Monday, 19 August 2019

Hey PEI! We've Got an Arts Scene!

While reading John Waters’ latest book, Mr. Know-It-All (Pub: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), he hit upon something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately:

“Nowadays you don’t have to leave where you were born. Actually, you shouldn’t leave.  Stay where you are and make it better! There’s no new youth movement happening in New York or L.A. that you are missing. It’s too expensive there for any revolutionary ideas to even breath.”

As everything is not so much location as it is timing when it’s not a coffee shop you’re running, a friend’s show recently completed its 6-show run - Meanwhile in Ward 16. This friend, Rob MacDonald, has been creating local theatre for what… more than 30 years now. Together, he and I have made short films, worked on a published book, and released a CD as Chimp (aka Chimp CA), among other realized and unrealized projects. 

Over the years, as both Rob and I have worked professionally as copywriters and honed our craft as writers of other material, I’ve gotten to know a lot of others in Prince Edward Island who are of similar talent and circumstance, and I’ve come to realize that we’ve all helped to create a scene here in PEI. 

We are our own local versions of John Waters, of Diane Arbus, of Debbie Harry. The thing is, we will never achieve the level of renown that these people have, but locally, we create something essential, and something that artists from other places can’t create for those of us who live here. 

That’s not to say that there’s not a lot of local garbage. Of course there is, there is everywhere. And who’s to say that I haven’t created some of that garbage myself? 

There are also those who dub themselves this or that type of creative person without the experience, talent or understanding of what it takes to actually earn that title. You can’t just call yourself a heart surgeon and go out and perform open-heart surgery, you know. 

And on the other end of the spectrum, there are Islanders who actually achieve success and/or recognition beyond our shores; painters, musicians, writers. And many of them remain here while helping to build the reputation of the Island’s cultural scene elsewhere. 

On that note, I think the Island’s film scene is genuinely exciting right now and we’re going to see more and more growth there, maybe even a few breakthroughs beyond what we’ve already experienced. 

The kismet of reading the above mentioned section of Waters’ book and the wrap of Rob’s show created my come-to-Jesus moment; realizing just how exciting PEI’s creative scene is, realizing that I’m a part of it, and understanding that its value is something I think we all ought to recognize and nurture. When work deserves it, that is. 

More than anything, I think, people who write, act, paint, shoot or sing crave a response. The arts are a conversation, and if you’re not responding, that conversation doesn’t take place. 

To make sure that it does take place, first and foremost, we’ve got to get out there and engage with local cultural experiences. And when we do, we’ve got to let the people behind them know that we saw their show, read their book, listened to their music. Congratulate them if you don’t have anything positive to say — all creation takes work, and a “congratulations” is wonderfully noncommittal. Criticism is welcome only if you know how to give it and you are invited to give it. Otherwise, silence is king. 

We're always birthing new people here who have something new to add to the cultural landscape, and technology has been making it easier and easier to share that work. We’ve got a pretty amazing thing going here, but I fear we don’t always know it. Or maybe it’s just that it’s something we don't notice because it’s always been around us, or worse, because of the misconception that local means no good. Whatever the case, I’m just glad that I had my epiphany. I’m ready to be ordained. 

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