Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Foster artists, keep scene strong

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Historically, the great advantage of being an artist or performer has been the freedom to sleep in until noon.

This was especially true in the summer, when almost zippo was happening and you couldn't earn a living even if you wanted to.

It was Michelangelo, I believe, who liked nothing better than to laze around all July and August with a pitcher of martinis after a hard spring's labour painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

But that was so 16th century.

Today the summer months are among the busiest on the arts calendar. Nobody has the luxury of sleeping past midday. Not even arts journalists.

The parochial among us think this is a local phenomenon, but it's not true. Every city in the western world, let alone Canada, plays host to a non-stop series of festivals from one end of the season to the other.

Here in Winnipeg, on what could have been an extended Canada Day Long weekend, we are busy chasing around after the Queen of England, as she admires airports and consecrates museums.

Our annual jazz festival is winding up this weekend, and thousands of people have driven out to the Dauphin Countryfest.

June saw the Agassiz Chamber Music Festival and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Indigenous Festival.

The Young Lungs dance troupe winds up three shows at the Gas Station Theatre tonight, and next week one of the city's best-known theatrical families, Arne MacPherson and Debbie Patterson and their kids, are remounting their fringe hit from last summer, Molotov Circus. That, too, is at the Gas Station.

Another local fringe vet, Bob Armstrong, debuted his kid-friendly a history comedy, It's a Wonderful Manitoba, at Assiniboine Park on Canada Day.

Commissioned by Parks Canada, it will be presented all over the province in this Manitoba Homecoming summer.

Rainbow Stage, meanwhile, has another week to go with Rent, the first of two musicals this summer. This overlaps with the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which starts Wednesday.

The following week the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival starts, and that's followed by two weeks of Folklorama.

This isn't to forget the procession of pop concerts that are stopping in to the MTS Centre, not to mention four days of Cirque du soleil's touring show Alegria, which overlaps with the second week of the fringe.

Where do the audiences for all stuff come from?

The Montreal-based arts administrator Simon Brault talks about this about this in his provocative new book No Culture, No Future, newly released in English translation.

Despite the tremendous growth in performing arts supply over the last generation or two, surveys have show that the potential audience for all of is at best 25 per cent of the population.

Three-quarters remain indifferent to so-called arts culture and are content with the mass culture of television, film and pop music.

The road to changing this, he argues, is long and hard. It begins with increased arts education in the school and the encouragement of amateur participation in all kinds of venues.

People who are familiar with the arts by practising them, Brault argues, are more likely to be audience members. Moreover, they will be more receptive to the political arguments for economic subsidy because they will understand the value of it.

Brault spoke to a group of arts industry professionals in Winnipeg in the spring. He quoted a maxim from his book:

"Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand."

It's worth contemplating the meaning of this at a time when the growth of arts activity show no sign of abating.

We don't want to give those artists an excuse to start sleeping in until noon again.

morley.walker@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2010 C3

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