3 min

The cultural dustbowl effect

That artists and queers flee Ottawa is not surprising, but can we turn it around?

Starve out the artists, starve out Ottawa’s quality of life. If you starve out the quality of life, you can’t get people to live here, pay their taxes, fill vacancies for skilled workers, and so on. Coffers stagnate. People’s enjoyment of life suffers, and then they leave too.

In the end, you’re left with a cultural dustbowl. That’s arts bleed.

Speaking to me on the phone, Ottawa-Gatineau Pride chair Gordon Boissonneault couldn’t resist mentioning Richard Florida, the author of The Rise Of The Creative Class. Florida’s by now well-known argument is that where gays choose to move to, there’s a city with a high quality of life, because gay people both create and gravitate toward cities that are thriving and fun to live in.

These issues coalesce neatly into the city’s current discussions surrounding its investment in culture (or, more properly, lack thereof). The proposal, which survived committee discussions Feb 1, which would provide $2.5 million in arts and festival funding. Among the potential benefactors is our own impoverished Pride festival.

If we want to keep our young gays and lesbians from moving out of Ottawa, we need to re-invest in Pride — and in the arts. Otherwise: queer bleeding, and not in the gaybashing sense of the term.

Ottawa’s queer bleed — particularly to Montreal and Toronto — is well known in our community at least anecdotally. It’s one more reason to support city hall’s proposal to provide a stable base of funding for our cultural sector.

And if you don’t think the city’s artists and culture workers are at their absolute wit’s end, just ask them. As councillors were mulling over input from the city’s artists, Jennifer Dickson let loose on Ottawa Citizen arts editor Peter Simpson.

“I think here what we’re looking at is a selfish, self-centred, greedy group of citizens who can’t see beyond their noses. I’m not prepared to say anything bad about the mayor and the council: I think they’re taking their message from the people who voted them in, and I think if that’s what they want we should give it to them.

“I’m almost beginning to be angry. I said to Julian [Armour, the acclaimed president of the Ottawa Chamber Music Society], ‘Promise me if you don’t get this funding that they’re applying for that you’ll leave Ottawa, get the hell out.’ Why should we stay? It’s a very good question: why should we stay?”

Dickson’s comments sound like they are ripped word-for-word from poet Rob McLennan’s Jan 17 open letter on the same subject. He says that the treatment Ottawa’s creative people receive is not just sad, it’s insulting.

“There are those of us, for whatever reason, that have chosen to either move to or remain in the City of Ottawa as workers in the arts, and simply for that reason, we refuse to be told, through sheer bloody-minded indifference from the city heads and media outlets, that our services are not required. There is nothing wrong with not accepting poor treatment simply for doing what it is we do, especially when we know how well we do it,” writes McLennan.

“To build or keep a world class city it has to be maintained, and somehow, falling between the cracks of national vs. local, we get the worst consideration of all. Is this how any city, capital or not, is supposed to act? Is this the image we wish to project out into the world?”

Dickson says that creative young people have simply moved away and she wonders aloud what the heck she’s still doing here. McLennan makes the same point about arts bleed. He points out that the Canadian Repertory Company left after the city declined to help them find a bigger theatre. They moved wholesale to, um, Stratford, Ontario in the 1950s, resulting in the establishment of the Stratford Festival.

This neglect is a 50-year story.

Let’s not let that happen to Ottawa’s best. First, let’s make sure the arts community gets its funding this year. Let’s try to make this the turnaround year for how we treat Ottawa’s local artists at city hall. To fire off a quick e-mail to city councilors, click here.

And secondly, let’s support the queer artists and agitators that are doing good work in the city. People like…

MUSICIAN GLENN NUOTIO. Ottawa adoptee and indie brat Glenn Nuotio plays Zaphod’s with The Winks and The Famous Lovers. Sun, Feb 11, 8pm. $6.

DJ CAITLIN PASCAL. DJ and agitator CPI hosts a monthly movie night called Divergence. The next film is Vice and Consent, a look at San Francisco’s BDSM community. Feb 13 at 7pm. Saw Gallery. $5 donation appreciated.

DIRECTOR JOÉL BEDDOWS. Beddows is currently directing Apocalypse à Kamloops, about reclaiming the good things that were thrown out along with the bad aspects of the traditional family. Feb. 14-24. La Nouvelle Scène. Tickets $26.50.

CURATOR GUY BÉRUBÉ. The seductive gallery La Petite Mort hosts some of the city’s most risqué art. Friday he hosts emerging artists for single-day exhibits. The One Night Stand series features photographers Angelina McCormick (Feb 16) and Rick Hancox photo (Feb 23) from 7-10 pm. 306 Cumberland.

And speaking of SAW GALLERY. One of the city’s most alterna-friendly spaces, SAW will be hosting Jizz, guaranteed to be a transgressive encounter with the city’s queer artists. Mar 3, Club SAW.

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And incidentally, Boissonneault mentioned that Pride is looking for volunteers for Pride 2007. An info session will be held on Feb 10 1-2pm at Pink Triangle office, 177 Nepean. For more info