ArtsVote political theatre sells out twice at the same time; candidates give mediocre performances
by Michael Wheeler
The biggest benefit of last night’s Mayoral Arts Debate organized by ArtsVote is the massive interest there was in the event itself. The doors opened at 5pm. At 5:10pm the room was declared at capacity and attendees were directed to an overflow room at OCAD. Next the overflow room itself began to overflow before being declared at capacity at 5:40pm. Anyone after that occupied the OCAD lobby, which became the overflow room for the overflow room. An estimated 1750 streamed it live on their computers, while 540 others watched it since.
All told, this untelevised debate attracted an audience of over 3000 active and engaged citizens. This will matter much more a year from now when the elected members decide which election promises to keep and which will shatter on the altar of “hard economic times”. Clearly this is an issue that the populace is engaged in and is willing to organize around. In short, and this is the only thing that really matters around City Hall, there can be tangible political consequences to politicians who dismiss the arts as inconsequential.
Praxis Theatre was tweeting the whole debate if you’re looking for a play by play of the he said, he said, and a video replay is streamable here, but post-debate chat unanimously agreed the candidates presented a series of lacklustre performances due to the absence of both substance to the discussion and charisma or a sense of leadership on anyone’s part. Ford said a couple of outrageous things that were by no means the craziest things he’s ever said, and the other contenders managed to snipe at one another in a way that no one looked like a hero.
A bright spot to the evening was James Di Fiore, the candidate invited to participate through an online poll on the ArtsVote website. Admitting he had no chance to become mayor, he addressed the fact that in the previous civic election 18% of eligible voters under 35 participated. His main thrust was that the problem is not apathy, but a belief amongst this cohort that political engagement is a waste of their time as the discourse does not address them or their issues. None of the other candidates addressed these concerns, which pretty much reinforced the notion that James was correct in his analysis.
With major arts policy announcements earlier in the day, both Rossi and Smitherman announced their arts and culture platforms, which they both refer to as their “Creative City” plans, referencing the city’s 2003 Creative City culture plan. Heavily influenced by the ideas of Martin Prosperity Institute Director Richard Florida, it suggests that arts and culture can improve a city’s economy by improving its “creativity index”. Separate from the highly suspect nature of the premises Florida uses to support these claims, last night it allowed these candidates to use broad platitudes about contributing to both the “soul” and the “economic engine” of the city without saying much of substance.
Most candidates agreed to increase cultural funding from $17 to $25 per capita, which is exactly what councillors have solemnly resolved to do for quite some time while not actually doing it, so this was hardly earth shattering territory. Rossi tried to distinguish himself in this regard by committing to making the increase in his first year as mayor and have it up to $33 by the end of his (highly theoretical at this point) mandate.
The most memorable moment of the evening occurred when Rob Ford suggested holding fundraising dinners as a substitute for arts funding. Until that point the audience had been fairly civil and respectful to a candidate that had aggressively attacked the arts as a councillor at City Hall, but the crowd couldn’t resist responding with a pretty solid “Boo” from all corners of the room to this remark. Praxis Artistic Producer Aislinn Rose later noted: “It was like suggesting to an aspiring actor to consider getting a job at Stratford.” We had thought of that one a little while ago.
Skip ahead to 4:40 to see Praxis Board Member Bridget Macintosh explain the Praxis Gourmet Dinner fundraising events we’ve been holding since 2004. Complete with slides!
This will be remembered as the debate that no one could get into it was such a hot ticket. Blog TO reports that even some media were initially being turned away as the debate began due to capacity issues, and accounts from the overflow room suggest a boisterous crowd responding vocally to each performance. As the numbers attest, this was AN EVENT.
The whole evening was possible due to some impressive work by ArtsVote, a volunteer advocacy group that has already been influential in civic politics as a force that contributed to Barbara Hall’s successful run for mayor. The focus and media attention this debate brought to the cultural community and the issues of arts funding this election solidify ArtsVote as a major player in Toronto elections by forcing politicians to explain their cultural positions in a high profile venue under a bright media spotlight.
Tip O’ The Hat ArtsVote.