Entrepreneurial spirits and much fundraising boosts community focus in time of cutbacks
Many Torontonians have been shaking their heads over the reduced arts coverage in the city's four major dailies over the past decade. But at least we still have some, and what doesn't show up in print often still manages to show up online. Things are much worse in the United States, especially where classical music is concerned. I'm told that, there is one full-time classical music critic left at daily newspapers south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Some enterprising people in Atlanta took arms against this death by a thousand cuts in 2009 by launching a site called ArtsCriticATL.com, which attempts to cut through the miscellaneous ramblings in the blogosphere with a traditional mix of considered reviews, news and features.
It's a clearly designed, well-organized site that received a major boost late last week, with a $90,000 grant for arts criticism by a forward-thinking foundation. That's not a large amount of money when it comes to running a business, but it's a valuable piece of validation.
Events south of the border suggest that the day could come when Torontonians will have to look for in-depth arts coverage outside traditional media. Hollywood gossip reliably draws in curious eyeballs. An interview with a venerable conductor doesn't. At the cutthroat intersection of revenue and the information economy, Hollywood wins. But that doesn't mean there are hundreds, even thousands, of readers who are passionately interested in the interview with the conductor. The newspaper says this is an incremental loss that must be swallowed, and will be replaced by new readers with different interests.
ArtsCriticATL shows that there is life after mainstream media. Our world is getting sliced into narrow interests, but what alternative is there when mainstream media pull out?
There's an older example of this sort of entrepreneurial thinking that I think Toronto could use right now: a local record label dedicated to this city's many, many fine musicians.
Chicagoans saw the need 20 years ago, creating the not-for-profit Chicago Classical Recording Foundation and its label, Cedille Records. Far from being a case of local boosterism trumping artistic quality, the discs they send me have artistic merits that transcend geography (the latest example gets a review in tomorrow's Star).
The Canadian Music Centre has a fantastic recording programme that is helping preserve the legacy of out composers, but what about our performers? Just because you choose a quieter career instead of a globetrotting life doesn't mean that your art is any less worthy of appreciation.
Toronto has an incredibly rich pool of classical talent that could be recorded far more often, and it wouldn't necessarily need to be done using traditional means.
Cuts at the CBC in recent years mean that there is a lot of experienced production talent ready to go.
All we need is money. Of course.
Over the past decade so much fundraising energy has been spent on building projects, from the opera-ballet house to the Royal Conservatory, and strengthening existing organizations, such as the Toronto Symphony. Perhaps the time has come to look at other projects that would help ensure this city's cultural legacy.