Dispatch from the Front Line: 'You're racist. Now give us money'

A roundup of our second week, a welcome to our new readers, and, yes, a we-told-you-so

In our first-ever post, we lamented the sad state of many organizations adrift in culture war minefields. Of these institutions, we said, "Sometimes leaders ... have grown fearful of their staff, or afraid of the shame that accompanies an online storm.”

Well, we told you so.

While the meltdown of the WE Charity has morphed into its own kind of gross spectacle, this year has witnessed dramatic meltdowns at museums, galleries, charities and arts organizations.

The prize for the most ironic moral implosion is certainly awarded to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which has been accused this week of "pervasive and systemic racism." This after another recent report that the museum censored LGBTQ exhibits so as not to offend religious school groups. 

More obscure examples include Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Halifax Pop Explosion, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

But the most bizarre case was this woke suicide pact at Canadian Art magazine, which has stopped publishing online as it wrestles with allegations that the magazine itself is steeped in white toxicity. 

These evils were explained in a long article published by Canadian Art’s former editor-in-chief, David Balzer (self-described “gay, fag, queer. Ambivalent Libra”), in which he complains that the progressive agenda of the magazine he edited was forever being undercut by the need to solicit funds from wealthy white donors. Or, as he describes it, the pursuit of: "white, liberal money — the champagne socialists." 

Shockingly, these donors are not especially fond an incessant slew of articles with titles such as Drop the Charges and Defund the Police, Says New Artists’ Letter for Black Lives, Give Us Permanence—Ending Anti-Black Racism in Canada’s Art Institutions, and A Crisis of Whiteness in Canada’s Art Museums

Balzer’s analysis of the growing tension between establishment donor and do-good editor is spot on:

Most boards, which are also majority white, are [interested] in going to where they believe the money is. So the argument goes: It takes a certain talent, panache, to be president, director, or CEO, to open those pocketbooks, and without these skills, culture cannot run. This argument implies that culture cannot run if its backrooms are not white … Many corporate partners make possible the lavish, yearly fundraising galas that cultural organizations host: ostentatious displays of whiteness and wealth that are the public-facing versions of the aforementioned work done by white presidents, directors and CEOs.

It's a problem that every charity, art outlet, and activist organization in Canada will face. Supporting the arts is rarely an act of pure altruism. It has always been a status flex by the well-connected barons and baronesses of privilege. At its most cynical, arts funding is a high-class game of reputation laundering.

Yet in some of these cases, whole cultural institutional mandates have now been transformed to attack the moral legitimacy of the privileged cliques that keep the lights on.

Balzer bemoans the fact that “during my tenure at Canadian Art, revenue personnel bristled at language such as 'colonialism' and 'white supremacy.'" 

Gee, ya think? Who doesn’t want to be denounced as a toxic racist at the very moment he’s handing over a big cheque. Damn that white fragility. 

(The answer to this paradox? More government funding for the arts, of course. Of course.)

A thank you and grateful welcome to all our new subscribers. This was our first full week of publishing and we couldn’t be happier to be here. A few housekeeping notes:

  • Everything we do we are publishing for free right now. At some point in the near future we will begin taking some of the content behind a paywall. Free subscribers will still get some of what we do, but other things will become paid exclusives. We hope you’ll continue to support our work here by sharing, encouraging others to subscribe, and converting to a paid subscription. 

  • As noted last week, at the end of this month, we will provide our first transparency report to paying subscribers. We will show you what we’ve already done with your money and what we’d like to do in the future should we continue to enjoy your support.

  • And just a reminder: not everything we publish gets blasted into your inbox. Check our site regularly, and always read to the very bottom of all our pieces: we include links to all our recently published material there. Speaking of which, see below … 

    -The Line Editor

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  • The apocalypse happened, Jen Gerson wrote, and you probably missed it. Of course you did! We don’t even know what the word means. It means to reveal, Gerson writes, and that’s what the last six months have done: stripped away our distractions and diversions and left us with the truth of our lives. “What happens when a society is unable to access the outlets that allow for its own complacency?” she asked. “There's no escaping a fight with a spouse to grab a drink with friends; no pawning off the kids; no soul-restoring banter with beloved colleagues; no buying our way out of our problems, not this time. Not when the bars, schools, offices, and malls are closed.” 

  • In light of this week’s horrific explosion in the port of Beirut, Kareem Shaheen has some absolutely scathing words for the government of Lebanon, where he lived and worked for years. “Lebanon imports the vast majority of its food, and most of it used to travel through the port that now lies in ruins, its grain silos destroyed,” Shaheen said. “In July, Save the Children predicted that children would start dying of hunger by year’s end. That may come sooner than expected.”

  • Ken Boessenkool has a theory that would explain why childcare has been largely ignored by Canadian public policy makers during the pandemic. He disagrees that it’s because many of the provincial leaders are conservatives, and noted that in recent Canadian memory, conservatives have actually led the way on some childcare programs. The problem, he wrote, is that not enough young mothers are themselves in the decision-making loop.

  • Justin Ling took on a complex free-speech issue that Canadian politicians would much rather ignore: inmates in Canada’s jails and prisons are routinely denied basic rights. How can a free society let this happen?

  • In response to a piece by Laura Mitchell that ran here last week, Tamara Schroeder and Sabrina Macpherson wrote strong rebuttals to the idea that teachers were obsolete in the age of COVID. (We welcome rebuttals! Keep them coming!)

  • Kaveh Shahrooz warned readers that the warranted push for more diversity in Canadian institutions is having a perverse effect: it’s locking people of colour into ideological boxes they’re attacked for straying out of. “Elevating some POC views while excluding others broadens skin-deep diversity while reducing POCs to two-dimensional beings without agency or complexity,” he said. “Instead of bringing in new perspectives, it wraps the establishment views, and old leaders, in a protective heat shield of ‘diversity.’”

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