community
This is written not as a reply to Tom’s most recent blog post (about losing talent due to free work) but as a parallel discussion and different perspective that I have had for some time now but only recently have been able to articulate.
Tom’s blog post has created much discussion about the arts community and its ability to keep people here in Windsor and allow them to thrive, both artistically and maybe more importantly, financially. There has been a noticeable shift in the last couple of years. Maybe it’s because of the proliferation of social media, but Windsor’s arts community has become more self aware, more visible and much prouder.
This is all good, good for everyone. I have seen many of my friends and colleagues leave for greener pastures over the years. For years I have endured people’s pity and pleas for me to move away. I have continually scoffed at the idea because of the immense pride I have for Windsor and all that it has to offer. I won’t go on and on about that because that’s a separate essay entirely, but it leads me to my point.
We have a vibrant and extremely talented arts community but cannot seem to get enough momentum to move it to the next level. That level being where the people involved can economically sustain themselves by creating, promoting, and simply offering a cultural experience like no other.
One of the reasons that the growth is stagnant and slow is because we lack an honest and true self awareness. We have encouraged many to write, sing, play, cook, dance, etc to the point where the arts community is bigger than ever. That can be considered a huge success. There are many more artists, cinematographers, writers, musicians etc than just 3 or 4 years ago. Step one accomplished. Herein lies the dilemma and where the movement loses steam.
How do we as Windsorites recognize and assess the quality of the talent that we have so vigorously encouraged and fostered? We don’t. Some may disagree with this point but let me explain. We have created such a large pool of talent and artistic organizations that it has become cloudy and convoluted. There is nobody here in Windsor that gives honest and true insight into the quality, both good and bad, of the community and talent that we have.
We have many that promote and write but few that critique and differentiate between art of quality and, simply put, crap. We have a propensity to air grievances about things that our local politicians do and things that happen around the city that are somewhat out of our grasp but when it comes to the self realization within the arts community we are scared to point out the good as well as the bad.
Major cities and arts communities rely on critics for everything from fashion to food and everything in-between to propel them to higher standards and greater heights. Last time I checked we don’t have any critics. Maybe that is because we don’t want to stifle the momentum needed to grow the arts community in size, but we now need some self regulation.
We have planted the seeds, watered and nurtured, but it’s time we pruned and weeded. We can discuss on and on how Windsorites won’t pay cover, don’t participate etc., but those points are just rhetoric masking the sub par quality that we’re offering at times.
For example: Why is it that when a restaurant closes its doors, it’s reasons are the economy, the passport laws, the value of the dollar, local unemployment etc.? Is that really being honest? Why is it that the restaurant, not two blocks away, is thriving in those same conditions?
The honest reality is that it was mismanaged, misguided in its target audience, inconsistent and so on. Am I a jerk for saying that? I know it’s said in private but why can’t somebody write it. How can a local theatre production company, offering modern, well written, well produced unique plays compete among the sea of theatre companies in Windsor?
There are close to 30 theatre companies in Windsor. A staggering statistic. How many local plays will an average Windsorite see over a year? One, maybe two. Now spread that number over 30 companies and you can see why many producers might be pulling their hair out. We have taken the notion of supporting local too far. We need to look locally whenever we do something (again another essay for another time) but we need to focus on things of quality that are local. How many times can we be expected to pay to go see Grease or Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat? There are only so many dollars that will be spent on the arts in this city. We have no one guiding us or the rest of the city as to where they will be best spent.
We currently have many people who try to promote and guide us in some way. Tom is one great example of this. His most recent post is so relevant because when people learn that the guidance and the efforts that people like him put forth everyday is deserving of true compensation, then, and only then, will Windsor’s arts community really gain some traction and move forward.
There are many in the community that have gained our trust and have something special to offer us. It’s proven by the fact that you’re reading this blog. For people to be truly honest they need a buffer that allows them to work in a way that does not compromise their integrity. In Windsor, magazines fear losing ad revenue, bars owners fear losing patrons, websites and blogs fear losing supporters and readership. Eventually people will not only appreciate some credible critique but demand it and thus in time opportunities will arise and become economically viable.
In the meantime we as an arts community have to learn to embrace critique and allow it to help shape and mould the talent we have and the talent we are supporting. Those who are truly producing good relevant material will only gain from this perspective and those who are just getting by and not producing quality will gain insight and learn what changes are necessary.
This year can be telling with so many changes coming to Windsor especially with a municipal election and so many projects popping up around the city. The local arts community has drifted for so long without clear leadership and true cohesion. Maybe this is the year when some step up to lead and can be honestly compensated for it. I know I’m willing to pay for it, are you?