My proposal for a new non-profit organization

FFWD_End_of_19_years_2015_Feb_20

I must be fired up as I have written over 5000 words today on a day when I really don’t have time to spend on this type of activity.

However, I got a bit long-winded and spent more time on this than I originally planned. Understand that this is still a thought in process. There still needs to be refinement in my thought process.

Let’s consider this posting to be a first draft in an ongoing discussion in which I would like to be involved.

Here goes part two, the continuation of my previous post about Councillor Peter Demong’s proposal for public art in Calgary that goes to City Council tomorrow morning. If possible please attend. Artsvote YYC has got on board to pack the Council Chambers with supporters. Here is more information about that.

The issue I want to address here, came in the news on Friday morning.

If the reader is involved in the arts community in Calgary, they are mostly aware of the new by now. For those that aren’t, the corporate parent of Calgary’s FastForward Weekly, which currently is the city’s only free weekly newspaper which covers arts, music and entertainment news, announced that they will be ceasing operations in two weeks. In other words there will only be two more issues published. Here is the news.

Sadly, this continues a long tradition of other failed attempts at creating some form of arts journalism in the city. If anything it has been spotty. Other attempts such as the Vancouver-based Georgia Straight’s attempt to bring arts coverage and an alternative viewpoint to Calgary in a similarly called publication called the Calgary Straight. It died in the early-2000s.

For a good discussion and personal observations about this issue, Calgary playright and journalist Eugene Stickland yesterday wrote his own personal history of arts journalism in Calgary. It is well worth a read.

At one point, the Calgary Herald used to have good coverage. Then all the jobs got offloaded to other parts of the country and arts coverage as a general rule, just doesn’t happen, unless it is kind of a big deal.

The Albertan also had good arts coverage. In fact, in some ways, the Albertan at one point, used to have much better coverage than the Herald. Then it was purchased by the Sun and changed its name. The arts coverage from that publication has never been the same since.

I realize that the idea of paper news publications generally are going the way of the dodo bird. Everything is moving toward online content. That is the future.

It is the reality of the situation, like it or not.

However, it is not the same as a physical piece of paper, and never will be.

Maybe I am sentimental that way.

Online content goes away. Online content also has selective memory, and stories disappear into the ether when websites get updated, companies close and the content no longer serves the needs or desires of the content provider.

People like myself provide content. Our knowledge and expertise generally is not valued. By that I mean, I get nothing for writing this post. My knowledge is significant, but if I was to financially depend on what I have received from writing in the past (and I have been published on both broadsheet and glossy publications) I would be on the street and homeless – long, long ago and maybe even panhandling for spare change and food. That is how well freelance writing in the visual arts pays.

Regardless, arts journalism is important.

Artist’s careers depend upon receiving feedback and criticism from knowledgeable people, critics and fellow artists. It is through criticism that one’s career and practice is refined and growth occurs.

* * *

I have read feedback with regards to the ongoing operation of Calgary’s FastForward. I have read suggestions about what to do. Some of the ideas floated are:

  • That Calgary Arts Development Authority take over operations of the publication;
  • That the publication go online with only listings provided;
  • Someone local purchase the paper and continue operations;
  • Change operations to be a pay-publication (instead of free);
  • I am sure that there are other ideas as well.

I find it a good thing that options for survival are being discussed at this stage. This shows that there is a definite need and desire for this type of publication.

Most major cities has something like this type of publication. People visiting from elsewhere need some form of go to place to find information about what to do and where to go. It is difficult to find this type of information if a visitor is on a stop-over but wants to know about an interesting restaurant, a play, a concert, a dance performance or art exhibition or any other activity while they are in town.

If they don’t know the websites or the concierge is not aware of which website is best, they will be unsatisfied with their visit. As much as websites are great in one respect, they are not always as easy to navigate or find on the web. A different situation would be where the concierge says to the hotel client in response to a question about what is going on the city, “check in and I will run across the street and pick up a copy of the weekly publication for you.” The cost is nothing and everyone ends up being happy. It is all there.

Something like this newspaper is to the obvious benefit of organizations such as Calgary Economic Development; Tourism Calgary; Calgary Arts Development; and we might as well throw this one out there too – the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. For that matter many of the Business Revitalization Zones also would benefit by having this publication available – think of all the restaurants and nightclubs that have live music which get reviewed.

The idea that Calgary Arts Development take it over does have some merit. However, it is not without its challenges, like many things in life.

Case in point, my job (or current lack thereof).

With regards to CADA taking FFWD over. I want to say this very, very delicately. In fact, I almost hesitate to say this because what I have to say should be common sense. If, (and understand this is a very big IF), this was to happen, there is the potential for problems to come from this. This issue would need to be addressed before that was to happen (or, in the event it is considered whether it should happen).

Here is a potential scenario that would need to be addressed first. I am sure that there are other potential scenarios and variants that would relate, just as it would with any other potential umbrella organization that I have mentioned above.

As we know CADA provides funding to various arts organizations and individuals. Let’s use this as an example. A writer (it could be anyone) who works for this granting agency pens a story in this publication that is either a review or publicity piece for an organization/artist/troupe or whatever. The organization written about also receives grants and/or funding from the funding body that the writer works for. Here we can see that the potential is very real that a perception could be created of bias and favouritism toward either organization. Whether this perception is true or not – is a completely moot point.

As an outsider, I would suggest that this is not the place where any rational person or organization would want to place themselves in. Or at the very minimum, they should think long and hard before taking this step.

Having said that, and I will nip this comment in the bud. I expect that someone will draw attention to another publication which if memory serves me correct, was called Bridges. It was the Alberta Foundation for the Arts official publication that was published over something like a decade (or maybe even longer) during the Lougheed era, possibly even into the Getty era (if I recall correctly). It is important to note that this publication was produced during the pre-internet age, as this has some bearing on this topic. It also served as a form of information dissemination for the AFA including information about grants, programs, travelling exhibitions and new acquisitions. To my mind, this was a different situation entirely.

I am of the opinion that all is not lost.

We know that there is obvious benefit to having a publication such as this in the city.

So I have a proposal to make. Here it is:

In this city, I am sure that there is someone or even a corporate partner with enough resources to underwrite the direct costs of a month or two of weekly publications. This part is a safety net until a more permanent solution is made.

That is step one.

To do that, we need someone to step up. Someone who believes in the need. I would do it myself if I had the resources behind me and had regular income for my daily living expenses.

A free publication is necessary. It reduces barriers to entry for the information provided. It may only be a small barrier, but it is a barrier nevertheless.

The second step of my proposal would be to create a new co-operative, non-profit society with the express purpose of publishing this newspaper.

Given the economic benefits which flow to member groups of the organizations mentioned above Calgary Economic Development, Tourism Calgary, Calgary Arts Development and the Chamber of Commerce (not to mention some of the BRZs) – I would propose that each of these organizations set aside funding for the newspaper’s first year of operations. Additional funding from this should be set up to create a small endowment for challenging economic times (such as we have now with the price of oil) and create a sustainable future for the organization.

Funding from these partners will also facilitate the creation of this new non-profit, cooperative parent organization for this publication. This then becomes a made-in-Calgary solution, with the beneficiaries being our local community and small, independent businesses and arts organizations.

Once the initial funding partners are on side, I would then propose that the non-profit, cooperative society be governed by a board of directors.

One thing that this organization would need to do is provide non-biased journalistic integrity.

One of the criticisms that I have heard is FFWD as it currently operates has a political agenda. I suspect that some are making this into more of an issue than what it should be, and engaging in trollish behavior.

Personally, I believe that alternate political voices are necessary in a fully-functioning democracy. This is exactly as would be the case with various types of art-forms and disciplines. Some prefer the theatre, some prefer the opera. It is a matter of personal preference. However, I would be inclined to state that in an entertainment-focused journal, any discussions (not just politics) should be balanced and respecting of all views, whether they are shared or not. Alternate viewpoints are necessary. Because of the nature of this type of vehicle, an organization such as this must engage and create a dialogue with, both majority AND minority voices. I believe that this is understood by most who read this publication.

Because of that, I would encourage the initial funders to step back and allow the organization to function in a non-biased and an environment with integrity and minimal agendas. With the initial funders at the table there will always be a perception (whether that perception is valid or not) that there is an agenda that this news and entertainment organ has. However in a cooperative, non-profit society they would have access to the decisions of the board and receive financial reporting, annual reports and statements from the society, depending on the bylaws and/or articles of incorporation and what they state.

I think this could work.

I really do.

I would be willing to throw my hat into the ring to see it happen and to be part of the process. Whether I want to be part of it down the road, is another issue.

This is something that I believe in and want to see happen.

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