On Sun TV and Margie Gillis

louis_laberge-cote_wcapOn June 1, 2011, the Sun News Network broadcast an interview with veteran Canadian dancer and choreographer Margie Gillis (see link below), which quickly turned abusive towards the guest. In a message on his facebook page, Canadian dancer Louis Laberge-Côté, currently a teacher at Nationaltheatre Manheim in Germany, offered this assessment.
 
 
 
 
In response to the Sun News Network interview with Margie Gillis

By Louis Laberge-Côté
Contemporary dancer / choreographer / teacher / arts lover / taxpayer

If by attacking dance artist Margie Gillis on the Canada Live show aired on June 1st, Krista Erickson, anchorwoman for the Sun News Network, intended to publicly insult a well-respected artist on a sensationalist broadcast news channel, she certainly achieved her goal. Of course, Miss Erickson is allowed to have her own opinions and she has the right to express them. But when it comes to journalism, shouldn’t it be somewhat of a moral obligation for the reporter to put aside her personal opinions to look at a situation from different perspectives, gather information from different sources and, obviously, allow her guest to express her point of view? Isn’t it ridiculously unprofessional and profoundly inhumane to invite a woman such as Margie Gillis just to publicly bully her, with no possibility for real discourse, in the name of a few minutes of “great television”?

But behind the obvious lack of respect and consideration, what was most shocking during this interview is that Miss Erickson was clearly more interested in diffusing an extreme anti-arts agenda than honest and truthful information.

If Miss Erickson had done her homework more thoroughly (listing all the grants one specific artist received during the last 13 years, although impressive looking, is certainly not enough to discuss the subject of public arts funding as a whole), she probably would have arrived at different conclusions. Or at least, let’s hope so. She likes numbers, so let’s play her game:

In 2007, The Conference Board estimated that the economic footprint of Canada’s culture sector was $84.6 billion, or 7.4 per cent of Canada’s total real GDP, including direct, indirect, and induced contributions. Culture sector employment exceeded 1.1 million jobs in 2007. And by the way, culture sector workers (including artists) are taxpayers just like any other worker in Canada, something Miss Erickson seems to easily forget. Furthermore, according to The Conference Board, the “Arts and culture industries play a vital role in attracting people, business, and investment, and in distinguishing Canada as a dynamic and exciting place to live and work… The culture sector bridges geographical distances and creates greatly expanded social networks.” (Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada’s Creative Economy. 2008.)

http://www.conferenceboard.ca/documents.aspx?did=2671

And this is not hard to believe. Each time an artist like Margie Gillis receives a grant, Canadians are hired: dancers, actors, musicians, composers, rehearsal directors, lighting/costume/set designers, photographers, administrative and marketing staff, to name a few. Rehearsal and performing space are rented. Eventually, posters, flyers, ads and programs are designed, printed and distributed. Many audience members go to a restaurant before or after the performance traveling by car, taxi, or public transportation. Previews and reviews are written in newspapers and magazines. Tourists come to a city or decide to stay longer to see a specific show or exhibition. Touring artists fly and travel all around the world on commercial airlines. The list goes on and on.

In fact, we should consider cultural public funding as a collective investment and certainly not as a “waste”, to use one of Miss Erickson’s favourite terms. According to Canadian Heritage, the federal cultural funding totals “$1.51 billion for the fiscal years from 2010 to 2015”, which amounts to an average of about $300 million a year. (Canadian Heritage – News Releases/ Statements. 2009.)

http://www.pch.gc.ca/pc-ch/infocntr/cdm-mc/index-eng.cfm?action=doc&DocIDCd=CJM090829

The Canadian federal budget expenditures totaled $276 billion in 2010.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Canadian_federal_budget

Looking at it proportionally, it is easy to see that cultural funding doesn’t represent that much money in the big picture. In fact, wanting to cut these amounts to help the economy is somewhat similar to wanting to cut the toenails of an obese man, just so he could lose some weight. Somewhat ridiculous, don’t you think? Especially since by comparing these numbers with the ones from the Conference Board, we can also see that this “small” collective investment is actually quite a profitable one; the Conference Board estimates that in 2007, the expenses related to culture on all levels of government together (federal, provincial and local) reached $7.9 billion. This $7.9 billion generated $84.6 globally, something we all benefit from, and not only the “cultural elites” as Miss Erickson likes to believe. In fact, respected Danish researcher Bengt-Åke Lundvall clearly demonstrated that countries who do better economically and politically are precisely the ones who deliberately contributed to a “creative and cultural climate”.

marge-gillis_wcapBut obviously, the cultural sector is about something much greater than the money it generates. The real power of the arts is not material and pretending otherwise is as ridiculous as saying that the car industry is about paying for the groceries of the builders, while ignoring that cars are made for transportation. According to a study published in the British Medical Association’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, cultured people are more satisfied with their lives, regardless of how educated or rich they are. Researchers led by Koenraad Cuypers of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology analyzed information collected from 50,797 adults living in Norway’s Nord-Trondelag County. The participants were asked detailed questions about their leisure habits and how they perceived their own state of health and well-being. “After adjusting for relevant confounding factors” — including socio-economic status — “it seemed that cultural participation was independently associated with good health, a low depression score and satisfaction with life”, the study’s authors write.

Is that something a conscientious government should care about? Obviously. Miss Erickson’s assertion on the June 1st edition of The Waste Report that apparently most Conservatives privately think that arts funding is ridiculous, if true, says much more about the Conservative party than about the value of the arts in our society. In fact, most countries financially support their cultural industry in a way or another. And this goes back to the Roman Empire, if not before. Behind the masterworks of Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach or Mozart, there is a pope or a monarch. Were these works directly profitable from a business sense as they were being created? Probably not. Do these works enrich the lives of many human beings from all around the world since their creation? Of course. I personally cannot imagine a world without the works of Beethoven, Molière or Da Vinci and I am extremely grateful that somebody allowed them to create such beautiful expressions of humanity.

But let’s use a more contemporary example; Cirque du Soleil started from nothing and is now worth around $2 billion. In the early ‘80s, the founders were a few unknown artists living in Baie-Saint-Paul with no rehearsal space. I am pretty sure Miss Erickson would have gladly described them as “walk like an Egyptian” “artsy fartsy” “cultural elites”, to use more of the colourful language she enjoys so much. But luckily, Guy Laliberté didn’t meet with Miss Erickson when he needed public support. He met with Québec Premier René Lévesque who took the time to listen. Thanks to a politician who had faith in culture, this little circus with no audience at the time became a highly successful international enterprise. But this didn’t happen in one day. It took many years of research, development, and trial and error which were at first not profitable.

Contemporary interpretive dance is not a commercial art form. In many cases such as Margie Gillis’, it is an intimate, personal journey, not meant to be shared in front of a huge audience, making profits more difficult to achieve. Does this mean this work shouldn’t be created? Certainly not. Artists like Margie inspire and enlighten many people on a very deep emotional, spiritual and intellectual level and act as ambassadors all over the world. They push and define the limits of imagination, research, difference, individuality, identity, language, humanity, compassion, criticism, connection, understanding, and beauty. Again, the fact that Miss Erickson cannot relate to any of it certainly says far more about her than the work itself. In fact, many artistic movements and creators were at first not appreciated by their contemporaries. For the longest time, jazz music had a very limited audience. Artists such as Van Gogh and Stravinsky, whose work is greatly appreciated nowadays, had very difficult beginnings. Many of the things we can enjoy today as “normal entertainment” would have been completely misunderstood just a hundred years ago. And that’s normal, as this is how humanity evolves. Should we stop artistic evolution just because it requires effort and personal exploration to fully appreciate it, especially knowing that this pattern (avant-garde works not being mainstream) has existed for centuries? Obviously no.

Margie_GillisAnd of course, this pattern also exists in other fields. Take science for example. There is practical science which has clear direct function. And there is leading-edge research, which doesn’t necessarily have immediate results. But leading-edge research is the reason why diabetes treatments, X-rays and supersonic planes exist today. I don’t understand why artists are being publicly described as spoiled elitists when the government also supports the pharmaceutical industry, high-caliber sports or higher education. Everything is financed by the state. And everybody benefits from it. When an athlete competes on an international level, we’re all winners. When an artist like Margie Gillis presents her work internationally, the effect is the same.

I will conclude all this by quoting Laurent Simon who said, “The world that is coming scares the traditionalists, since its models are less controllable than the analysis of an economy centered around the classical schemes of production and return”. It is very saddening to see that this fear now results in aggressive, partisan and close-minded “journalism” on Canadian television. Let’s just hope that the world of tomorrow will be more respectful, wise, compassionate and, as opposed to Miss Erickson, willing to allocate a portion of the taxpayer money towards world peace.

“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” – Oscar Wilde

I would like to thank Nova Bhattacharya, Michael Caldwell, Alexandre Chartrand, Pierre Duhamel, Jean-Philippe Joubert, Simon Jodoin, Tara Gonder, Catherine Lalonde, Graham McKelvie, Nathalie Petrowski, Brian Solomon, Jean-Jacques Stréliski and William Yong who were all a great inspiration and help as I was writing this. And of course, heartfelt thanks to Margie Gillis for being such an incredible example of wisdom, kindness and strength to all of us.

In the meantime, what can you do?
1. Do not watch Sun TV and avoid visiting their website as they receive money from their sponsors each time you do so. But of course, this is inevitable if you want to see the interview mentioned earlier (http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/video/971454253001) or send them your complaints (http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/about-sun.html).
2. Write to your MP about extreme political propaganda and misrepresentation in the media.
3. Send your complaints to the CRTC (http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/INFO_SHT/G8.HTM). Complaints need to be filed within 4 weeks following the broadcast, so be fast!
4. Ask your cable TV provider to remove SunTV from your bundle.
5. Learn your statistics, numbers, quotes and facts about the importance and the benefits of the arts in our society. Be prepared for heated discussions.
6. Remind people that artists are taxpayers too.
7. Share this letter or any other relevant information with as many people as you can.
8. Support the arts proudly and let the people around you know how important and enriching it is to do so.
9. Stay gracious, open, creative and compassionate. Example is the best teacher.

Please watch this inspirational interview with paleontologist Donald C. Johanson about what makes us humans: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150175212469795&oid=95578378591&comments

Comments

  1. admin says

    mirmat: Despite your love of the world, it’s unlikely you have the physical prowess to be a dancer, nor the administrative skills to run a major performing arts company. As well, will you promise to use most of the 1.2 million, received over many years, to employ other people, while paying yourself just a modest fee — modest, certainly, compared to that paid to executives with similar responsibilities?

    Please do get back to us.

  2. mirmat says

    I love the world and want it to be a peaceful place where no child goes to bed hungry. Like Ms. Margie Gillis, every afternoon, I am making great SACRIFICES for humanity by getting up from my bed and while sitting on the chair I am wildly stretching my body (very much in manner presented by our renown artist). I’m very confident a vast number of Canadian taxpayers would like to support my form expression and contribution to humanity so provide me with fund of $1.2 million to alleviate my sacrifices. Please inform me how to go about getting these grants so I can continue my surrender for the good of society, with a humanitarian heart that would add value for the soul.

  3. Randy B says

    I had never heard of Ms Gillis before reading about this interview in the Sun, and after seeing that lame chair dance I can see why. She w as a blowhard filibuster during that interview, and wouldn’t let Ms Erickson talk.

    As for economic footprints, those are about as tangible as derivatives on the Stock exchange. Quit trying to obfuscate the facts.

  4. Frederic says

    Get some thick skin.
    This is a market place of ideas – that is what free speech is about. If this interviewe­r is too aggressive­, she will soon not be able to book any one to chat with her on her show. It is called economics.
    Besides, I liked Gillis once she stepped up and talked about the public good of her work flowing from her grant.
    This is a very valid debate. It is the same as any government program. Think of NASA which has been criticized for spending govt money on space rather than poor people. That was a worthwhile debate very much along the lines of Gillis’s defence of her dancing. Think how many food bank meals could have been given with $90,000?
    We have to define public good all the time as it is a constantly moving target. So good for Gillis and she changed my views. Without a good debate, Gillis would have seemed insipid to me and I would have agreed with the interviewe­r that she should rely on creating an audience that values her work enough to pay. It is a harsh world where we all get judged.

  5. says

    Sun is a new network. They will iron out the bugs so their journalists don’t partake in grandstanding. A few months from now it will be a simple pie in the face.

  6. Lampdevil says

    Thank you for this well-written rebuttal. I’m going to share this with as many people as I can! Your points about the value of art, both economically AND socially, are on-point and are something I’ve been nagging the people around me about for years. You’ve said it all so well. :)

  7. Brian Landon says

    For Jim In BC:

    Actually you’re quite right about the CBC—— its time the government started cutting funding to the public broadcaster! And put it on a level playing field with everyone else.

  8. Brian Landon says

    I also saw the interview. The only person who has been ‘bullied’ after this interview was the reporter, Ms. Erickson. She asked a direct question? It seems to me that the arts community in Canada thinks they are entitled to their entitlements, no matter how good, bad or ugly their art is.

    And it appears that the arts community cannot even handle criticism! Why is that? A culture of self-entitlement? While Ms.Gillis is a great artist, the fact is, the arts community itself deems anyone a pariah if they disagree with the way arts funding is handled in this country. And it appears most in the arts community do not even know there is a recession going on!

  9. Teri says

    I thought that i would write to DODGE Canada as they are advertising on the SUN web page. however, Surprise surprise, they do not have email addresses (I called them!)

    so, if you want to complain to Dodge you have to fax them. here is their fax number
    519-973-2318

    here is what I am sending them

    Please be aware that I have taken note of your advertising on Sun Media, in particular the interview with Margie Gillis on June 1.

    The interview was absolutely shameful. Your choosing to advertise on the interview page indicates to me that you are in support of the tone and intention behind the interview.

    Shame on Dodge Canada for being opposed to the Arts in Canada.

  10. Andrée Clorenger Kemp says

    Re: Interview of Margie Gillis by Miss Erickson on June 1,2011. This interview shook me to my core. How rude and ignorant Miss Erickson is. How shamefull ! Margie Gillis was certainly able to hold her own and defend her art. Unlike Miss Erickson who looked more like a rude boxing fighter Miss Gillis was calm and defended her stand with grace. I saw Miss Gillis only once on stage at Place des Arts some 25 years ago, and her dance is still imprinted on my mind and brings me peace after all these years. It is shamefull to have treated Miss Gillis in such a manner. Miss Erickson should apologize.

  11. Lisa Desprez says

    Why are Canadian artists forced to validate themselves time, after time, after time? The fact that this Ms. Erickson can still even flog that wet noodle maddens me almost as much as her unprofessional, rude and grand-standing tactics. Canada does not need this Glenn Beck wannabe – I heard there’s an opening south of the border though. And Margie Gillis should be commended for standing up to that harpie with such grace, patience and humour. Thank you Margie for giving the arts the edge on that one! :)

  12. JM in BC says

    Krista Erickson is a hypocrite and a moron.

    She worked for the TAXPAYER FUNDED CBC for 11 years, during which time she received on the job training and mentoring from her more experienced colleagues who were also paid by the same taxpayer funded corporation. I don’t recall her taking a principled stand and refusing our tax dollars when they were going into her pocket.

    Then Ms. Erickson up and quit last year and now she demands to know why everyone else can’t suck it up and live without her precious tax dollars? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! If she could have built a career without our tax dollars she would have. But she couldn’t and didn’t.

    Memo to Krista:

    You don’t get to take our money for 11 years then turn around and mock those who rely on the exact same funding you enjoyed for virtually your entire working life. You’ve had a non-taxpayer funded job for less than a year. You’ve never owned or run a business or created a single job in your life. Get over yourself and be thankful we funded your job training.

  13. Marie Gogo says

    Thank you, Louis, for writing this well written article. Also, thanks for the advice on what we can do to protest this absolute rubish “reporting”. I wish you continued success.

  14. Chris Rolfe says

    I was shocked and appalled by Erickson’s schoolyard antics, but, if the result is that artists decline to interact with Sun News in the future, it’s a win.

Trackbacks

  1. […] On SunTV and Margie Gillis (excerpts), by Louis Laberge-Côté Canadian dancer Louis Laberge-Côté, currently a teacher at Nationaltheatre Manheim in Germany, offered this assessment. […] And by the way, culture sector workers (including artists) are taxpayers just like any other worker in Canada, something Miss Erickson seems to easily forget. […]

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