It heartens me greatly to read the responses from the various mayoral and city council candidates, and hear their tremendous outpouring of support for the arts in the City of Guelph. The problem though is that this support is sometimes hard to see and feel in the day to day matters of an artist going about their business in the Royal City.
Is Guelph arts friendly? I would say yes. Or, at least, it’s certainly friendlier to the arts than where I am from, down the road in Georgetown, where the word “culture” is non-existent and outsourced to Brampton and the rest of the GTA. The arts are fundamental. They give a community ownership and identity, which is why many of the “bedroom communities” of the Greater Toronto Area are so indistinguishably bland from one to the other.
If, by now, you’re nodding your head – be careful: Guelph is halfway there. Drive down Gordon and once you pass the University of Guelph, there’s not a single cultural establishment. unless you count Borealis Bar and Grill and Manhattans.
You may point out that Borealis Bar and Grill has live music, but there’s nothing distinctly Guelph about Borealis because its part of a chain. But Manhattan’s Bistro caught fire last month, which meant that a very popular music and art venue was taken out of commission for an indeterminate amount of time.
For now, it seems that with the exception of the Guelph Little Theatre and Galaxy Cinemas, anything arts related is happening downtown. Here’s the “but”… But I’m not sure that some people at City Hall really want it to be. Or, at least they don’t want the art being done to be of the D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) variety.
I’ve written here, and in my Echo column, recently about the disturbingly heavy-handed by-law smackdown on postering downtown. Ed Video Media Arts Centre, the board of which I currently serve on as Co-Chair, has been taken to court twice this year for postering fines. Each trip has resulted in a couple hundred bucks going from the near empty pockets of an already struggling arts centre – which also has the virtue of being Guelph’s only artist run centre – into the seemingly greedy maw of the City’s coffers. And we were not alone.
The Bookshelf, The Palace, and the triumvirate of Van Gogh’s, Vinyl and Jimmy Jazz were all taken to court for postering fines, with the owner of the three Macdonell Street night clubs getting hit the hardest of all. On one day back in June, the city took Ed Video, The Palace and The Bookshelf to court, and got from them the grand total of $500 in fines. The owners and administrators of these businesses all sat in court for a full day, losing a day’s work each in the process, all so that the city could collect 500 bucks? From a cost management perspective, this is wack.
The cynical among us may now be saying that’s what you get. But these businesses offer nothing but venues, it is up to the people running the event to promote and if your event is on a (no) budget, then that quarter page ad in the Mercury, or 20 second spot on Magic FM, or banner on the railroad bridge over Norfolk is that much more unobtainable. The cheap promo solution: posters. And lots of them.
The effectiveness of a poster campaign, in terms of delivering actual bodies to your event, can be debated until you’re blue in the face, and probably will be again. But the fact of the matter is that there are numerous bands, small theatre groups and filmmakers that have made their mark at performances people were attracted to seeing by a poster pinned up on some street corner. To use a Guelph example, the Constantines didn’t play their first few shows at the River Run, they played them in people’s basements. Facebook is nice, Twitter is cool, but the old school approaches of posters, word of mouth and mention in “traditional” media (newspapers, TV and radio) still get you more attention than having your tweets out.
But of those three, the latter is the most expensive, and since you can’t be everywhere at once, to talk to everyone there all the time, word of mouth only gets you so far too. Now here, you may say that there’s already plenty of space for postering downtown. Many businesses offer their window or a bulletin board inside their store for posters. Further, the City of Guelph gives you three – count ‘em: THREE – whole public spots downtown for your posters.
First, let’s give thanks to those businesses that do offer those spaces for event posters. It’s a wonderful service, and whenever I’ve been doing posters, I’ve always appreciated the space. But does it strike anyone that in a culturally vibrant city, like the one Guelph always says is wants to be/is already, then why make people compete for the same limited space? And does it further strike anyone that seeking a seal of approval from the City before putting up a poster kind of defeats rebellious/eclectic/guerrilla nature of an indie arts event? Isn’t this also a form of censorship since getting a stamp of approval for your poster is a tacit admission that the City of Guelph approves or disapproves of the quality of your event?
While you chew on that, consider this. It’s a photo essay by Dylan Reid about postering in Toronto. He makes some fairly astute points about how posters add to the culture and aesthetic appearance of a city, and how corporations have come to co-opt the idea of postering as way of proving street cred and appeal to those that are down with the new and the hip. Kind of like how artists move in to a neglected area of a city and make it flourish with new ideas and new hot spots only to get priced out when the gentrifying begins.
The short version of this long story is that we have a mindset at City Hall that’s punishing young artists for not having enough money to promote their event in the “proper” way. That punishment is not monetary since the venues are the ones being punished in cash. So what happens when venue owners decide the money made from an event is not worth the cost and headache of court dates? Well put simply, those wishing peace and quiet downtown in the evening will get their wish.
We don’t need a poster free-for-all downtown, but we do need due consideration. I was with the crew from Synn Studios when we were shooting along the river behind the River Run Centre this past July, and I don’t know what dog owners are doing with their pets when they take them down there, but they’re certainly not stooping and scooping. You literally had to watch every step while walking on the grass to ensure you weren’t going to scraping something nasty off your shoe later. Now what’s the greater harm: a poster advertising Band X and Band Y, or the fact that the area under the bridge over the Speed River is basically a litter box?
And perhaps we can take a moment to consider all the pet lovers of the world that adore and take care of their furry friend only to lose them somewhere along the way. If the City continues on their present course, I look forward to the day that 11-year-olds are hauled before a judge for asking people to keep an eye out for their lost kitty. Too bad Missy, you could have used that 100 bucks to get a new kitty, but instead you’ll have to pay the City that C-note, because while love may conquer all, it doesn’t cover the cost of putting a poster up on the wrong pole.