Okay, okay, okay. I thought I was done with talking about Luminato. And I was, I really was, I swear. I even moved on to doing other things like the art reviewing and artist/curator interviewing that pay the rent when I’m not Spacing-ing out.
And then, in the course of an (initally) innocent interview with Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal director Marc Mayer on the occasion of the Quebec Trinnial, the subject of festival futility reared its ugly head again. Mayer, ex of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Albright Knox, and the Power Plant, was just so delightfully provocative in pronouncing festivals “the crack cocaine of culture,” as well as calling cities out on their cultural rivalries, that I felt compelled to revisit the subject.
Here’s an excerpt from the condensed interview published in today’s National Post:
LS: Some play up a rivalry for creative supremacy between Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Do you participate, or do you think that’s stupid?
MM: I think it’s a stupid debate. Canada’s too big to have a centre of anything. We have competing cities but they’re so different, with different cultures, different attitudes. I’m completely mercenary and if it serves my purposes I’ll bring it up, but overall it’s something that frankly bores me, and Montreal is the worst offender. It gets on my nerves when they go on about “Toronto’s the centre of the universe when we used to be.” No one was the centre of the universe! We have to assume our own fate. And Montreal’s fate is a cultural one in any case, I think.
LS: Speaking of that fate, what do you think of Richard Florida-influenced governments funding culture to boost urban economies?
MM: Well, I’m against [funding only] festivals. I think they’re the crack cocaine of culture. We put way too much emphasis on them; they don’t have the long-term effect on a city and its people that constant programming can have. Having access to culture – opera, theatre, film, art – year round is not the same thing as having a festival that celebrates a particular niche of culture two weeks a year. I think that my opinion is widely held, of needing to create renewable resources in culture as opposed to tent cities.
And here’s an elaboration on the idea excerpted from the full transcript of the conversation posted on my art blog, Unedit my Heart:
MM: I think Montreal is like Berlin and Toronto is a cross between New York and Chicago but a much smaller city. But the country is so vast that I’m not programming for Toronto. [AGO Director] Matthew Teitelbaum is programming for Toronto. So we can’t be rivals when we’re not talking to each other. There’s so few people coming up from other parts of Canada to see the Triennial; I think 100 to 200 people will come from Toronto to see the show, the diehards, and that will be a significant group.
I do get kind of tired of it. Montreal needs to assume its fate and stop looking over its shoulder and Toronto needs to start taking art seriously. Although they’ve contributed half a billion to museums, new art is the locomotive of this cultural train and there’s not a high enough profile for new art in Toronto. And there’s always been one in Montreal, a very sophisticated network of artist-run centres and two major sophisticated university galleries and another museum that does lots of art, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and a commercial gallery scene that is getting bigger and growth in private museum scene. There is the DHC and there are other local people thinking of contributing to that.
And so even if the city [Montreal] is not consciously invested in the visual arts, it can’t help to grow now, it’s got so much talent. So if we stop looking over our shoulders and stop thinking just about festivals—this festival mentality really gets on my nerves, I’m not someone who would encourage that kind of thinking. We’re not in Germany where the cities are an hour away from, each other so other cities are not really places that I think about when I’m programming here. Of course, I’m completely mercenary and if it serves my purposes I will bring I up. But frankly I think it’s beside the pointâ€¦ I think it’s too boring to mention.
Personally, I think he’s right on the money with one Toronto problem — mass funding of cultural buildings and festivals, but not artists. This issue alone raised quite a kerfuffle in the arts community earlier this spring when those millions of government dollars were being fed out to the ROM, the AGO and the Luminato. (See this sarcastic art response over at Akimbo.)
I’m also rather shocked to see the words “centre of the universe” being a Montreal neurosis as well. I guess no one’s invincible.
Image of the Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal from its website