VIEWPOINT: Notes On An Olympic Moment

Notes on an Olympic Moment

by Sandra Garossino
In a few short days, the Olympics will be upon us.
For those of us in the arts, these past months have been a searing experience, with great trepidation about the approaching budget.
The 2010 Winter Olympics themselves arrive with so much baggage that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the arts community to embrace their spirit.
Brad Cran has issued a potent and moving reminder of our cherished freedoms, and his reasons for declining an invitation to appear on Olympic celebration stages here.
It is a disappointment, and a shame, that Vancouver’s Poet Laureate declines on political grounds to appear during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
For other artists, the Cultural Olympiad, celebrations, and ceremonies offer a rare, though complicated, opportunity.
Regrettably for VANOC, it is identified in the public imagination with an unpopular provincial government. One that instituted profoundly unfair cuts to arts and culture on the very eve of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad. It was in this poisoned atmosphere that VANOC made the serious miscalculation of limiting the speech of artists and creators, a step which has only fanned the flames further.
VANOC has unfortunately meshed political and corporate interests in a manner starkly at odds with the values it espouses. In style, the emergent 21st century Olympics is graphically out of sync with the chaotic messiness of modern western democracy.
Everything went so much smoother in Beijing. Apparently.
Somewhere along the line we lost something. Nancy Greene’s triumphant pose, in her youth and perfection so long ago -- arms aloft in the euphoria of hard-won achievement, is a faded reminder of what it was all supposed to be about.
Into that innocent era rushed media, money, and power.
The vast majority of athletes, even Olympians, toil in obscurity throughout their sports careers. No televised draft ceremony, sponsorship deal, or six-figure signing bonus awaits them. Most struggle financially, if they aren’t utterly and completely broke.
In spirit and temperament, they share so much with artists. Almost none will ever be ushered into the inner sanctums of a Matt Lauer interview or a Sports Illustrated private party. If they do manage to enter, sans the imprimatur of celebrity--the only real currency of our age--no one will know who they are. Self-important young media executives will push past them in a rush to meet the conquering gods.
Even gold medalists in little known sports won’t be recognized on the streets without their medals.
What nobodies.
And yet.
VANOC is only the organizer of one Olympic Games.  There are excellent people within it, including members of the arts community.  They too have been placed by circumstance and pressure in extraordinarily difficult positions.  But their decisions cannot take from our best and our brightest the irresistible beauty and power of their own innocence. 
The Nancy Greenes are still here.  They will always be here.  By the hour, our city is filling with them; athletes, artists, and ordinary Canadians young and old--most of whom are far too insignificant to share a room, or even a stage, with Jacques Rogge.  
Regardless of the tone and disposition of the organizing committee, this is our tribe.   These are our people.  They are our competitors, artists and audience.  No matter how much media and cynicism washes over us, we do still believe in them, and in ourselves.  We’re Canadian, after all.  Maybe that’s why this hurts so damn much. 
Brad Cran has admirably declined to participate on the basis of vitally important principles.  His decision to publish, for us all to see, the extraordinary and apparently unprecedented contractual terms required by VANOC, is to be applauded.   
Yet something else must be said.  The artists who DO take this opportunity to participate, perform and celebrate with the people of BC and Canada are as deserving of our pride and honour as are our athletes, whom we would never expect to withdraw from competition.  All artists, no matter their choice, have been faced with a sort of “prisoner’s dilemma” totally outside their control.  It is especially important, as we enter this tumultuous time, for our sector to resist positions which divide us, and to resolutely support all artists.  We should have confidence in our creative community’s ability to find its voice.  There are many times and ways to express dissent. 
One day very soon the Olympics will be over.  The last media crews will check their equipment at the airport, pass through security, and be gone.  The lights and cameras will turn somewhere else.  That’s what they do.  
We will still be here then, as will our elected representatives. 
Democracy is a funny thing.  So is the future. 
The curtain rises. 

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Sandra Garossino is the chair of the Alliance for Arts and Culture's advocacy taskforce.

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