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Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Kind Of People We Want To Be

Yesterday I managed to sneak out of work for an hour or so to attend the WGC/ACTRA Rally for the Arts and I bumped into a few smiling faces but mostly a whole lot of people I've never met before. I mean that in a good way, by the way, as it really did give me a hint of the scope of things as they stand. Combine the mass of passionate, proud Canadians with the signs and cameras and Chinese dancing dragons and... well, yeah, it was quite a sight.

And though there were a lot of speeches and lots of wonderful points made and lots of facts and figures expounded upon - there was one speech that really knocked it out of the park for me. A collection of ideas and themes that just hit home like none of the others did.

Maybe it was because it spoke to my inner idealist, maybe 'cause it vibed with the hope and love I have for my country. But when those words came out, it sparked something in me - especially this bit:

"There's so much about this country that makes it great and we all don't talk about it - but when we do, when we talk about it, THAT is culture. Culture is Canadians talking to each other about the kind of country, the kind of people we want to be". - Denis McGrath

And there, in the crowd, surrounded by artists of every stripe, I found myself getting angry - not at them, not at his words or even what they meant. I found myself getting angry at the frustration in the eyes and voices around me - that this shit even needed to be said at all.

It's something I've been feeling for a long time - even before I chose to become a writer. Back when I was a struggling promoter, trying to help young independent Canadian artists, musicians and filmmakers get noticed in Toronto.

An uphill battle to be sure, but it was fun - and sometimes heartbreaking - work.

Yet it still kills me, every time, when I hear someone I know tell me that there's no opportunities for artists in this country. To hear people who're just starting out - or otherwise - tell me that they're going to go to the States because there's just no use bothering to stay here.

That no one cares about them in this country until they make it big somewhere else.

It's why I started Canadiana Promotions back in the day, it's why I've chosen to stay here now and hone my craft as a writer. I believe in the talent in this country - the potent, amazing and intriguing characters and stories that live and breathe all around me. I believe in the potential we share - for the market that just needs a good excuse to explode. For the pride we all feel but hide under our shirts until we go somewhere else and stick a flag on our back pack. (Why do we do that? It can't just be to say 'hey we're not Americans'.)

I believe that we are just as capable and worthy as anywhere else in the world of entertaining and enlightening each other - not just as Canadians but as fellows in the Human experience.

And it's why I get so frustrated when I hear the one thing that's supposed be bringing us all together - our communal experiences and stories - being used to tear us apart. To hear a man who is supposed to be our leader, to be uniting us, pushing us against one another.

It just goes against everything I stand for. Everything I believe in.

I want to thank all the fantastic and amazing people who were at the rally, those who could only be there in spirit and all the rest who continue to work here and believe in the beauty and potential of our home.

I'm going to sign off with another quote from Mr. McGrath, something for us all to think about as election day looms large on the horizon.

"I think we all understand that times are tough, and tough times means tough choices. But when times are tough, that - traditionally - is exactly when society turns to the comfort that storytelling provides. That's when we do our most important work. Sharing stories, in words, in images - on stage in dance, in music - this is how we think, this is how we learn to be Canadian."


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