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Summer Conference 2002

Photo
Left to right: Adam Ostry, Linda Leith, Lorraine Segato, Deanne Taylor

SATURDAY EVENING
Session Six – Urban Diversity and Cultural Expression: The Coca-colonization of Local Identities?
Speakers
LINDA LEITH, President & Artistic Director, Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival (bio)
LORRAINE SEGATO, Recording Artist and Filmmaker, Get Off My Dress Productions (bio)
DEANNE TAYLOR, Playwright and Director, Co-Director of the theatre company VideoCabaret (bio)
Moderator
ADAM OSTRY, Program Chair, CIPA Board Member (bio)

Synopsis by Ah-jung Lee

In the Session Six, three panelists, Linda Leith, Lorraine Segato, and Deanne Taylor, and the moderator Adam Ostry, discussed the impact of globalization on Canadian cultural life – the threat from the mighty American Hollywood cultural products, the lack of funding for developing new Canadian artists, some of the initiatives that have been or need to be taken to foster the Canadian cultural fabric, and the Canadian cultural identity and Canadians’ perception of themselves as reflected on the arts productions. This Session, unlike the other ones, did not have a formal presentation of each panelist but rather was divided into three parts: a brief introduction of each speaker, a dialogue among the panel around three question posed by Adam Ostry followed by a Q & A period.

Ms. Segato, a songwriter and filmmaker asserted that culture is defined by a complex combination of emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual experiences of people and argued that story-telling of ourselves and of our cities can play a role in our solution-building for the problems and challenges we face as a city. For a sustainable city, we need to tell stories and reframe our priorities as to place revitalizing culture an imperative. People, she argued, want to feel the sense of community in a globalizing world and art productions that portray and reflect Canadians can provide just that for us.

Ms. Taylor, a playwright and director of a theater company, talked about her work of creating plays about the city, culture, and politics in Canada and emphasized the importance of creating more plays that are genuinely Canadian, encompassing the cultural fabric of all ethnic groups that make up our society. Expressing her profound concern about the American cultural "colonization," Ms. Taylor argued that globalization has endangered our local cultures and development of Canadian identity. "Canadian culture is weak and almost dying – we all go for Hollywood," she marked. Recognizing that there are not enough plays of authentic Canadian content, Ms. Taylor passionately urged that we need to provide more funding for Canadian arts production, asserting that artistic accomplishment is the key to the country’s (and the city’s) survival and vitality in the era of globalization.

Ms. Leith first thanked for including the discussion of culture in this year’s Couchiching Conference as a sign for recognizing its crucial role in our political and social discourse. She talked about the role that the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival in bringing together different ethnic groups in telling their stories and revitalizing their sense of identity and community. The Festival, as a multi-lingual event, has included not only French, Spanish, English writers but also Hungarian, German, Iranian, and Afghani writers in the recent years. With an audience that includes even recent immigrants and recent high school students, the Festival – as more than a literary festival – has served as a forum for crossing national, social, linguistic, ethnic, political, and religious barriers. Remembering the comments made in the previous sessions about our need to understand the "other," to imagine the future, to create a city that has a soul, and to have a forum for exchanging different ideas in order to create a sustainable city, Ms. Leith argued for more of events like the Festival that includes and celebrates the different traditions that make up the Canadian identity as a whole.

The three questions which framed the dialogues in the panel were as follows: 1) Is there a genuine desire to produce and consume our Canadian cultural products as opposed to the multi-billion American blockbuster?; 2) In the situation of dwindling desire to see ourselves reflected in cultural productions, do we really have the capacity to support the Canadian arts?; 3) Are we creating the art that reflects the community it purports to represent? Ms. Leith noted that there exists a real desire in Quebec to see our own stories to be told and shown in the arts and to consume our own while there lacks such desire in the rest of Canada. Both Ms. Segato and Ms. Taylor argue that Canadians will make and consume Canadian cultural products if we tell them – and convince ourselves – that we indeed have interesting stories about our city and our lives. The panelists repeatedly emphasized that films, books, music, and plays enable us to face and fight off the challenges in our cities and urged for more promotion, advertisement, and funding support for Canadian artists. Ms. Taylor strongly argue that more funding would enable new Canadian artists to rehearse longer, perform longer in better places, use better equipments, and thereby to produce better shows. Indeed, the lack of investment in new Canadian arts came up over and over again as the most crucial factor for the demise of Canadian culture in the face of the mighty American cultural domination.

The Q & A was replete with very interesting comments and great insights into the issue. One delegate argued that the real enemy of the survival of Canadian culture is not the United States but rather the profit-motive in our arts industry and that we need to be oriented in the thinking of public education in discussing the issue of culture. Another delegate argued that there exists an active choice made by many people in the suburban communities to be fed by the easy-Hollywood products. Several also mentioned the factor of fear of survival in many of Canadian artists and the need for more financial support for them. Concluding thoughts were as follows: For a sustainable city, we need to tell our own stories but, in order to do that, we need to have confidence that our stories and worth to be told and that people will respect and listen to them. More affirmation of our cultural identities and more funding and public support need to be on our agenda, when discussing the survival of Canadian cities in the world of globalization.