Surface & Symbol reviews The State of the Arts

By Stephanie Dickison
Surface & Symbol
Feb/March 2007

There's a new book out that you should have a look at. uTOpia Volume Two -- The State of the Arts: Living with Culture in Toronto, edited by Alana Wilcox, Christina Palassio and John Dovercourt.

Every month, I try and tackle issues that are of importance to those in the arts and I pleased to see that Coach House saw the need to continue the discussion and did it without reservation -- To tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The contributors -- of which there are a lot and many known Toronto folk (Adam Vaughan of CityTV, and now a city councillor, to name just one) discuss everything you can think of: Lisa Whittington-Hill writes about Toronto magazines with verve and Stéphanie Verge begins her piece “All the World's Onstage” with “Toronto is one big festival of festivals.” Ain't that the truth. I just wrote about the big three art festivals happening in a single weekend just a month or two ago.

It is a dense read, but shouldn't it be? I mean, the city has a rich arts history but has a lot of improvements to make. I like that this book will start a lot of conversations and perhaps even some arguments. It's good that we talk about it. That's why I write this column. But a book can make it to a lot more hands and thus, the conversations begin…

Kevin Temple gets my attention with his essay title -- “Toronto needs freakier rich people"-- and writes adeptly about the perils and complications of collecting and buying art.

There are some essays that don't hold me, but it's more me than the pieces, I think. It's been a cold couple of weeks and all of this pleading for more support for the arts is getting to me. No amounts of hot tea help either.

But although the topics of micro press publishing and new music can be both promising and disheartening (depending on who you are and what side of the arts you are on), this book highlights many issues that desperately need discussion and action. Hanna Cho and Dory Kornfeld discuss a whole whack of them in “This is your city on technology” and though they give me a lot to think about, I am grateful for this wake-up call.

The collection has a slight academic voice, which happens whenever you talk about transforming the city and discuss “culture issues.” That's a shame, but I won't hold it against them. The writing is smart and really, that's what you want -- smart people offering ideas on how to change and improve our city.

Katarina Gligorijevic-Collins writes in “From idle to idol” about City Idol, “a competition for would-be municipal politicians”:

“I can't help but feel as though the real winner in an initiative like this is Toronto itself.”

Amen. Here's to Toronto, a city that supports the arts. It may be wonky in its delivery, but it does try.

And here's to uTOpia Volume Two. Their arguments may not be perfect, but at least they're talking.

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