Daily Xtra: November 2013

Despite taking a couple weeks off last month, I had a pretty busy month in my freelance gig at DailyXtra.com.

In bittersweet news, Toronto Police announced that they had finally arrested someone in the 4-year-old Chris Skinner murder. Shortly after I filed that report, I went on vacation, and Justin Ling filed the follow up when police announced they’d arrested another three connected to the murder.

Also on the police beat, the Ontario Chiefs of Police released a document of best practices in LGBT policing issues, which is being used as a training resource province-wide, and inspiring chiefs across the county and abroad to reflect on their own practices. It’s also, apparently, drawn the ire of the usual anti-gay groups.

On the arts news front, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre belatedly announced that they’d lost a Canadian Heritage grant for the annual Rhubarb Festival this year. While they’d known about the lost grant since the beginning of October, they waited until late November to go public. Apparently, they wanted to give Heritage ample time to respond to their questions, but this seems like a huge missed opportunity. This could have been a huge, Summerworks-2011-style story, but instead they waited until the holiday season, well after a local federal by-election, the closing week of a show, to make an announcement via social media, bypassing the traditional outlets.

If they really wanted to make a splash, they could have released it to media a week before Gay Heritage Project opened in the middle of the Toronto Centre byelection. That would have instantly gotten the Liberals and the NDP into a (probably very shrill and off-putting) shouting match about who loves Buddies in Bad Times more, which could have landed the story on the covers of newspapers and on TV panels nationwide. The issue would have had real legs and might have actually moved the government (Summerworks got its grant back the following year, after all), and drawn a bunch of attention to the theatre right as it was opening a fairly risky show that deserved attention. Instead, it seems Xtra and NOW are the only papers that even noticed, and although Peggy Nash asked a question about it in the Commons, Parliament has now closed up for six weeks for the holiday. *Sigh*

Meanwhile, the city of Toronto’s proposed 2014 budget reneges on committed funding increases for the arts in the 2014-16 budget years. Funding still goes up, but not by as much as was promised, and certainly not enough to keep pace with other cities in Canada.

Obviously, I’m in favour of public spending on the arts. But it’s a little bizarre that we’d compare our per-capita spending with other, smaller cities. You’d think that we would have certain efficiencies of scale in a big city, much like you do with many other aspects of government spending (Ontario, for example, spends far less per capita than all other provinces). After all, despite Vancouver spending more than three times per capita what Toronto spends, I don’t see many people complaining that Vancouver’s got a better arts scene. If a city only needs one symphony or opera house, wouldn’t it be cheaper on a per capita basis in a city with more capitas? And as the metropole, doesn’t Toronto also benefit from disproportionate arts spending by both the province and feds? And doesn’t the private sector actually serve Toronto fairly well as well, since it’s such a big market? (And that’s before you get to other, more existential questions, like “what counts as Vancouver or Montreal in determining population and spending, since they have wildly different forms of government?”).

All of which is to say, I don’t think it’s smart policy to simply say “We should spend what City X, Y, and Z spend!” What we should be doing is assessing what we NEED and what we WANT from the arts in the city of Toronto, figure out what that’ll cost and if we can afford it, and spend that amount.

On the lighter side, I met Canada’s reigning lifestyle TV gay gurus, Steven & Chris, and chatted with them about 15 years in television. They were quite lovely and it was actually quite interesting to hear about their journey into television and being a famous out couple.

And I also chatted with the CEO of yet another queer dating app, VGL, which aims to make online cruising just a little more superficial sexy. VGL is another amusing toy for your phone, but at present it remains a little sparsely populated in Toronto.

There remain a couple of inventoried stories that may pop up over the holiday break. Merry X-Mas everyone!

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