Caravaggio’s Dagger and the Still-life Sonnets of Diane Seuss

Michigan poet Diane Seuss presents the artistic correlation between still-life painting and formal poetry in five sonnets recently published in the Summer 2014 issue of The Missouri Review.  She describes the poetry as “unrhymed sonnets framed by fine art.” She applies several additional constraints: each line contains seventeen syllables (the ‘American Sentences’ invented by Allan Ginsberg); and, the pronoun ‘I’ cannot be used.

This is compositionally and structurally of considerable interest to me, as it is a representation of interconnections that I myself find important creatively, and inexhaustible of discovery.

In the order of their publication, the five Still Life poems are composed after five still-life paintings.

Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, by Rembrandt:

Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, by Rembrandt

Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, by Rembrandt

Suck scorched tough dark meat off of hollow bones. Look at her, ready to reach.

She’d hoped for pie. Meringue beaded gold. Art, useless as tits on a boar.

The Knight’s Dream, by Antonio de Pereda:

The Knight’s Dream, by Antonio de Pereda

The Knight’s Dream, by Antonio de Pereda

What if you’re only a knight in your dream? You wake to no glittering

waistcoat and breeches, no black velvet hat, just a shirt and ill-fitting

pants, tight in the crotch or loose in the crotch, from the church donation room.

Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, by Juan Sánchez Cotán:

Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, by Juan Sánchez Cotán

Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, by Juan Sánchez Cotán

That leaves melon, center stage, rough wedge hacked out of her buttery side.

Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball, by Pieter Claesz:

Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball, by Pieter Claesz

Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball, by Pieter Claesz

All is ephemeral but the image. The image lives forever.

And The Head of Medusa, by Peter Paul Rubens:

The Head of Medusa, by Peter Paul Rubens

The Head of Medusa, by Peter Paul Rubens

Once she became a full-fledged woman, things around town started turning

to stone. The dam dried up. Fields, banks and meadows. No rain, then overnight,

the burial ground became a parking lot. All was stillness. The End.

The painter Caravaggio also painted the head of Medusa. There are two versions, from 1596 and another from 1597. But it is another beheading, that of John the Baptist, that forms the cover of my book, Caravaggio’s Dagger, which also employs the relationship between the arts, employing two photographs, one print, and three excerpts of musical scores, one image prefatory to each of the six sections (taxonomies) of the poetry. Due to time constraints during the permissions process, the images were not published alongside both the epigraphical commentary and the taxonomical text; nor was the compositional locale and chronology included in the table of contents, due to timing demands in the editorial process.

The first image is a street scene in Hamburg, Germany, after the firestorm of Operation Gomorrah, in July, 1943. It was because of this event that my father escaped from the Nazi labour camp, possibly Neuengamme, to hide in the Dutch countryside till the end of the war.

Caravaggio's Dagger, Hamburg, Firestorm, Operation Gomorrah

Hamburg, July 1943, after the firestorm of Operation Gomorrah

And over

The new wasteland littered with deposits of death,

Charred energy lies hideous as chunks of flesh,

Rose red, the scented petals of their lives, falling.

The image prefacing the second taxonomy is Rembrandt’s print of Faust in his Study (1650-52).

Rembrandt: Faust in his Study (1650-52)

Rembrandt: Faust in his Study (1650-52)

The gold resided in what once went amongst us,

But what stays is merely the supposed memory

Of the sheen of the lustre it must have had then.

English Bay, a photographic composition (2004-05) by Gloria Steel, prefaces the third taxonomy. The work itself hangs in our residence.

Caravaggio's Dagger, English Bay, Vancouver, BC, Canada

English Bay, Vancouver, BC. 5 June 2004. (Photo: Gloria Steel)

… adopting … / A course of action we thought was right, though we knew

It could not bring us happiness, ever.

The fourth taxonomy opens with the first two bars of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto. Upon a time we often walked by Theater-an-der-Wien, on the Linke Wienziele within the Naschmarkt of Vienna.

Caravaggio's Dagger, Beethoven, Piano Concerto 5

Beethoven: Opening bars of Piano Concerto #5

Resolution altering from ideal to real as exact as

Syllogisms of history that splinter the harmonies

Of shimmering.

The Louvre’s photograph of the male torso excavated from the theatre of Miletus in Asia Minor opens Taxonomy Five. Rilke’s powerful sonnet is about this sculpture.

Caravaggio's Dagger, Miletus Torso

The Miletus Torso (Louvre)

Necessity’s insistence makes naked

The unguided best of us, making mistake

The superfluity of intention, willingly bound

In the golden garden of the flesh.

The last taxonomy opens with the opening bars of Bach’s sacred cantata 84. One of my most lasting memories of this cantata is listening to it as sunset overcame Stuart Lake at Fort St. James, when I was dealing with the Dakelh (Carrier) people in the northern interior of British Columbia.

Caravaggio's Dagger, Bach, Cantata 84

Bach: Opening bars of Cantata #84

Silvered hands that displace clear tinctures of melody with

The dissonance of immeasurable distances

There is no segregation of the arts, for neither can there be any segregation of ourselves.

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Sina Queyras: MxT (2014)

One of the epigraphs is the opening of Rilke’s Requiem for a Friend:  I have my dead, and I have let them go, / and was amazed to see them so contented, so soon / at home in being dead.

MxT (Courtesy:

MxT (Courtesy:

After this, the poet of MxT embarks upon a long discussion of grief. It begins with the albatross of Water, water, everywhere and ends with the narrator staring at the ceiling. The notion is that feeling is the product of memory multiplied by time; or F = M x T. Each section of the book is prefaced by diagrams derived from electrical engineering and its algebra to illustrate various measurements, mechanisms, and laws that assist in the portrayal and interpretation of grief. Following each preface are great quantities of words reliant solely on the comma and the period, and with persistent engagement of adjectival phrases and sentence fragments. Some name dropping as well.

Some books make the mind suffer unnecessarily with an artistic pretence. This one does not sustain itself and is unpersuasive. Moreover, there is so little feeling in the poetry.

Rilke concludes his poem with: Do not return. If you can bear to, stay / dead with the dead. The dead have their own tasks. / But help me, if you can without distraction, / as what is farthest sometimes helps: in me.

Doch hilf mir so: for I can no longer help you.

Life is not an equation.

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Government Accountability in Alberta – Kevin Taft: Democracy Derailed (2007)

Kevin Taft was the leader of the Liberal Party of Alberta from 2004 to 2008. Ralph Klein was premier till 2006, when Ed Stelmach took over. Stelmach won the 2008 election, after which Taft resigned as leader of the opposition, but remained as an Edmonton MLA till 2012. Democracy Derailed was published in 2007.

The book’s thesis is that Alberta’s oil wealth has facilitated the entrenchment of single party politics, and that this dominance has damaged Alberta’s democracy.

Democracy Derailed (Courtesy:

Democracy Derailed (Courtesy:

Taft details the following:

  • Suppression of whistle-blowing, freedom of speech, identification of wrongdoing
  • The dubious sale of Holy Cross Hospital, and the deliberate exposure of workers, staff, and patients to asbestos inhalation during the subsequent renovations to the building
  • Voter fraud
  • Disproportional electoral representation
  • Lack of accountability in public business, and displacement and reduction of the role of the Legislature
  • Disregard of the auditor general
  • Absence of meaningful and independent internal audit
  • Abuse through redaction and delay of freedom of information
  • Insufficient management of conflicts of interest
  • Penurious funding and virtual surveillance of the official opposition
  • The complete ineffectiveness of the provincial Public Accounts Committee
  • The misuse of communications through government control of the public affairs committee

Taft concludes: “After decades of unchallenged power, the unforgivable and dangerous arrogance of government is inevitable.” However, most voters seem not to care, and the consequences of this apathy have been, and are, apparent elsewhere in Canada at all the levels of all three orders of government.

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On the Edmonton Bus

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I am standing at the back door, as the Jasper Avenue bus passes by the disused Paramount Theatre, and shudders over the slush towards 102nd Street. As the bus stops, two individuals who become audible behind me continue their youthful conversation. She: “So, then, you’re in recovery, too.” He: “Yes. It sure is a different world out there.” She: “Yah. It was such a nightmare.” We all disembark and go our separate ways.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Edmonton Oil Kings (Courtesy:

Edmonton Oil Kings (Courtesy:

Quite an accumulation of afternoon alcohol on the Jasper Avenue bus today. Also, a surfeit of very dark eye liner and muddled men losing their sagging pants. Several still recognizably black Oil Kings t-shirts well beyond their best before date. One of the wearers, somewhat in complaint, commented to a disabled passenger embarking into the crowd: ‘not the best time of day to get on with a wheelchair,’ apparently unwilling to allow that the condition is not elective, despite there being not the smallest sign of ghost passengers on any travel manifest. Seldom a lack of theatre in our town of transients.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014



First Ferrari sighting of the season. Guy in suit gets out. Shaved cranium. Heads for Starbucks. I get on the bus for downtown. An hour and a half later, on the bus back, the same Ferrari is now parked two blocks from Starbucks. In front of the botox clinic.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Keith Richards

Keith Richards

This morning, heading to the heart of downtown, I swear that the guy across from me was Keith Richards’s twin, right down to the physique, hair, headband, and clothes. Only his shoes betrayed his poverty. As the bus rolled past the basilica, I was wondering if I should ask for an autograph, or, failing that, a cigarette.

Well, it’s happened at last. This afternoon, heading west from 109 Street, I help a blind man onto the bus. The bus is packed, but in a few moments someone gets up to give the man a seat. A moment later, a young man also offers me a seat. This has not ever happened, and I’m not keen that it has. I adjusted quite well some time ago to being called ‘sir,’ but this will take a more testing adjustment. I thanked him, though; when I, so to speak, declined.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jasper Avenue, Edmonton (Courtesy:

Jasper Avenue, Edmonton (Courtesy:

I’m on the 135 bus, which is one of most sociologically interesting in Edmonton. Hence, I take it as often as I can, and in preference to the other lines that service Jasper Avenue.

Early this afternoon, I get ready to disembark at the stop before my stop, and go to the front door, as the bus is very full. So crowded, in fact, that at each stop the driver looks into his rear-view mirror to ascertain that all those who want to disembark have done so. At this stop, having conducted this check, and preparing to put the bus back in motion, a short man, 60s maybe, white-haired, white-skinned, barrels his way from the centre to the bus, yelling “don’t you dare leave till I’m off the bus.” He carroms off my left side, shoots a fierce look at the driver, who is young, 20s, and dark-skinned, and clambers off the bus. The driver mutters something inarticulate, more in surprise than irritation. From the street the older man turns round, waves his right fist, and spits “Don’t you type dare talk to me that way.” And wheels away.

I say to the driver: “Well, that was pleasant.” He says, “It’s part of the entertainment for the day.” I say, “At least you don’t have to pay Netflix.” He says, “That’s true.” I say, “And it’s personalized.” He responds, “Yes. Uncensored, too.”

We wish each other good day as I leave the bus at the next stop, which is mine. A friend in Halifax recently wrote me that if there’s one thing he’d wish for it’d be that people be nicer to one another. He thinks if he solved that one, he’d get the Nobel Prize.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Quran. (Courtesy:

Quran. (Courtesy:

Not as cold as the weekend, when it dipped to -37C, but it is snowing, CityTV blaring a great emptiness of content (“Albertans are hardy folk, you know. Now here how’s you make caramel sponge cake.”) at the corner of Jasper and 102nd Street. When that transporter of the outriders of local sociology, the Number 5 Westmount bus arrives—and it is a line I like to ride for the unusual wealth of unusual human behaviour it carries—, I get on and greet one of the regular drivers, and sit next to very tall, easily 6’8″ white man in his late forties, powerful frame, brown mustache and goatee, clutching a half-empty bottle of Orange Crush, and talking into his cell phone. “Didn’t think I was going to make bail. Even my lawyer wasn’t sure.” When he disembarks, a young white man, mid-twenties, sideburns, beaded bracelets on his right wrist, takes his seat, opens his iPad, and resumes reading the Quran in Arabic.

Friday, November 8

Cursive letter in English, 1894 (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Cursive letter in English, 1894 (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

My bus is travelling along Jasper Avenue. A tall man, late 40s, carrying a satchel, gets on and, when seated, takes an envelope from the satchel. The envelope contains a glossy card of an owl, and inside the card, folded in quarters, is a letter of one page. It is handwritten in neat, tight, straight script. Given the usual apocalyptic saturation of smartphones among the passengers, this is so unusual that I actually watch him read. A sense of nostalgia arises for what once was commonly so personal. When the bus reaches my stop, I peer over his shoulder, wondering if the letter is from some part of the world where the Internet lacks eminent domain. Encouragingly, the letter is in English. Then the back door opens, and I’m back in the land of distracted driving.


Cyclist (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Cyclist (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

How to be maimed. It’s rush hour downtown. My bus is travelling south on 103rd Street, no more than two feet behind another bus, both negotiating the turn through the thickets of pedestrians and cars onto Jasper Avenue. A cyclist, coming from the east on Jasper, crosses against two lanes of traffic on 103rd, goes over the centre line, cuts off another lane, and passes between the two moving buses, and returns to Jasper through the crowds. First I think why would a person want to risk getting crushed. Then I think, why take this dangerous route when he already had the right of way on Jasper. I wondered if he had a good orthopedic surgeon in mind. The bus, fortunately, had good brakes, and an even better driver. The cyclist was, however, wearing a helmet.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The short, dark-eyed man wearing a deer-stalker cap who changed seats every few stops, in a nearly empty bus.

The young Aboriginal woman, Tracy, who was having a psychotic episode, while her brother gently coaxed her from the rear of the bus to its rear door and so to the side-walk;  while the bus driver waited patiently, and, it seemed to me, with compassion.

The Chinese lady who kept wrapping and re-wrapping her boxes of chocolate marshmallows three bags’ deep; and when she left the bus, did so once again at the bench at the bus stop.

The old man François, with grey-blue sightless eyes, and originally from near Rosetown, Saskatchewan, and who had lost a cousin to sudden death just before the cousin was to be married, and who had lost a younger brother of 13 years in a light airplane accident, and who was riding the Jasper Avenue bus to Capilano to buy a new squeegee mop at Wal-mart. And George, across the aisle, in trim jacket and with well-barbered hair, who was asked by François if he could assist him to his destination and in his purchase; and who said yes, and then suggested it would be less demanding if the mop were bought at Save-on-Foods at Jasper Avenue and 109th Street; and who took François off the bus at that corner, had him put his arm in his, so to guide the blind man to the store, and there to make the purchase. The two had never met.

Tuesday, October 9

Young aboriginal woman, 20s, concluding a cell phone conversation: “I’m on my way now. Marina’s still in a halfway house.”

Tuesday, October 2

The young man in his twenties, of Asian Indian extraction, making the sign of the cross when we in the bus passed the basilica on Jasper Avenue. My wife was reminded of how in the Montreal of her youth women would sign in the same manner and men tip their hat as their equivalent gesture. As there were thousands of Roman Catholic churches in that city, hats were seldom untouched and hands seldom motionless.

Monday, August 20

The middle-aged man in the last seat by the window, holding his prayer beads in his right hand, and kissing a cross that hangs from his neck every time a Hail Mary completes; while holding a package of Player’s cigarettes in his left. When he rises to leave at his stop, one can read the back of his t-shirt: “I love the immaculate conception.”

The aged, gaunt, unshaven man in the last seat by the opposite window, wearing a worn jacket in the 30 degrees’ heat, staring blankly through the sun onto the street. After a while he picks up a free news-sheet from the seat in front of him, and then stares blankly at the paper.

The tall young man with a white cane who makes a beeline for the same rear seat, selects the middle spot, folds up his cane, pulls out his iPhone, and begins to read.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A persistent rain. Passengers studiously without umbrellas.

Angel with mobile phone
Angel with mobile phone (Photo credit: Akbar Sim (terribly busy))

The lady with the irregularly auburn-dyed hair, striving to look impeccable, as if she were in downtown Prague or Vienna, too many rings searching for noonday light, who adjusts her well cared-for leather coat carefully before disembarking.

The brown-skinned young woman, wearing jeans constructed of patches and metal rings, with a splash of golden sparkle on her eyebrow, next the embedded red pin.

The tall Sikh youth, dark-eyed, white turban over hair and comb, listening to music on his phone while his Caucasian friend, blue-eyed, who boards a stop later, talks too loud as she speaks to him.

The young male dressed in fatigues and inexpensive leathern jacket, who adjusts his fatigue-patterned haircloth so that it is just over forehead and the knot plain but unobtrusive; pewter-shaded double earring; putting on his sunglasses to escape the glare of the rain; working on unsuccessful sang-froid; as if desperately in need of a motorcycle.

The aging Chinese woman, hair grey and straight, disembarking with her somewhat younger acquaintance, whose hair retains some colour, who carefully clutches her faded black totebag emblazoned with a repetition of the word ‘Amsterdam,’ all in white but for one in yellow.

The middle-aged Caucasian adult with long, flowing, soft brown hair and over-abundant moustache, who, momentarily feeling somewhat too conspicuous, reaches for his cell phone, with which he does naught.

The writer, absorbed by his observation of the other passengers, who almost misses his stop.

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Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton – Strategic Planning – 24 November 2014

Dr Pieter de Vos

Dr Pieter de Vos

The facilitator was Dr Pieter de Vos of Alberta Culture.

The participants were Ashleigh Brown (EPC treasurer and independent artist), Kieran Leblanc (EPC co-chair and ED of the Book Publishers Association of Alberta), Karen Brown Fournell (director, and GM of Rapid Fire Theatre), Will Truchon (director and independent artist), Hendrik Slegtenhorst (EPC co-chair, chair of advocacy committee, and independent artist), Michael Peng (EPC vice-chair, co-chair of communications committee, and co-artistic director of Wishbone Theatre), Jason Magee (director and co-chair of communications committee), Fawnda Mithrush (director and ED of LitFest), and Mary Elizabeth Archer.

The modules were (1) mission and mandate, (2) current reality, (3) preferred future, (4) trends, barriers, opportunities, (5) priorities.

The strategic objectives determined are:

  1. PACE has a stable, engaged, and diverse membership.
  2. PACE is a respected resource for information, action, and networking.
  3. PACE is an effective advocate of the arts.
  4. PACE has a governing board with paid staff.
  5. PACE has financial independence and self-sufficiency.
  6. Edmonton is the best place to be a professional artist.

Objectives 1, 2, and 3 are membership focussed; objectives 4 and 5 are organizationally focussed; objective 6 is the goal. The time frame is five years. Re objective #1, membership now stands at 104, more than double a year ago. Re objective #4, the current board (EPC) is a working board, and has no paid staff. Re objective #5, the main source of revenues is the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts; to sustain independence of advocacy, PACE neither solicits nor takes revenues from political bodies or granting agencies.

At the 25 November 2014 meeting of the Executive Planning Council, the development of implementation plans, with schedules and metrics of success, was allocated for review on 6 January, as follows:

  1. Communications Committee
  2. Communications Committee
  3. Advocacy Committee
  4. EPC co-chairs
  5. EPC co-chairs and Treasurer
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Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton – Advocacy Committee Meeting with Councillor Michael Walters – 20 November 2014

Our thanks to Councillor Michael Walters, who met with Karen Brown Fournell (Rapid Fire Theatre), Ken Davis (Citadel Theatre), and me.

It was a productive and progressive session, and had the added attributes of clarity and concision.

Councillor Michael Walters, who is, a year after election, in his own words, "still standing." (Courtesy:

Councillor Michael Walters, who, a year after election, in his own words, is “still standing.” (Courtesy:

These are the main points:

  • The dearth of incomes to live on and spaces to perform in was raised by Councillor Walters. Mile Zero Dance was used as a specific example.
  • Councillor Walters would value receiving regular progress reports on the activities of PACE and its members, and I agreed to assess how to provide these.
  • Councillor Walters discussed the need to connect more effectively with business, and for business to be more aware of the arts in Edmonton, for they are a major attribute of this City.
  • The City should even more embrace the arts as one of its prime attributes. In this regard, an effective relationship with Tourism should be built or strengthened.
  • Councillor Walters believes a multi-seasonal, interdisciplinary, and multi-disciplinary “moveable” festival should still be pursued. This was first raised by Councillor Walters during the 2013 election campaign. He also discussed, more briefly, his campaign idea of a “writer’s city.”
  • Councillor Walters thinks the implementation of a multi-pass to festivals should be pursued.
  • Councillor Walters indicated that he will want to work with Councillors Ben Henderson and Scott McKeen in the development of arts and culture in Edmonton.
  • Councillor Walters explored in some depth the potential utility a City-based liaison resource, who would have access to politicians and policy formulation, to facilitate and promote as necessary synergistic relationships for and with PACE, its Arts Champion Todd Hirsch, the Edmonton Arts Council, the City of Edmonton, and business corporations.
  • He did indeed drive to Alabama to visit the grave of Hank Williams.
  • He did indeed publish poetry, but has, like this writer, given up cigarettes.
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Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton – Advocacy Committee Chair Report to AGM – 3 November 2014

These are speaking notes that formed the basis of my report at the AGM held at Boyle Renaissance Plaza. Please note that a more comprehensive document that describes our now and highly valued relationship with our inaugural Arts Champion Mr. Todd Hirsch will be released in the future by our Communications Committee in collaboration with Mr. Hirsch.

It was a pleasure to have MLA Laurie Blakeman in the room during this report, and to be able to introduce the MacEwan University students who worked on the membership survey for the EPC.

Boyle Renaissance Plaza (Courtesy:

Boyle Renaissance Plaza (Courtesy:

I was asked to be the chair of the Advocacy Committee in June. I report here what we, in the committee, have developed over the last months. “We” are my committee colleagues, Kieran Leblanc, EPC chair; Graham Currie, president of Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Company; Karen Brown Fournell, general manager of Rapid Fire Theatre; Carol Holmes, executive director of the Writer’s Guild of Alberta; Todd Janes, executive director of Latitude 53; and Michael Peng, freelance theatre artist and co-artistic director of Wishbone Theatre. More recently, Ken Davis, director of marketing and communications at the Citadel Theatre, has joined us. I myself as an independent artist currently practice as a writer specializing in literature, music, heritage, and local government.

Our July discussions identified the need for modernized terms of reference for the advocacy committee, and these were written and approved in August. Their intent is to better communications to and for the membership, and so nurture the development of arts and culture in the City of Edmonton in the context of the Province of Alberta.

In addition, we decided to ensure that all pertinent information and research are shared on a continuing basis with the Communications Committee. This has worked well, and with the support of its co-chair, Meghan Unterschultz, associate executive director of the Winspear Centre and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

We have now selected four specific projects to actuate portions of these terms. In parallel, Karen Brown Fournell has revised our communications strategy with elected officials. The projects are:

  1. To sustain and expand engagement with and sponsorship by local governments, business, and organizations for the support and recognition of the membership.
  2. To survey the membership to identify contributions and concerns, and, specifically, themes and areas of action.
  3. To strengthen ties with the existing membership, including meetings with and support for the activities and performances of members.
  4. To strategically strengthen local advocacy, integrated with the Arts Champion, Todd Hirsch, especially in connecting the arts, the business communities, and post-secondary institutions.

Meeting with elected officials was considered to include the continuing, historically core business of the committee. To inform the actuation of our communication strategy, a data base of key elected officials, including Mayor and Council, MLAs, and MPs, was created in October. What this told us is that interactions with elected officials need to be more consistent and strategic.

In regard to members’ perspectives, fortuitously, your past chair, Jennifer Faulkner, associate executive director of Alberta Ballet, chose to teach a course in audience and resource development at MacEwan University, and in September offered to PACE a free market research project. The main findings to date include:

  • A high majority of respondents state that PACE represents them well. The Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts was particularly highly valued in this regard.
  • Members want more detailed and timely information on political and legislative developments.
  • Members want more connections both within PACE and beyond it in the larger arts community.
  • Communications need improvement. The website, newsletters, and use of social media were all cited as needing attention.

Thank you for your attention and consideration.

Hendrik Slegtenhorst, Chair, Advocacy Committee

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Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton – Membership Survey Findings

The preliminary findings of the market survey of expectations and needs of members of PACE, conducted by students of MacEwan University on behalf of the Board (EPC) of PACE, were presented at MacEwan University on 27 October 2014. The full report is anticipated in early December.

MacEwan University, Jasper Place campus (Courtesy:

MacEwan University, Jasper Place campus (Courtesy:

In summary the preliminary findings are:

Reason for Membership

The four major reasons, in descending order are: (1) to support PACE, (2) to participate in the arts, (3) to develop community within the arts sector, and (4) to use PACE advocacy.

Within support for PACE, arts lobbying ranked highest as an expectation, specifically regarding three advocacy needs, namely, (1) artists’ rights (fees, contracts), (2) job creation and retention (with direct connection to available resources), and (3) funding assistance (via on-line information).

A high majority of respondents stated that PACE represented them well. The Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts (MCA) was particularly highly valued in this regard. However, it was not clear how the MCA is set up, how the charity is selected, and how the recognition of artistic excellence fits with what is seen largely to be an “advocacy” event.


More members cited the need for improvement than cited communications as generally good. In this regard, advocacy needs to be proactively responsive to change, and should employ the communications ability of individual members (websites, etc.) to further promote PACE.

Members want more detailed and timely information on developments, especially political and legislative developments. For example, PACE offered no observations for the recent NDP leadership campaign or the October 27 provincial by-elections.

Members want more connections both within PACE and without it in the larger arts community. Members would also prefer, to supplement the AGM and the MCA, to have informal group sessions (monthly or bimonthly, to generate ideas from members; themed evenings or sessions would be welcome). Members would also like to see the use of one-on-one interactions (including members of PACE governance sitting in on the activities of members).

There is a relatively high uncertainty regarding the nature of member benefits.


  • Be proactive rather than reactive. This applies particularly to advocacy and information dissemination (e.g., on legislation).
  • Advocacy should be on-going. That is, momentum should be constant, and not intermittent (the #yegvotesarts campaign was admired, but once the election was over, so was the campaign).
  • Communications and connections need improvement. The website, newsletters, and use of social media were all cited as needing attention, in terms not only of content but also of timeliness and greater frequency of use. Concerns were expressed about the reliability of the data base(s) used to connect with the members.
  • Clear purpose. Greater definition would be welcomed, especially regarding mission and vision; and this definition, and its actuation, should be better communicated to the members.
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Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton – Advocacy Committee Projects 2014-15

On 15 October 2014, the Board (Executive Planning Council) approved four Advocacy Committee projects for 2014-15. All project recommendations derive directly from the recently approved Committee terms of reference.

The primary project was considered to be the strategic strengthening of local advocacy, integrated with the Arts Champion, and especially in connecting the arts, the business communities, and post-secondary institutions. Meeting with elected officials was considered to include the continuing, historically core business of the committee, which has devised and sanctioned a revised communication strategy. Activity will be confined to Edmonton’s mayor and councilors, MLAs and MPs for the City of Edmonton, provincial party leaders, the provincial minister for culture, and opposition culture critics.

A love affair on the steps of Edmonton City Hall (With apologies to and the courtesy of

The cultural artistry of a love affair, on the steps of Edmonton’s City Hall (With apologies to and the courtesy of

The following projects also were selected:

  • Survey the membership to identify contributions and concerns, and, specifically, themes and areas of action (in partnership with Communications Committee);
  • Strengthen ties with the existing membership, including meetings with and support for the activities and performances of members;
  • Sustain and expand engagement and sponsorship of local governments, business, and organizations for the support and recognition of the membership (bearing in mind not to deflect sponsorship interest that the Mayor’s Celebration for the Arts Committee PACE pursues).

The Committee has been granted a budget of $6,000, plus a temporary contingency of $3,000, for its work.


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Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton (PACE) – Advocacy Committee

Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton

Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton

The Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton (PACE) is an advocacy organization for some one hundred arts and cultural organizations and individual artists. Membership ranges from major performing arts organizations such as the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Citadel Theatre, and Alberta Ballet, to individual independent artists. The board (Executive Planning Council) has three committees: for advocacy itself, for communications and membership, and for the annual production, in coordination with the Office of the Mayor of the annual Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts. The Coalition’s website is here.

Mayor's Celebration of the Arts

Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts

The board approved the Advocacy Committee’s new terms of reference on 5 August 2014. They are these:

The Advocacy Committee

  • establishes lines of communication with the membership to identify areas of concern
  • conveys these concerns to the Executive Planning Council
  • The #yegvotes campaign of the 2013 Edmonton municipal election

    The #yegvotes campaign of the 2013 Edmonton municipal election

    identifies policies and practices by local, provincial, and federal governments or other organizations that affect the membership

  • communicates these policies and practices to the membership
  • where appropriate, reviews and evaluates such policies and practices
  • articulates positions on key issues and reports these to the Executive Planning Council
  • communicates or partners with governmental and non-governmental organizations to nurture the development of arts and culture in the City of Edmonton in the context of the Province of Alberta
  • works to make public and where possible enhance the benefits that practitioners of arts and culture bring to individual members of the public and to society at large conveys such initiatives to the Executive Planning Council
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