Quill & Quire starred review of The State of the Arts

By Adair Brouwer
Quill & Quire
January 2007

Thoughtful, inspired, inclusive, careful to avoid deadly academicism as well as showoffy wackiness, and above all infused with a kind of I’ll-be-in-your-band-and-you-can-be-in-mine boho largeness of spirit, this second volume of musings on Toronto (after 2005’s uTOpia: Towards a New Toronto) focuses explicitly on the city’s arts scene and is part of the culture it celebrates. The State of the Arts is a big, smart, go-to book, featuring 38 essays by artists and cultural scenesters on a massive range of subjects and issues.

Wondering why Toronto’s public buildings have never been exciting? Check out Christopher Hume’s “Toronto: The Once and Future City” and Mark Fram’s “The Culture of the Architect.” Want to know what Hogtown looks like in a Google Maps world? Investigate “This Is Your City on Technology” by Hanna Cho and Dory Kornfeld. Wary of big-ticket projects such as the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, aka Toronto’s new opera house? Refer to Globe columnist Carl Wilson’s knockout report on the tensions between official and unofficial culture.

The State of the Arts is not a bland survey but rather a pugnacious collection of arguments. Toronto’s “cultureshed” (contributor John Lorinc’s term) has at least two key problems: the gentrification of downtown, which would seem to be killing the goose that lays the culture eggs, and Toronto’s comparative youth. As novelist Michael Redhill puts it here, Toronto is “too young a city to know what to do with its legacies.” All in all, the city emerges as a teenage burg with infrastructure issues, stuck in a country that lacks a rich soil of money and mythology.

Which leads to the question that haunts every page of the book: how are we doing, Toronto? Are we there yet? Do people really, really love us? Are we world-class? And are these even the right questions to ask? At least half of the offerings here touch on Toronto’s maturity, achievements, and worth. The consensus seems to be that we should get over measuring ourselves against others. Or else put the financial and spatial elements in place that would give Toronto the right stuff – i.e., the much longed-for, universally acclaimed art that would compel visitors to climb on planes and come look at us, and big players to respect us.

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