According to David Brooks, in the October 27, 2022 New York Times Opinion piece with Gallup polls to support it, we are riding a wave of global sadness.
The numbers are staggering and they were measured over a much longer period than you might expect. Like, in the case of trends in pop music, 1965 to now. Physical misery? - an actual measure taken - 2006 to now. Food insecurity? 2014 to now. And from the Global Peace Index, civic discontent went up by 244 percent from 2011 to 2019.
I spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about my place in the world. I do this in part because I work at Canada's National Arts Centre, I get to guide a fund that supports - in tangible ways - new creation work, and I get to think about the why of it. WHY do we do this? WHO cares about what is happening in the performing arts? WHAT kinds of decisions are the most productive to make? HOW will any of it impact the people who are living the lives that artists are working to reflect? WHEN will we get there?
Here is what I think:
In light of an ever widening and deepening gulf between lived experiences, at a moment of ever increasing data like global misery indexes and global happiness index there is a sense, or maybe it is just me, that our WHY needs to be something sharp enough, something powerful enough, something dazzling enough to engender courage. In franglais courage = heart + rage. Art is a Trojan horse, artists are locksmiths and stories can shift the tides. This is the WHY. The National Creation Fund (NCF) believes that Fables, Fall on Your Knees, Forgiveness, Rome, and Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha, a tapas of five NCF shows onstage this season, are glorious massive horses, filled with courageous locksmiths with news to share about us. But is this enough? Is this belief enough? I am going to say yes. If we don't believe in the power of what we do, how can we expect others to? Courage.
If you are up for an exchange, I would be curious to hear from you as to what works of performing arts in Canada held this magic courage. And I am going to define magic in this way: as a result of a performance, the world around you was changed. I'll start: in the theatre, the first 15 that come to mind for me are: The Rez Sisters, Polygraphe, La Sagouine, The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, Les Belles-Soeurs, Kim's Convenience, The Donnellys, Fortune and Men's Eyes, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, Scorched, Come From Away, Da Kink in My Hair, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, Concord Floral, Tamara.
And I could keep going. And going. And going. Let me know what works of dance, music and theatre have shifted the world around you? Write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
So…WHO cares? Right now we are in the throes of a massive phenomenon called YE. We can say a lot of things about what Kanye West represents, but the unbelievable power he possesses is hard to argue. This person came out of a womb just like you and me. He fell in love with the power of words and music, like many of us here, and then became one of the biggest recording and performing artists in the world. Artists have power. And as such, those that invest in artists, need to understand the reasons for engaging, the reasons for supporting, the reasons for believing. The NCF believes that art can heal, especially now in a moment when all manner of intolerance, is finding more room to express. Social Media platforms are empty stages with world-sized loading doors. Not everyone will agree that art heals. Not everyone will agree that the work the NCF does is done in the service of tending to our hearts. But we do. We believe this. Especially now. Mani Soleymanlou's Un. Deux. Trois., a symphony on identity, is criss-crossing Canada now. It asks the questions that need to be asked, like can vast differences co-exist under the maple leaf? Can our hearts, as the cliché goes, beat as one?
Decisions are the worst. But without 'em we are hooped. All of us. Decisions have to be made to change the world around us. At the NCF, the curatorial teams gather to make decisions. A privilege. A responsibility. They are our WHAT. They are done as part of a great collaboration that makes the performing arts possible in Canada, on Turtle Island, Each time a donor supports the NCF, they too decide to join the collaborative process of making work. Money, like art, is power. Adidas decided to no longer support YE. I hope with their freed up funds, Adidas decides to support you, or support us. I would love some NCF Kicks! Besides the world might be a better place if they do. I believe it would and I am happy to share this belief widely. If you were to dip your toe into Ian Kamau's Loss, or UNDISRUPTED or any of the NCF shows you would see what I mean. Times are tight. Times are tough. We have a lot of work to do. Artists are part of this work. They will be a big part of the reason to keep going. Whether you call it art or not. We look for stories. We need the storytellers.
Clichés are true. Here's two more… Gertrude Stein said: “There is no there there”. She was referring to her hometown. I think about the Ponzi scheme that infects the making of performance. The quest that suggests arrival at a place. An award, a secure future, a sense of "rightness"...each ephemeral, each intangible. One of the great bitter pills of working in the performing arts is the cliché: "you are only as good as your last show". Yay! if it was well-received. Boo! if it wasn't. This has been my lived experience for sure. Applied to the bigger picture, as I think it can be, not only is there no there there, there is also no moment when we have arrived. Canada is always emerging. As are we.
That's why I do what I do. Because I believe it can make a difference now. I believe it can support, build, and elevate NOW. We recently changed our tagline at NCF. It reads: For dreaming, connecting, and creative adventures in Canada's Performing Arts. Dreaming is hard. Let's make sure we continue to collaborate with the artists so that they can do the hard work of dreaming. We need them.
I invite you to check out our latest investments! Two stunning works that beautifully define our "why"!
Happy November friends. In it to win it. I hope to hear from you!
Artistic Producer, National Creation Fund
Two New Investments
NAC English Theatre and NAC Indigenous Theatre