Thursday, 18 December 2014

Underwhelming National Coverage of the Arts in Canadian News

      An excitable acquaintance of mine, big on conspiracy theories, maintains that Canadian television news won’t feature Canadian artists unless their work sells for exorbitant prices or is stolen or vandalized. This is because the Harper government wants to limit the dissemination of a variety of opinions and distract us from real and alternative issues that writers and artists deal with as representatives of a diverse society. This is also why, she says, Canadian news covers popular American movies, American TV shows and hockey stories that are as inane as players getting the mumps or the Edmonton Oiler’s losing streak. Hockey is the soma of the masses!
     In Canada coverage of the arts varies provincially. TV Ontario and CBC radio do a passable job of covering the arts, but our national news programs can certainly be criticized for not covering the arts as well as they should. With 24-hour news cycles, you would think they could at least drop in a half hour show on the arts in Canada somewhere. They should be embarrassed that they don’t.
     Unlike regular sports, science, health, or business contributors and commentators who we are familiar with, the closest CBC or CTV has to a regular “arts” contributor is Ben Mulroney, yikes!, or a regularly featured film critic. It would be wonderful if the CBC and CTV at least had an arts contributor as prominent as their science reporter, Bob McDonald or financial news commentator, Pattie Lovett Reid.
     Unless a prominent Canadian writer or artist dies, or when a former CBC/CTV reporter turned novelist puts out a book, there is very little coverage nationally of the arts. And when we do see writers, because we only hear about painters when they’re dead, we keep seeing the same few faces over and over again. How much of Margaret Atwood or convicted criminal Conrad Black can you take? And they’re both in their seventies. Where are all the young talented Canadian artists?
     By comparison the Americans do a pretty good job of covering the arts, maybe not on CNN or other 24-hour news programs, but PBS does, as do morning news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC. And then there are the satirical news programs on the comedy channel, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, where both have one interview segment, sometimes two, featuring a diversity of artists. And then there are the other late night comedy shows, which might not feature many fine artists, but the diversity of the popular arts covered is refreshing and surprising by comparison.  
     On many American programs, writers, painters, poets, sculptors, designers, architects, playwrights, etc. are continually interviewed to discuss their latest works or their extensive and often historic involvement in the arts. And every once in a while you will see Canadian writer or actor on these shows, with extensive interviews on the PBS NewsHour. All this coverage of the arts contribute to building a rich and diverse culture in the United States, one in which we Canadians are familiar with and ultimately copy, whether or not we’re talking about popular art or fine art.
     Unless you make a real effort, or are part of the scene, you wouldn’t know if there was some kind of new art movement in the visual arts or new poetry or new theatre or new anything going on in Canada. Unless it’s something like Cirque du Soleil, raising truckloads of money, or has won an international award, the public is unlikely to hear about it.
      We do hear about the Giller Prize winners because a real effort is made with a live televised broadcast. And we do have televised award ceremonies; the Junos for popular music, the Screen Awards for film, Gemini for film and TV, but have you watched any of these from start to finish? It’s nice to hear that Canadians are getting awards, but it’s very likely that you know little to nothing about all the nominated artists. There’s little excitement for these shows because we hear so little about anyone being nominated. It’s like watching an award ceremony based in Quebec or a European country.  
      At least the award ceremonies announce what might be really good and valuable for us to look into, when we get the time.
     It was a rare occasion, and delightful to see two of Thunder Bay’s own talented animators Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver followed around at the Toronto International Film Festival where they won the award for Best Canadian First Feature Film. We need more of this kind of thing, but not just for award winners, but for all the hard working artists who produce great work, whether or not they get grants or awards, for we live in a large country and not in Toronto.
     That national Canadian TV news can’t cover the arts better than a couple comedy shows on American television says a lot. But is there a conspiracy involved? Hmmm.

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