State of the Arts

arts and culture
On Wednesday night the Kingston Arts Council held a seminar at The Grand Theatre featuring speakers Justin Langlois, Annalee Adair and Simon Brault as well as performances from Sheesham and Lotus, Samba Maracuja and The Kingston Townsmen.  The seminar’s focus was a discussion on bringing artists and audiences together, and featured two film documentaries created in Kingston by film artists Josh Lyon and Janelle Zhao.  The films starred local artists, musicians, journalists, curators and city councilors discussing the role of the arts in Kingston: what is working, what is lacking and what could be better.  The films are the perfect introduction to a discussion that I feel is only just beginning.

The main point that came across, and is truly the most important thing, is that Kingston loves the arts and the scene here is thriving.  The biggest issue I could see is, surprisingly, the risk of over saturation to the point where we are all so busy creating that we don’t take the time to hear, see and enjoy each others’ projects.

An interesting discussion has begun via local blogger and City of Kingston Communications Officer Stephanie Earp.  Stephanie points out that, although there is an abundance of fantastic amateur art in Kingston (and I use “art” in the general sense, including all forms), we are finding it more and more difficult to find that line between amateur and professional.  The fear here being that the professional artist will get lost in the sea of community involvement.  What do you think?  Is Kingston capable of defining the difference between professional and non-professional artists or are we all just too talented and keen to worry about that?  What about the artists who have dedicated their lives to creating and honing their craft? Are we running the risk of losing professional artists to larger cities where they are perhaps valued on a different level?

Yesterday a public forum was held to open up the floor on Wednesday’s seminar.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend  but I would love to hear from those of you who were there.  What did you take away from the discussion on both Wednesday and Thursday?  What is your association with the Kingston arts scene and where do you see it going in the next 5-10 years?

Here’s the full-length version of Janelle’s video to get you started:

Thanks to Tabercil for today’s photo of Sheesham and Lotus.

Danielle Lennon

Danielle Lennon is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. She was the Editor, Community Event Coordinator and Contributor at-large (2008-2018). She is otherwise employed as a section violinist with the Kingston Symphony, violin teacher, studio musician and cat lover. Learn more about Danielle...

11 thoughts on “State of the Arts

  • Great article, Danielle. I think both you and Stephanie Earp have made great cases for a double-pronged approach of both promoting access to the practice of various arts for the general public AND also maintaining (and attracting) professional artists in our community. As one of the few professional theatre artists based in Kingston, it is not the treatment of artists that draws us to Toronto it is the sheer volume of opportunities to make a living. Part of the Building Community Arts initiative needs to include fostering the ‘experts’ (not academics but practicing professionals). Any Youth Arts initiative is worthless without mentorship from senior artists and the opportunity for young practitioners to witness excellence. My own relationships with the incredible theatre people that I have worked with and watched across this country have been integral to my growth as an artist. And I presume the same would be said in any arts discipline.
    I suppose this is where the case could be made that the City of Kingston Arts Fund, established several years ago to help promote creation and arts activities in the city, should be the conduit by which professional artists are supported. City Council could restrict the Fund to professional artists and arts organizations in an effort to support excellence in the city and to attract new artists to the area.
    As the Artistic Producer of Theatre Kingston, I am dedicated both to promoting a love of the art form in the community through collaboration with all sorts of theatre practictioners in Kingston (young, old, veteran, amateur, professional) but also to creating work of a level of excellence that would stand up to praise on any stage in this country. Simply being "good enough for Kingston" is not good enough.

    Thanks for keeping the light on this topic.

    Brett Christopher
    Artistic Producer, Theatre Kingston

    • "Any Youth Arts initiative is worthless without mentorship from senior artists and the opportunity for young practitioners to witness excellence."

      This sentence turned me off of your whole argument. I believe youth, given appropriate support, can create wonderful, creative and inspiring initiatives. Youth have their own experiences to draw from and their own unique ways of expressing themselves. While mentorship can be a wonderful experience, it can also inhibit self expression. It's not a requirement, and certainly shouldn't reduce a youth initiative to "worthless".

      • Okay – I concede that 'worthless' was too strong a word. But I really think this argument is endemic of the inter-generational relationships in our culture. In the era of 25-year old internet billionaires, I sense a growing disregard for the wisdom of the experienced. Real mentorship is productive and supportive, a true mentor would never inhibit self expression but provide some context for it and an environment for it to be grow.

  • I don’t think that professional artists or musicians will be totally forgotten amongst a sea or even a trickle of amateur competitors. Sure such competition can decrease audience sizes and ticket sales, and those things truly matter, but competition can also bolster support for the work of professionals. More importantly, just because people enjoy a flash mob, or pay attention to another less polished performance doesn’t mean they are unable to appreciate professional works of art. And let’s not forget that most pros started off humble, which is to say that they got their start as amateurs.

    Kingston has a great base of and flow of visiting professionals, as well as a healthy amateur (or whatever you prefer to call it) scene. The two can exist in harmony in this city, both collaboratively and in loose competition, the challenge is finding the right way to support them both.

  • This blog post, Stephanie's post, and a number of comments in both places all seem to refer to DIY art and "art that is only good enough for Kingston" interchangeably. The former refers to the means by which art is produced and disseminated; the latter is a value judgment rooted in taste. One does not beget the other, and I think the conflation leads to some unproductive conclusions:
    1) that DIY activity somehow co-opts resources, audiences and venues that professional artists feel entitled to.
    2) that the decision to professionalize and monetize one's creative output leads to artwork that is more worthy of public consumption.
    3) that funding and patronage should be de-prioritized for non-profits, amateurs, and creatively marginalized individuals, and instead be oriented toward projects which are already competing in a profit-driven environment.

    I am by no means against professionalism, but I think DIY / amateur art, and the values of those who practice it, have been misrepresented here (as has, in some ways, what is important about creative activity in the first place). The perception that "good" art is art that is professional and/or monetized (or, alternately, that professional artists are the ones making good art) creates a false premise from which to launch this discussion. It's fine if your taste overlaps a great deal with what can exist in the professional sphere, but important to acknowledge that there are many who would disagree with you.

    • I don't think I ever suggested that DIY art is of any less value or quality than professional art. If that came across, it was certainly not intended. I love DIY and participate in it all the time. I bring up the professional simply because the topic is one of millions that could have come from Wednesday's discussion and it is one that affects me personally. I often see jobs I could have had taken by non-professionals so it is a valid concern – at least when it comes to music. It brings to mind the article that was floating around social media recently about amateurs undercutting pros on gigs. This happens often and is frustrating.

      At the same time, the pros need to take some responsibility and get a little more involved in the conversation. Many of my professional colleagues happily attend their concerts, recitals, workshops or exhibits but then walk through the rest of life with blinders on as to what else is happening in the community. I mention a great event like Homegrown or a studio tour and they know nothing about it. It's alarming.

      I am but one voice that I think comes from both aspects of this conversation. I implore you all to feel free to bring up other topics that have come to mind since the seminar. This is not the beginning of the conversation as Mark suggests but rather a single spoke on the wheel. There is so much to discuss.

  • I agree with the general tenor of this but it's also a shame that neither Stephanie and Danielle seem to recognise professional artists when they see them. This article is actually illustrated by a photo of Sheesham and Lotus, who are very much professional artists, in that their art is the way in which they make their living – as Lotus Wright pointed out on Stephanie's blog. Unless, of course, by 'professional' you mean something other than this…

    • I never said Sheesham and Lotus aren't professional. That was in Stephanie's post, not mine. I am very well aware of how professional they are. I’m surprised that with the amount you frequent the site (and with my other comment above) that you didn’t know that I make my living playing the violin, so I certainly do know a pro when I see one.

  • Professional artists need more funding. Plain and simple. And the public needs to be better educated with regards to the importance of – not just the arts – but innovation in the arts. I have many brilliant artist friends who languish in obscurity here in Canada, but are literally super stars in places like Belgium and Germany. While the quality of an amateur’s work might arguably be on a par with that of a professional, it is the professional that advances the art form, pushes the boundaries and explores new ways of expression through art. When amateurs take the jobs of professionals (often because there's no money to pay for professionals) the development of the art form stagnates; audiences are lulled into expecting the same-old-same-old and working professionals end up having to water down their output to ensure that a timid public will buy tickets. As a successful but cynical artist friend of mine once said, "The key to continued artistic success in Canada is to strive for mediocrity." Yikes. (And yet, when I think of certain successful arts organizations and what they are forced to churn out in order to maintain their success, I wonder if she isn’t partly right.)

    We’ve all heard the cliché, “Those that can, do. And those that can’t, teach.” Well I did (and do!) for 35 years. I was working in theatre all the time. Some might even say I was successful! And yet, for most of those 35 years, I lived well below the poverty line. You know the joke, “What’s the difference between an actor (musician, dancer, writer…) and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four.”

    So here’s the irony: I am finally making a comfortable living… teaching. In fact, most of my senior artist friends (all disciplines) rely on teaching to make ends meet. I am finally being paid very well to TEACH something that I was never paid well to DO. And very the reason I’m qualified to teach is because I did so well at doing. “Look Ma, no Ph.D!”

    While it’s inevitable that most of my students will become amateurs, I can only hope that they’ll also become wealthy patrons!

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