This year SummerWorks is offering a new series of free talks at the Shop Bar called Shop Talks that pairs SummerWorks creatives with leading Canadian artists, musicians, policymakers, and writers.


The AN END TO ARTS FUNDING? Shop Talk to discuss the relationship between the free markets and art production featured Andrew Coyne (Postmedia, CBC’s The National) and Nadia Ross (STO Union‘s 7 Important Things at SummerWorks).  This Shop Talk, however, was very different from the rest of the Shop Talks.  This was not really a conversation.  In fact, moderator Michael Wheeler (Praxis Theatre) structured the event as a formal debate with allotted time for each side to prove their point.  This was a wise decision because an open floor talk may not have allowed each of the panelists the time to be heard.  For instance, the crowd was mostly full of artists participating in or attending SummerWorks, so for Coyne, who was to speak against funding for the arts, it could have potentially been hostile territory.

Fortunately (or should that be unfortunately), the question portion of the debate remained fairly polite.  There were some people quietly huffing and puffing, but no chairs were thrown –though the tents did almost fly away because of the windy day.


Coyne spoke clearly and charismatically; he is a professional debater.  He surprised a few people by confessing that he had once been an actor himself, but this shouldn’t have been too unexpected –his sister is the fantastic actor/writer, Susan Coyne.

Coyne’s basic point was that because art is not a public good then it should not be publicly funded.  He insisted that the consumer must personally make an investment in the art and said that subsidizing the arts would only dull both parties’ awareness of the other.  Coyne also argued against centralized governments where a select few determine where money for the arts is spent.


And in the other corner, defending public funding for the arts, was Ross.  She is an internationally acclaimed artist, a Dora and Chalmers award winner, and a dedicated theatremaker.  Ross is an artist through and through.  That said, her debating skills were not as practiced as Coyne’s were, but she was self-aware saying, “I’m an artist.  I can only tell you stories.”

Ross countered Coyne’s argument by saying that art is, in fact, a public good because it can be revolutionary.  She described what it was like living in East Berlin under communist rule and where the only place that the public could discuss their political situation was at the theatre.  Of course, the plays were written so as not be censored, but their true meaning was still conveyed.  She continued to say that without the publicly funded theatres, citizens would be silenced having nowhere to speak -even though at times, like under communist rule, what is being said must be said covertly.

Most gathered at this highly attended Shop Talk seemed to side with Ross.  Though, it must be said, at times Coyne was persuasive, and he may have left some food for thought in some of the audience members’ ears.  Or not.



-Jenna Turk for SummerWorks


The next Shop Talk is:


on the 15th of August at 6PM in the Shop Bar.  FREE!

Click HERE for more information on the rest of the Shop Talk series.