I just watched this interview with Margie Gillis by sun news host Krista Erikson, and I was very surprised, even shocked, by the Ms. Erikson’s aggressively hostile approach to her guest.
At the outset, Ms. Erikson began with an introduction filled with praise and recognition of the considerable cultural credentials of Ms. Gillis. She suddenly changed tack to a dismissive, contemptuous tone and began attacking the very legitimacy of Ms. Gillis’ art form while accusing her of profiteering at the expense of taxpayers. Ms. Erikson characterized modern dance as a bunch of silly hand waving, clearly not worth the value of the grants awarded to her over her long and (admittedly) distinguished career.
At the core of Ms. Erikson ’s “combative” stance, as she herself called it, were some very targeted questions, and she was not satisfied by Ms. Gillis’s answers. In fact, even though Ms. Gillis answered some of the questions very well throughout the interview, Ms. Erikson didn’t even seem interested in hearing them, instead often cutting her interviewee off and using the interview as a platform to air her own views – basically that the arts are pointless because they don’t generate profits and that tax payers’ money should not be going toward supporting them.
To bring more clarity to all this, I think Ms. Erikson and Sun News still deserve more detailed answers to their questions and complaints, so I will build on Ms. Gillis’s answers here, with much more time and way less pressure than what Ms. Gillis was subjected to.
Question #1: Why is the “price tag” for “research reflection and the study of human adventure through interpretive dance” costing taxpayers $1.2 million dollars? I was slightly surprised that Ms. Gillis didn’t know the details of her finances, especially considering that she probably knew that the interview was going to be about money, subsidizing and an aggressive attack from fairly conservative oriented person who will want to know answers. I don’t think Ms. Erikson’s team made mistakes about the amount of $1.2 million dollars that was given in the last 13 years. The approximate yearly grant amount of 1.2 million dollars in 13 years is $90,000/year. Anyone who’s ever received a grant knows that most of the money goes into a variety of expenses, such as venue rentals, travel costs, production costs, various staff costs, and what’s left is used to pay for rehearsals and performances, as artists need to be paid too. Ms. Gillis did mention all this a bit, and yes, she did point out that an average dancer makes a mere $11,000/year. And I am sure she was right about that. At the end of the day, usually, a whole bunch of people only see a small piece of the pie of a grant, and $90,000/year for a team of people is clearly a small sum they must stretch as far as possible. As I said, a big piece of this pie ends up not even going to the artists but to many businesses, including performance venues, car rentals, gas stations, costume stores and the list goes on… As a result many businesses and service providers benefit directly from these taxpayer subsidies, not to mention that they are taxpayers themselves… I am not sure what average percentage of grant money goes to expenses, but my guess would be that it’s something like 50/50. So that would bring our $90,000/year to $45,000/year and if the dance company has 4 dancers, they would each make about $11,000/year, which goes along with Ms. Gillis’s answer. Even if it was only Ms. Gillis by herself, this would mean salary of about $45,000/year, rather modest for an internationally acclaimed artist, and which I’m assuming is on par with or less than Krista Erikson’s salary as a television news host… But with all these financial explanations, still, all these numbers are beside the point!
The main questions still stand:
Question #2: “Why can’t you do this without a leg-up from tax payers?” Ms. Gillis’s answer was because the arts are not profitable, to which Ms. Erikson asked:
Question #3: “Why should tax-payers be in the business in subsidizing something that’s not profitable?” To these questions, I would like to start my answer by asking another two questions: “Why can’t city parks and their employees exist without a leg-up from tax payers?” and “Why should tax-payers be in the business in subsidizing city parks and their employees, when they are obviously not profitable?”
The answer is because there is more to life and living than commerce and profit, and that the best societies are those that pool the resources of their citizens and invest in the common good, making communities that are worth living in, working in, and doing business in. This brings us to the point of evaluating endeavors that make our world and our life in it more fulfilled, happy, productive and creative. Going to a park helps people relax, it reduces stress, takes their mind off work. They go for a run. They spend the time there with their families, around trees and vegetation, which is as close to nature one can get in a middle of a city. Of course, for some people, parks are a nuisance just like the arts… They would rather tear the park down and build a condo complex that will make them more profit… But majority of people in our world do not think this way, and enjoy the parks for what they are – a rare and precious refuge in built up, noisy cities. I surely hope that Ms. Erikson and Sun News support continuing government “subsidies” for city-parks… In the same way, various art-forms help many people relax, find inspiration, and temporarily leave behind their regular day-to-day struggles. It teaches them to re-focus, to build trust in themselves, in their own bodies… now, I am not familiar with Ms. Gillis’s dance form, but I am sure that there is a whole community of people, as she points out, that get tremendous value from it. I believe this needs to be looked into before criticized. And instead of saying: “well, I don’t get it, I don’t like it, so it’s just stupid stuff,” a good journalist should be curious and find out whether there are any benefits and what those benefits are, which clearly Ms. Erikson failed to do. And Ms. Gillis did offer some answers to that. Not to mention that she herself also runs her organization for conflict-resolution and peace.
And I was amazed by the fact that Ms. Gillis kept being respectful, against intense hostility and insult. The fact that she spoke well throughout the interview while doing her best to answer questions under pressure probably came from years of her being in touch with herself through dance, arts and other endeavors for which she received grants. I expect that she brings these qualities to her work with conflict, contributing to countless people. And yes, in a way, she was lucky (as Ms. Erikson noted that “lucky is an interesting word”) because securing grants is a very hard thing to do and it is in a way, a stroke of good luck to be at the right place, with the right idea, with the right peer group that’s assessing you and be chosen. In the world of educational research, Ken Robinson (among many others) demonstrates that arts and dance are essential for building creativity, productivity, resilience and motivation. Dr. John Medina also explains how important movement is to the functioning of our brains. Societies clearly need to invest in these things in order to maintain healthy, productive citizens and arts is one of the most solid vehicles to do this. And this is in stark contrast with the conspicuous failure of commerce to achieve these goals. Commercial culture conditions people to be consumers; passively choosing among available (profitable) options like TV shows and processed foods. Just deciding that one is not pleased with the visual looks of a specific art-form and that it therefore should not be supported is not just ignorant and childish but dangerous in a diverse society where we need to encourage mature, independent, creative and reflective thinking and acting. That’s why I was pleased to see Ms. Gillis be a role-model, remaining respectful place despite her ill-treatment, and illustrating her points with examples like the fact that she doesn’t understand what a doctor does but she recognizes the value of a doctor. And many people are scared and don’t like going to a doctor’s office and they don’t like doctors. Does that mean they should say, “doctors are useless and their work is stupid…”? The same way, one needs to understand what arts bring to our society before attacking and badgering artists. A few more thoughts: Of course, some artists can actually make money and be able to support themselves to earn more than mere $11,000/year… this is especially true for famous musicians and actors. This is just like some parks that are able to charge entrance fees because they are so popular, have some sellable attraction or appeal to tourists… But this wouldn’t work for most public parks because it destroys their primary purpose: to be an accessible public refuge. The core purpose of parks remains and the importance of investing into them regardless whether they make money is clear.
As for randomly mixing into the interview the terms “sacrifice” and “compassion”, I think lots of it was taken out of context and not even applicable to the topic. I was somewhat confused why Ms. Gillis used the word “sacrifice”. It makes it sound like she and her community don’t enjoy what they do and they are sacrificing themselves for a greater good? I lost her there I must admit. I am also not sure how Ms. Erikson understands and uses the word “compassion”. Using the tragic loss of soldiers in Afghanistan in her attacks on Ms.Gillis was cheap and shameful, and completely out of context. I am very unclear about the point of bringing up war and dead soldiers into this talk. If the point is to say that we should give our tax payers money to send our children to die in a war, then it is a whole new topic and a different conversation altogether. How compassionate and conflict resolving is a country that is investing into war and guns, instead of investing into things that reduce aggression and create more peace and community amongst people. In my opinion and in opinion of many I know, arts help create peace and community in our society. I think Ms. Erikson brought soldiers as an example because Ms. Gillis mentioned “sacrifice”… People dying is much more “serious business” (as Ms. Erikson put it) than dancing on a stage… Sure it is, but again, arts are arts, and war is war, two different things, both serving separate purposes. To conclude, I do think that our government in fact is very caring and smart for investing into the arts of many sorts and I sure hope they continue to do it as it will create a more creative, happy, peaceful and caring society and be a good role-model for other countries to follow.
I would encourage everyone to send in thoughts, below are some letters you can write and action you can take. Here are some sample letters you can use to create letters in your own words to send to the advertisers of Sun News TV:
“I have recently discovered that ______ is a customer of Quebecor media, purchasing advertising on SunNews TV, a station which violates the basic decency and values of Canadian civil society. The fact that ______, which I associate with positive, prosocial values, is financially supporting Sun News TV and Quebecor Media is profoundly disappointing to me, and I hope that your company will seriously consider what kind of media outlets you wish to be associated with, and choose to spend your advertising budget elsewhere.” “Hello, I have been a devoted customer with _______ for years now and it was hard for me to find out that ________ is contracted through Quebecor media to advertise with SunNews TV. After watching some of the SunNews interviews and seeing the types of anti-social movements that SunNews support, I realized how disrespectful and anti-democratic this station is. I would like you to reconsider your advertising campaign to appeal to companies that promote more Canadian prosocial values.”
This was sent to me directly from the Margie Gillis foundation: To inform advertisers that you object to the hate speech of the station and you will boycott their products if they continue to support it financially. This action is particularly effective with profit corporations such as Quebecor, owner of Sun News TV. A list and contact information of major advertisers as a result of this text. Fill out the online complaint of the Canadian Broadcast Standards (http://www.cbsc.ca/francais/complaint/form.php) – simple, fast and very effective. The CBSC will confirm processing of your complaint. Here is the information that will be required: TV station Sun TV News Program Title and name of the personality of the wave in question: Canada Live with Krista Erickson Issue Date: June 1, 2011 Time of the broadcast: approx 16 h 15 Specific concern: You make objective description of the problem. The following link the code of ethics of the Association of Broadcasters.Articles 5 and 6 are particularly relevant.http://www.cbsc.ca/francais/codes/cabethics.php # Clause5 and your personal information such as address and postal mail. Also, if you wish, you can write to your MP to make your voice heard in the House of Commons. Canada, until the contrary is a democratic country where all opinions have citizenship with respect and intelligence. Be aware that to write to Ms. Erickson is completely counterproductive.The letters she has received so far have only excited her more. Advertisers list of Sun TV News Acura Web: http://acura.ca/contact_us Tel.: 1-888-9-ACURA-9 (1-888-922-8729) American Express Web:
Tel.: 1 800 869-3016 Adobe Web: http://www.adobe.com
Disney Web: http://disney.go.com/guestservices/contact
Honda Web: http://www.honda.ca/contact_us
Tel.: 1-888-9-HONDA-9 (1-888-946-6329)
ING Direct Web: http://www.ingdirect.ca/fr/aboutus/contactus/index.html
Tel. Service in French 1 866 464 3473 Tel. Service en français: 1 800 464 3473 MasterCard Web: http://www.mastercard.com/ca/company/en/contact_us.html
Tel.: 1-877-320-4701 Canada Post Web: http://www.canadapost.ca/cpo/mc/personal/support/helpcentre/others/find.jsf
Tel.: 1-866-607-630 Rogers Web: https://www.rogers.com/web/content/contactus
Tel.: 416-764-2000 Telus Web: http://www.telusmobility.com/en/QC/contact/index.shtml
Tel. : 1-866-558-2273 Westjet Web: http://www.westjet.com/guest/en/contact/index.shtml
Tel.: 1-888-937-8538 (1-888-WESTJET)
Thanks for reading, spreading the word and supporting the arts!