At a reverse debate in Toronto yesterday afternoon, Olivia Chow, David Soknacki, Ari Goldkind, and Sketchy the Clown came out to ask some questions to Toronto’s artists and hear some answers. Regrettably, the exercise instead served to show that there actually exists someone worse at answering questions than the candidates running for office.
The basic format was that mayoral candidates could mail in questions to a panel of experts on Toronto’s artistic scene, and they would answer. At the end, the candidates who bothered to show up could ask additional questions.
Some questions, such as which reforms could be made to improve Toronto’s artistic scene, were met with sensible answers. Notably, to use new condo developments as an opportunity for giant art pieces, combining architecture and street art to create new unique pieces to dominate the skyline.
They also proposed to renew aging infrastructure through a similar process. While there’s no money to rebuild the crumbling highways, seemingly there’s plenty to paint them. As well, apparently, the reality that there are no buskers in North York is not because John Tory and his army of uptight white guys hate buskers. Nay, it’s all about licensing. Though, there are actually licensing requirements for buskers, which sounds pretty silly. Because they’re poor, they should need to pay.
On the subject of Rob Ford, he wasn’t at this reverse debate, but he submitted a question. It was something generic along the lines of “how can the city be better at art?” Riveting stuff.
John Tory, who typically loves the arts (for reference, see his modern adaptation of Hamlet, the 2007 Ontario Provincial Election), was only present in the room through a volunteer aide who asked no questions.
But for those who were there, almost every question that was asked to the panel was met with confusion and ignoring it.
David Soknacki asked about how candidates could act for the artistic community in ways other than monetary funding. The response? Essentially “we can provide you some ROI data on funding if you want,” seemingly unaware that anyone would even ask about something other than money. Another panelist answered along the lines of “art has many benefits, such as improving mental health,” to a question about how a candidate could do more to encourage art. It was like talking to a slogan machine.
Ari Goldkind asked how we could convince rich folks to agree to allow their taxpayer dollars to be spent on the arts. As you know, Rob Ford built an entire career on not funding brown fatty liquids like gravy and the arts. The response was something about inclusivity, and educating people about the disadvantaged. It was confusing and irrelevant to the question that was asked.
In a piece of performance art itself, Sketchy the Clown waded through rows of audience members while complaining about a lack of space for artistic creation. He then announced the solution: amending zoning laws to allow artists to declare the same piece of land their primary residence and a workplace, allowing artists to work without having to lease two spaces. It was incredible, intelligent, and ridiculous.
Olivia Chow took the mic and talked about her history as an artist, and how in 1994 an arts-community based phone-book campaign led to the ousting of a city councillor. She asked “how do we get artists to vote?”
In the first intelligent thing the panel said all evening, “be a vision.”
At that moment, from the crowd, a man stood up and announced his presence “I am James French, and I should speak too!” It was put to a vote, with a single woman saying “yeah, let him speak.” He screamed, “before modern society, we had art. Art was life. Now we’re fighting for our life.” Thankfully, the panel didn’t dignify him with an answer, and he sat back down.
Lastly, a candidate for ward 20 asked how to bridge the gap between artists and politics. The panel answered that we need to prove that art is a real career.
After having watched oodles of mayoral debates, I thought that no one could dodge questions better than the beloved Toronto mayoral candidates. I was wrong. This panel of artists managed to only say exactly the message they each decided upon before arriving, perhaps in the process teaching mayoral candidates a valuable lesson in the process: just how annoying it is to not have your questions answered.