Category Archives: arts

Layoffs at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario Prompts Protest

There are threats that more than 100 jobs could be in the balance at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) due to restructuring and organizational changes. Those changes may be the result of a 18-month review that studied a number of U.S. museums.
It may be better news though for AGO as new funding increased by the government has come in. Because of the funding the Ontario Public Service Employees Union is saying that AGO must reverse its decision to lay of staff. But will they?

On April 8 the Ontario government added $8.6 million to this year’s funding for the gallery and added an annual operating funding of $10 million.

That didn’t make any difference. On April 2 and April 6 the gallery laid off 26 full-time employees. Many of those who lost their jobs had been with the gallery for decades. They were all in specialty fields. According to literature that OPSEU was handing out on the street the total years of experience of those who were laid off totaled 275. One of the reasons the second lay off came according to Union Stewart Paula Whitmore was on April 2 the AGO had it’s annual fund raiser. Some of those that were let go the following Monday were part of the crew that worked long hours to put the fund raiser on. Ms. Whitmore said she knew of one employee who was laid off who had toiled 16 hour days in prepping for the event and then was without a job the next Monday.

The Union also contends that the layoffs came when the management of AGO knew the additional funding would be coming. The Ontario public Service Employees Union believes that that funding the the AGO received is a good enough reason to reverse the lay offs. All of the Union staff that were let go were in highly skilled positions. Ms. Whitmore told me that the Union is concerned that the gallery’s quality of work will suffer as a result of the lay offs.

“Who’s going to be looking out for the public interest. The collection belongs to the public. The quality of the art will be suffering because those who were full-time employees and skilled have been laid off and part-time employees will have to try to have to do the work of full time employees.”

On Wednesday, April 15 the OPSEU and members of the public picketed the gallery starting at 5:30 PM. The Union chose Wednesday night because it is Toronto’s free night each week at the AGO.

Marketwire reports:

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas asked for an immediate halt to the layoffs. “We will not stand by while the AGO pretends to care about the public and at the same time uses union-busting tactics against decent working people who have thrown their lives into this work on behalf of the public,” he said.

OPSEU and members of the public will picket the gallery at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, April 15.

“I don’t know how Teitelbaum can look himself in the mirror after saying to our staff only last week that the new AGO is a wondrous thing, brimming with life and deep potential to change the way people experience the world,” Thomas said.
Executive Director of Public Affairs Susan Bloch-Nevitte says that the gallery only knew that there was the possibility of funding. That knowledge though wasn’t all that was in consideration when it came down to the lay offer. The changes were already in place regardless of if funding came in. It’s part of a restructuring period with the gallery, one that many other galleries and museums are also having to undergo to keep afloat during these times.

“It’s never easy to have to let employees go,” Bloch-Nevitte said, “No one likes laying folks off. It’s not like yippee bring it on. But the fact is the world is changing and so is AGO. It’s a different world and economic factors are different. We can’t stop change.”

Bloch-Nevitte is correct. The times are changing not only for AGO but for museums world wide. Membership and patronage have declined. At this time it’s not a wise idea in bringing in a lot of new works when the gallery has 23,000 pieces of art, many of which have not been seen by the public yet. It’s time to bring more attention to AGO’s permanent works. That doesn’t mean that there will no new pieces being bought, just fewer. Because of this some positions at AGO have had to be streamlined. In the end 23 people of the 600 employees had to be laid off in an effort to cut costs. No one entire department was let go and the lay offs affected many different areas.

When I asked Ms. Bloch-Nevitte why it was the older employees that were let go she said that while some of those who were laid off had been with AGO for years others had not. It was more of deciding where the existing employees fit into the new structuring of the AGO and who sadly didn’t fit in. What the gallery hopes to be doing in the future is adding new positions that those who have been laid off will be able to come back to work. That will take some time though.

The truth is AGO is changing with the times, like other fields in the arts where the recession and public interest effects the tides. There will be a newer on-line focus with the gallery as well as social media and networking aspects which will result in new career opportunities.

The management of the AGO has a hard road ahead. They have to be able to make provisions for quality and still be able to run a sustainable gallery.


Naheet Wins Top Prize On Reality TV Poet Contest

In Saudi Arabia there’s a new type of reality TV, poetry competitions ala American Idol. This year’s winner is 34-year-old Ziyad Hijab bin Naheet.
Naheet performed in front of an audience of 2,000 in studio and 17 million in front of their televisions to bring home the top prize of $1,361,207.64. Naheet is a Nabati poet. Nabati poetry is an ancient form of storytelling in verse. It is recited in tribal dialects unlike other forms of classic Arab poetry.

The Global Post reports:

“It’s the most famous genre of poetry in the Gulf,” explained Muhammad Ayish, a professor of communications at the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, the seven-state nation nestled between Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Arab’s are one of the first cultures to perform the Spoken Word in the form of poetry. It has always been an important part of the culture.

The show “Million’s Poet” has been a huge success. The elders are pleased that the younger generation is seeing that poetry is being preserved with the young. The show is Abu Dhabi TV’s highest rated prime time show. The contestants recite their own poetry written in the Nabati style. The poetry form dates back to the fourth century.

The studio audience is segregated with men and women sitting in different areas. Women who are performing however at with the men they compete against.

The Guardian reports:

“When we designed this show we had in mind the grandness of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and the suspense of Pop Idol, ” says Nashwa Al Ruwaini, Millions’ Poets producer and head of the show’s production company, Pyramedia. “The idea was to create a new format that would appeal to this part of the world without offending this part of the world.”

Regional governments are very active in reviving Nabati poetry. Poetry festivals are becoming popular.
At Dubai International Poetry Festival 2009 audiences listened to poems that were translated to various languages as well as dialects.

The Saudi Gazette quotes Jamal Huwaireb, chairman of the recent event:

“We want to help break that translation barrier,” he said. The organizing committee has called on poet-translators to contribute to the noble cause of making poetry available in many different languages. The festival has also launched the Translator Poet Award which goes to the one who provides an accurate translation of own poems in other languages, including Arabic. With that, Dubai has rightly “earned the title of the world city of poetry,” Huwaireb said.

Global Post quotes the star of the hour, Naheet.

“All of royalty loves it,” Naheet said.

“It’s unacceptable for someone to stand up and say ‘I love you,’” he explained. “Whereas to use the channel of poetry to convey praise, loyalty and love, it’s acceptable.”

The Boxmasters Cancel Canada Tour

Billy Bob Thornton has canceled the rest of his Canadian tour with his band, The Boxmasters, citing a bandmate’s sickness. The show goes on though with the headliner Willie Nelson.
The Boxmasters were set to open for Willie Nelson Friday night in Montreal. Instead of playing the gig the box office was called and told that only one of the opening acts would be performing.

The Boxmasters were also scheduled to play London, Ontario on Saturday but that is also going to be a no show. The band said some of the musicians came down the flu.

Thornton and his band faced booing fans booing in Toronto on Thursday night at Massey Hall. The boos came from an interview that Thornton and the Boxmasters had done earlier on the show show Q with host Jian Ghomeshi where he likened Canadians with mashed potatoes without gravy.

2 Canada reports:

“Boo all you want, but I want to say something,” Thornton told Toronto crowd. He then called Ghomeshi an “a-hole.”

Earlier the same day Thornton had told reporters that he loved Canada.

The band may have also taken offense to a bad review that they got in the Globe and Mail. Robert Everett-Green called the Thursday night performance one of the most amateurish performances he’s ever seen at Massey Hall.

Toronto’s ROM Facing Controversy Over the Dead Sea Scrolls

In June the Royal Ontario Museum is planning on exhibiting the Dead Sea Scrolls. That showing is being blasted by the Palestinians as they say the scrolls were acquired illegally by Israel when the Jewish state annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.
For six months the museum plans to exhibit what has been hailed as one of the greatest historical finds.

That’s a problem for top Palestinian officials. This week they declared the exhibit a violation of international law and has demanded that Canada cancel the showing.

Letters have been sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the top brass at the ROM with senior Palestinian officials arguing that the scrolls are theirs and not the property of Israel.

The Toronto Star reports:

“The exhibition would entail exhibiting or displaying artifacts removed from the Palestinian territories,” said Hamdan Taha, director-general of the archaeological department in the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. I think it is important that Canadian institutions would be responsible and act in accordance with Canada’s obligations.”

The Palestinians are saying that both Canada and Israel are signatories to all agreements.

The protest letter sent to Harper was signed by Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and its second-in-command while the letter sent to the ROM was signed by Khouloud Daibes, minister of tourism and antiquities.

The scrolls were discovered in 11 caves lining the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1957. Who owns them has been loudly disputed since that time.

Lauren, a spokeswoman for ROM, told Digital Journal there is no further information at statements being given until the matter has been fully investigated.

Omar from the General Delegation of Palestine in Canada was also unable to release an official statement at this time.

The Consulate of Israel in Toronto is closed until next week for Passover.

The planned exhibition at the ROM is called the Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World. It is set to run from June 27 to Jan. 3.

Opinion: It’s Saturday Night In Toronto, Must Be Time To Slam

If you’re lucky enough to live in Toronto you can come to Poetry Slams at the Drake Underground on Queen Street West every month. On March 28, it was the Toronto Poetry Slam’s semi finals hosted by Dave “Big Deal” Silverberg.
This Saturday night’s show featured some of Toronto’s best Slam Poets along with special guest Jamaal St. John from New Jersey. Big Deal David Silverberg (yes, the same guy who helps run was on hand to keep the pace moving and provide a haiku or two.

People had to be turned away tonight. There was no room to find a chair so the floor had to make due for many lucky enough to find a spot to rest. My spot on the ground was beside Valentino Assenza’s mother who told me how very proud of her son she was.

Teens on a first date and teachers wanting to have a first experience joined others who live for Slam. Screaming out the Slam Anthem we all became one, a mass of souls ready to hear the spoken word.

Tomy, Lara,Truth Is, Nolan, White Noise Machine, Yogi, Peace, Pan, Valentino Assenza, Ariel Platt, Kimiko and Mike Lipsius were all completing for the eight spots to go onto the finals in April. The final winners will be representing Toronto not only at the Canadian slam Finals but at the National Poetry Slam in West Palm Springs, Florida later this year.

Slam Poetry isn’t your momma’s poetry. It’s gutsy, new age and in your face. Topics can range from comedy to tears. The energy is infectious and the emotions are raw. Tonight’s spoken words did not fail the standing room only audience. From the fears of Iraq and the pain of the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip the horrors of war were expressed by many of the poets. Self doubt, body size, capitalism and the spoken word rounded out the mix. Two of my personal favorites were spoken by Tomy and Truth Is. Truth Is spoke of wanting to be able to sing a love song to one’s self and fearing that the words would never ring true while Tomy spoke of his daughter’s silent first minutes of life. Both poems are raw and powerful, as were all of the poems tonight.

Slam events have judges. It’s hard to judge a poet’s word but as Slam is not just poetry in motion but the energy and performance level the judge’s scores are needed for one poet or several to move on.

The eight finalist that will move on to the Finals on April 25, 2009 at Hugh’s Room at 2261 Dundas St. West are:

Tomy, Lara, Truth Is, Nolan, Peace, Valentino Assenza, Ariel Platt and Kimiko. Kimiko and Peace are newcomers to the Toronto Slam scene while the other six have been touching the crowds for a while now.

As with all Slam’s an international star is featured. Tonight the audience was graced with the stylings of Jamaal St. John from New Jersey. He was amazing. From his poem honouring women who know what Lane Bryant’s is and how he knows there is a God because real women have curves to his final piece the questioned a man who told him that Barack Obama wasn’t black enough to earn his vote, his words rang true.

If you have the chance to hit up Hugh’s Room on April 25 don’t hesitate. Poetry slams are where it’s at in Toronto. Culture comes cheap and speaks to your soul.

*The photos with this article are not the best quality, as they were taken on a cellphone with dark stage lighting.

Sylvia Plath’s son commits suicide

Forty-six years after his mother poet Sylvia Plath killed herself, Nicholas Hughes ended his own life by hanging himself.

Nicholas Hughes was the son of poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

Ms. Plath’s suicide in 1963 reportedly after enduring her husbands many relationships with other women. Six years later Ted Hughes’ mistress Assia Wevill also killed herself in the same manner as Plath.

Nicholas and his sister Frieda were just infants when their mother pinned a suicide note to their pram. She then went to the kitchen and gassed herself by inhaling the fumes from the over. she spared her children’s lives by sealing the door with towels. She was a mere 30 years old.

The children were not told how their mother died until they were teenagers. Friends told the Daily Mail that Hughes’ suicide was not a legacy of his mother’s death.

‘Nick wasn’t just the baby son of Plath and Hughes and it would be wrong to think of him as some kind of inevitably tragic figure,’ the friend was quoted as saying.

‘He was a man who reached his mid-forties, an adventurous marine biologist with a distinguished academic career behind him and a host of friends and achievements in his own right.

‘That is the man who is mourned by those who knew him.’

Nicholas Hughes, 47, had been battling depression. He was unmarried and had no children.

Hughes was a evolutionary ecologist professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The Guardian reports:

“It is with profound sorrow that I must announce the death of my brother, Nicholas Hughes, who died by his own hand on Monday 16th March 2009 at his home in Alaska,” Frieda Hughes said in a statement published by The Times.

Toronto Street Art Means Spring Is Back

Walking down the streets in Toronto can be an adventure in art. A person doesn’t have to shell out any money to be serenaded or see a new painting.

Art takes place on the streets of Toronto everyday but once Spring is in the air it really takes off. Listening to guitarists or fiddlers or the sounds of Scottish bagpipes can be had just by taking a walk on any downtown street.

KJ Mullins

Chalk artists are everywhere. One of those artists, Chalkmaster Dave Johnston was outside the Eaton Centre on Wednesday bringing his talents to life. He’s been working the cement since 1991. Now he’s a master and that skill has taken him to corporate gigs, special events, festivals worldwide and private commissions.

KJ Mullins
Chalkmaster posing with his work
Visit Toronto’s streets with a camera. You never know when you’ll have the chance to have a piece of art to capture. With Spring back though chances are very high the street is filled with it.

Shane Mullins