How Luminato failed Toronto
You have a $10,000 a year budget for transportation.
A) Rent a Lamborghini Countache for ten days, and drive it around like hell. Walk everywhere the other 50.5 weeks of the year.
B) Get a sensible sedan on a 12-month lease.
C) Alternate between a transit pass and bicycle. Use the savings to do something interesting.
This was my response to a co-worker who had seen BlackWatch the previous evening. He told me that although they had initially agreed with my earlier Lumi-not-go post, after seeing the production he had come to a different conclusion about the value of the festival. Anything that brings something that good to Toronto must be a good thing.
I really like Lamborghini Countaches too. A long time ago I had a poster of one above my bed. But option A is clearly ludicrous. It’s the same reason why spending $21.5 million over three years on an international festival that bring some of the best artistic work in the world to the T Dot for a short, extremely well publicized run, is also a very poor, frankly ignorant, decision.
Theatre at every level but the best of the most established institutions is in bad shape in this city right now. There’s a myriad of reasons for this best saved for another conversation, but the short version is as follows:
Mike Daisey is right and it’s the same situation up here. Being a theatre artist has ceased to become a profession you can make anything approaching a respectable living at in Toronto for all but handful of our very top practitioners. These lucky folks are still often working 12-hour days and six-day weeks for much less than what any of our non-thesbian friends make. Many of them probably do a little catering on the side to make ends meet. The earth is scorched. Anyone who puts economic well-being in their top-ten list of personal priorities would not come within a stone’s throw of this scene.
Yes, the theatre has always been in trouble. Yes, making art is hard. But the current theatrical economy is a graveyard for anyone who may have to pay bills, rent or student loans. We can see this in what has become of our grassroots institutions, places where the new generation of artists rehearse and perform:
Artword Theatre – gone.
Alchemy Theatre – gone.
Poor Alex Theatre – gone.
Equity Showcase Theatre – going, soon to be gone.
Not only are there few resources to create work, there is no longer anywhere affordable to put shows on.
In the wake of this grim reality, a couple of corporate head honchos who seem entirely unaware of any of this, waltzing in and deciding that they know best with what to do with the first increase in public money that’s been available to the performing arts in some time is a recipe for disaster. Lavishing much of those resources on smash hit shows from other places – a fellow indie theatre producer described it to me as, “putting makeup on a corpse.”
Of course BlackWatch was amazing. Not only is Scotland, at roughly the size of New Brunswick home to the world’s premiere Fringe Festival, it has 300 youth theatres. Just for youth. The very best end up at the national chapter, The Scottish Youth Theatre. Many in the BlackWatch cast went through that system. The show represents the tip of a very large iceberg. The country has invested heavily in value of theatre and it is paying dividends – literally. It gets to tour to high-paying international festivals that rent the tips of other peoples icebergs because they don’t want the trouble of building their own.
My original idea for this piece was to throw out a number of options as to how this money could be used in different scenarios. Instead I settled on the 2007 Toronto Arts Council 2007 numbers because similar to Luminato, the TAC funds: Community Arts, Dance, Music, Literature and Theatre in Toronto. It’s a fair comparison. Well, not entirely fair. One does 10 days of programming and one does 365.
In 2007, The Toronto Arts Council distributed $9,738,829 – $247, 725 of which was for theatre project grants (which incidentally is the approximate value of one Lamborghini Countach) to be divided amongst 51 successful applicants. An even more interesting number is: $2,152,783. This is the total amount in project grants in all disciplines that were distributed, when you take out grants for operating funds and to large institutions.
What does it mean when you compare this to Luminato’s $21.5 Million over three years?
A) If we gave Luminato’s money to the TAC we could increase the TAC budget by more than 66%. This is a pedestrian statistic, but the impact of this would be massive.
B) You could more than double the amount of successful project grant applicants and double the amount each project receives.*
*$2,152,783 in project grants + 1 year of Luminato’s $21.5 million = $9,319,449.70
Twice as many project grants =$ 4,305,566 x 2 to double the grants = $8,611,132.00
Twice as many projects with twice as much municipal funding.
It would permanently change how art was created in this town. How much more, better work would go on year-round? How many artists would be able to stop working as waiters and temps and actually practice their craft for at least a couple of months? How many audience members and patrons could we get excited about this thing again by actually having the cash to create this massive wave of new, plausibly funded projects? How many of them could potentially turn in to the next BlackWatch?
Take Unspun Theatre’s production of Minotaur: It was one of my favorite shows of the year. It was new, exciting, smart; full of young artists taking big risks. Well received, well reviewed. I really think they ought to take it on tour. The production received a total of $14,000 in public funding (through OAC and Canada Council). With Luminato’s $21.5 million money you could create 1,500 Minotaurs.
In any case, our government opted instead to give it to their friends for a ten-day play date. They’re likely at their cottages in Muskoka right now talking about how lovely the whole thing was with the glowing balls in Dundas Square (which is usually so dirty) and chuckling about how many times they heard the c-word in Blackwatch. Meanwhile we sit here in the heat wondering how we’ll ever make his thing work again. The opportunity was there, it’s gone, it sucks.
An Olive Branch:
Alright Luminato, I promise to stop hating on you, and all you have to do is one thing:
Return the interest you’re going to make on keeping our extra $15 million in the bank “for the future” back to Toronto’s artists. We’re frigging starving down here, and it’s breadcrumbs really, but we’ll take it. If we trust the math put forth by an anonymous commenter on my original post, that would be $450,000 a year. It would really help. It’s almost double what was distributed for theatre projects last year by the TAC. That’s two Lamborghini Countaches for those of you playing along at home.
Correction. My original Lumi-not-go post incorrectly stated Luminato CEO Janice Price was American. This is not true. Although she comes to us from The Kimmel Centre in Philadelphia, The Lincoln Centre in New York and is a previous vice president of The Shakespeare Association of America, she is in fact a Canadian. My bad.
This is the fourth and final in a series of four blog posts on theatre by Praxis Theatre Co-Artistic Director Michael Wheeler.