Is Art Toronto too regional?
By Joel Kuennen
In 1968, the idea of Canadian Content was set down as law in the Broadcasting Act of Canada. It ensures that “each broadcasting undertaking shall make maximum use, and in no case less than predominant use, of Canadian creative and other resources in the creation and presentation of programming.” As Ryan Edwardson aptly points out in his book Canadian Content: Culture and the Quest for Nationhood (2008), Canadian Content is a cultural response to a very determined approach to country-building as a “post-colonial national project.”
While such attention to the constructing of a national cultural identity gave the world great cultural edifices such as Kids in the Hall and Bryan Adams (who was censured for producing an album only partially in Canada but ultimately won-out when the regulators broadened the rules in response to his complaint), it has left a legacy of protectionism that may do more harm than good. Arts funding in Canada is pretty amazing. For example, Canada Council for the Arts’ funding in 2013 was $174 million (USD) versus the NEA’s funding for 2013 which came in at $138 million. Granted, these two programs were founded under very different auspices; the NEA came about in 1965 amidst a very tense Cold War during which one of America’s most potent weapons was culture, whereas the Canada Council for the Arts is healthfully in line with the mantra of Canadian Content.
In an interview conducted by Leah Sandals of Canadian Art, founder and director of Art Toronto Linel Rebenchuk practices what by now must be rote memory for most Canadian cultural producers; “from the very beginning the show has had about sixty-five per cent Canadian content,” he says, verifying and legitimating Art Toronto as truly a Canadian fair. Its thirteenth iteration this year will see the concentration of Canadian content grow to seventy per cent....