Who is telling our Arts and Culture story?

If you were to use this week's coverage in the Fort McMurray Today as a snapshot of life in our northern town, you might get the impression that there is nothing going on with respect to arts and culture.  Let me say, that this is not a rant pointed in the direction of our local daily paper, though they may get slightly bruised; nor is it a knock on anything that is happening on the recreational side of the spectrum.  But I am going to rant, because it's really bothering me.

It drives me bananas when I open up the Entertainment section of the Friday paper, the edition with the highest, and arguably most important, paid circulation, to find nothing but canned articles and Hollywood drivel. There is not one single mention of something that is happening within a 5-hour radius of our hometown.  Now, perhaps this is an editorial choice, that Friday's paper is earmarked to make our local paper look and feel like one of the big boys down the road.  Perhaps our high school theatrical production, dance recital, art exhibition or independent artist concert at Keyano don't cut the mustard.  Though I doubt that is the case.

I understand that you need content to fill the largest paper of the week and that pulling stuff off the wire is a necessary evil, and certainly the option that requires the least amount of manpower.  I spent a full decade in media and understand that filling time and space is paramount.  I get it.

While sports and recreation get page after page after page of incredible coverage every day (thank you!), and have a whole person at the paper dedicated to this task, there is no one to unearth, illuminate, celebrate the rich cultural life in our community, at least not somebody that has that beat on a full-time or even remotely part-time basis.  Stories are being left untold, and community groups and organizations struggling to stimulate cultural activity and appreciation are withering on the vine.

Again, this is not laying the blame of falling attendance and support during a time of an increasing population at the feet of media.  My understanding is that for some inexplicable reason, this is a trend that is being seen across the country.

Am I wrong though?  Should there not be at least one feature local art story in our Friday paper?  Am I off base on this?  Without even breaking a sweat I can think of two great stories that would have worked.

Why isn't there a compelling exposé about the start of rehearsals for the biggest theatrical production of the season, Chicago?  This is going to be a big deal and involves a huge cast who would flock to the store to pick up copies of a paper with their story in it.

Next week, Barney Bentall rolls into town for a mid-week concert.  The last time he played at Keyano it turned out to be quite a memorable show as his flight was cancelled and he was forced to drive to Fort McMurray from Edmonton in bad weather.  Just as they got into town, after an incident-free trip up Highway 63, they hit an icy spot and ended up in the ditch, further delaying an already delayed show.  Slated to start at 8 pm, things didn't get underway until several hours later and carried on late into the night. Dan Lines said it was "one of the best shows that I have seen him play."  What a great story.  Who is telling it?

I've been somewhat of a broken record about this imbalance over the years, even around the Council table, where arts and culture continue to play second fiddle to any and all things related to sports and recreation.  If we want to grow up and be the vibrant, dynamic, world-class community that we know we can be, then arts and culture need to emerge from the shadows and help define us.

The Municipal Develop Plan articulates that arts and culture are major contributors of quality of life.  A heightened quality of life shapes, defines, and enriches a region making it easier to attract and retain long-term residents.

As a talented, passionate, community-minded, arts and culture sector, we need to rise up and become part of the solution.  We need to strongly advocate that our stories get told in and on our local media.  We need to do everything we can to help them help us.  They have capacity issues just like we do.  But if we're going to inspire a sense of balance that is so desperately required, we can't sit back and wait for this ship to right itself.  It won't.  We need speak up, raise our voices above the din, and let our city and region know that arts and culture are alive and well and thriving in Wood Buffalo.

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