What is the litmus test for excellence in a creative project?

By Dan White – Special to the Sydenham Current

For reasons we don’t need to go into, some of this will be a repeat from my previous column for some readers.

Joni and I watched bits of the grand event where the Academy of Motion pictures members pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good movie and I love great acting and a well told story.

But the event itself is as faulty as The IOC, the World cup, or most professional sports.

Millionaires are given gift bags with contents valued at $178,000! What?!

I get it, corporations want their names out there, but here’s a thought: donate to local theatre groups, arts and culture, homeless shelters, any number of worthwhile investments in bettering a community.

Did you know that according to a 2021 Hill Strategies report, Ontario accounts for 40% of all Canadian artists with over 80,000 professional artists?

Many of these people have low to very low incomes but contribute to “arts, culture, and heritage [which] had a $14.3 billion direct impact on GDP in the second quarter of 2022.”

Wouldn’t it be lovely if all levels of government and more corporations invested heavily in arts and culture.

The return on that investment for everyone would be significant and the financial investment has return that are often well beyond a simple measuring tool.

In one of my next few columns, I will be writing about an upcoming interview with Mike Douglas, Executive Director of the Missisauga Arts Council, as they have launched a program entitled, ArtsCare.

This program focusses on the arts to “aid diverse modern challenges of people experiencing isolation, mental health challenges, and various forms of distress in Mississauga”.

All we have to do is look at the multitudes in every community struggling with this disease to see the value of investing in this.

It is absolutely one of the predominant topics of conversation with everyone I have spoken to in any meaningful conversation over the past few years.

And that’s not hyperbole.

“In a recent provincial survey entitled The Arts And The Quality Of Life, Ontarians responded on the importance of the arts for their quality of life and mental health, as well as their opinions towards the role of the arts in relation to community, diversity, and identity.

● 80% believe the arts are important for their own quality of life, and 85% believe the same for their community’s quality of life.

● 79% of Ontarians believe that the arts are important to their mental health.

● 90% of Ontarians agree that an active local arts scene helps make a community a better place to live, and 82% agree it also helps communities attract businesses.

● 96% of Ontarians believe that engaging children in the arts is important to their overall development.”

In survey after survey an overwhelming majority of Ontarians identify arts and culture as key to a rich, healthy life and community.

Politicians and corporate executives would do well to acknowledge this reality.

This in no way diminishes the value of sports and leisure in a community, a healthy community has a balance of both.

In fact, involvement in the arts and/or sports can help our youth step away from technology and interact, developing collaborative, communication, problem solving and conflict resolution skills.

All of that leads to a healthier life and healthier community.

Returning to the Oscars: Year after year the Oscars are called out for displaying cultural biases and choices that reek of nepotism.

A step in the right direction would have been to recognize Killers of the Flowers Moon for its challenging depiction of colonial abuse of First Nations.

Lilly Gladstone was brilliant and truly showed a poise, dignity and quiet strength that moved beyond the screen and resonated with the audience.

While Emma Stone was also brilliant in her role (her movement, speech patterns and characterizations were captivating) the movie was not on the same level of powerful story telling.

It was a remake of Frankenstein with wonderful cinematography and a talented cast, but the movie was not moving, it often felt sensational for the sake of being sensational.

Lilly was captivating in a story that was simple, challenging to hear and based on fact.

This brings me back to my dislike of awards in the arts.

What is the litmus test for excellence in a creative project?

Who gets to determine the “winner”?

How do you remove all personal biases to evaluate, employing only empirical data in an art?

I can give you 178,000 reasons why arts should be funded in each community across this province, indeed this country.

It is not about fostering a desire to become a star and garnering awards and adulation from fans.

It is about learning to listen to the stories of our elders, respect the path that led us here, finding strategies to be healthy and speaking our truth without the noise of popular appeal.

A final note: Happy Birthday to me eldest Joseph, and my daughter, Erin this week.

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