Canada's Artistic Boom
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 Feb 1959, p. 199-211
Franca, Celia, Speaker
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Item Type
A growing interest in the arts as seen in the work of the Conference of the Arts. Local arts councils. The necessity to supply the country's demands for a rounded way of living. Details of Canadian achievement in the arts. Canadian initiatives in art, music, and theatre. Media coverage of the Canadian arts. The Canadian public accepting architecture as art. An explanation of the development of the arts in Canada in recent years. Canadian exhibitions abroad. Musical exports. Wayne and Shuster. The education of future artists. The combination of a gifted artist and an understanding patron. Co-operation between the professional artist and the man of affairs as the best augury for the future.
Date of Original
5 Feb 1959
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Full Text
An Address by CELIA FRANCA Artistic Director, National Ballet of Canada
Thursday, February 5, 1959
CHAIRMAN: The President, Lt.-Col. Bruce Legge.

LT.-COL LEGGE: John Dryden wrote this biting line on the famous Duke of Buckingham--'In squandering wealth was his peculiar art.' Now in Canada there used to be a school of thought which lamented that all money spent on Art was a squandering of wealth. However, times must have changed because today Miss Celia Franca is to give us some good news about `Canada's Artistic Boom'. Indeed, there are few people in this Dominion with a closer association with Canadian artistic success than Celia Franca whose faith founded the National Ballet Company of Canada and whose inspiring genius has sped the Company from triumph to triumph.

Before coming to Canada Miss Franca was regarded as one of the brilliant young talents of the flourishing ballet world of Britain. She had been a member of the creatively modern Ballet Rambert, the ballet mistress of the Metropolitan Ballet, and a star with the Sadler's Wells Ballet whom Ninette de Valois called the "greatest dramatic dancer the Wells ever had". With the National Ballet she brings great artistry to such roles as "Giselle" and as the sophisticated operatic star in "Offenbach in the Underworld". Miss Franca is also a noted choreographer who created new ballets for television on the B.B.C. and for the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet.

The lovely Miss Franca has been described by one learned critic as "part of the glowing history of ballet in England" and she has given the National Ballet Company of Canada such a fine artistic discipline and so inspired the Company with her own ideals that she has brought it to the highest level of international recognition. With a rich heritage of performance and background, Miss Franca is now able to stage in the repertoire of the National Ballet the great classics like "Swan Lake", "The Nutcracker" and "Les Sylphides".

Since the war Canada has received artistic enrichment from many countries, including Britain. When Dr. Tyrone Guthrie was persuading Sir Alec Guinness to act in the Stratford Festival, he wrote "You and I have a chance in this project to make an exceedingly conspicuous, and therefore potentially useful gesture in favour of Anglo-Canadian relationship". I am certain that neither Alec Guiness nor Celia Franca came to perform in Canada for reasons of international policy alone, but because they could give new artistic accomplishments to the already spectacular growth of the Canadian Theatre. Miss Franca has been acclaimed by the public which supports her productions at the box office, by the critics who have found her attainments notable, and by the B'Nai B'Rith who have honoured her as the `Woman of the Year' for 1958-59.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to present to The Empire Club of Canada the almost legendary ballet personage in whom we have such pride and pleasure, Miss Celia Franca who can speak with the unsurpassed authority of great achievements on "Canada's Artistic Boom".

MISS FRANCA: The picture of a talented artist starving in a garret must be familiar to us all. We have all heard the theory that great art can only be achieved by depriving the artist of all but the bare necessities of life so that his attention will not be distracted from the "creative process". Most artists disagree with this theory and believe that certain great composers and painters of the past pulled through despite appalling circumstances and not because of them. It is refreshing to note that Canadians have decided to take art out of the garret and to accord the artist not only adequate means but also dignity and recognition of the kind, for instance, as your invitation to me to speak to you today.

An indication of the growing interest in the arts is seen in the work of the Conference of the Arts which is made up of organizations and individuals from across Canada working in many different fields towards the common end of improving the quality of art produced and developing public understanding of the artist and his problems. Under the leadership of the Conference, local arts councils are springing up in many cities. These councils provide the interested citizen with a way in which he may give effect to his interest. There are also thousands of people working steadily to further their favourite art form through symphony committees, art gallery committees, opera committees, ballet guilds nd a host of similar organizations across the country.

All of this activity, of course, springs from the necessity to supply the country's demands for a rounded way of living. This young country has already established itself materially and now has more free time to spend on widening its interests through art media. In backing up this interest Canadian achievement is remarkable.

In the art of painting we have an exciting tradition. The work of the Group of Seven almost forty years ago has been described as the first distinctively Canadian movement. Their controversial work was largely concerned with the expression of the Canadian landscape. The interesting thing to me is that Canadian painting did not stop at this expression of nationalism but continued to develop. In recent years, more and more of our painters have been going abroad to study and paint and have returned to Canada, bringing with them fresh ideas and a keen awareness of the international world of art. The development of abstract painting, to use one example, has been enriched by experience gained elsewhere, yet our artists have not become mere slavish imitators of an international school. After studying and absorbing the methods and styles of art abroad they are unselfconsciously achieving an individual indigenous style.

The number of artists at work and the vigour and variety of their painting is amazing: many of the names have become almost household words--Alfred Pellan, Alex Colville, Jack Nichols, Ghitta Caiserman ... the list could go on for the rest of my time. The people of Canada evidently are tremendously interested. There are over 125 museums and art galleries in Canada which draw an annual attendance of something over three million and these institutions receive and spend more than two million dollars each year. In the last few years, many new galleries have sprung upa new building in Hamilton; a gallery in Jordan, Ontario; in Fredericton, New Brunswick; in Regina and Victoria, to mention a few. But more impressive to my way of thinking is the sale of paintings. More Canadians are buying pictures than ever before. The Toronto Gallery at its annual sales now reports three times as many paintings being sold as there were when these sales started twelve years ago and at higher prices. In some of our new housing developments it is becoming increasingly common for pictures to be sold together with the houses.

All this activity expresses a healthy relation between the artist and his public and, while we often hear that the artist cannot exist without customers. The private customers from the general public are the final arbiters. Besides, we must remember that art is a way of communication and few artists enjoy talking to themselves--in fact, we thrive on appreciation.

The initiative which Canadians display in matters of art is worth noting. Although the Government of Canada could not find the funds to purchase certain paintings recently requested by The National Gallery, I am glad to see that the Toronto Gallery suffers from no such limitations. Undeterred by the fact that they have no money the directors have arranged to buy a magnificent painting by Tinteretto on the instalment plan. It comes to the Toronto Gallery with the provision that if it is to stay here, the public who wish to see it will have to subscribe the value of one hundred thousand dollars. I have no doubt that the people of Toronto will respond to the challenge and that the community will be richer by one important picture because of the daring of imaginative Canadian art lovers.

In music, too, we have seen stirring development in recent years. Prior to 1947 there was never given in Canada a concert of works composed by Canadians. Since then there has been at least one each year. Symphony orchestras in Montreal, Vancouver and Saskatoon have all commissioned recent Canadian scores. In Winnipeg this year, the orchestra will play six Canadian works in ten concerts--a very refreshing record of the coming of age of our native composers, and the C.B.C. (which had formerly commissioned works only for special occasions such as a Royal visit) now has a policy of ordering as a matter of course and has commissioned six new works for the simple purpose of providing good music.

The development of the Canadian League of Composers and the establishment in the last few months of the Canadian Music Centre which will be a central library and information service on Canadian scores, marks a tremendous step forward. Like Canadian painting, our music shows the current influences of the United States and Europe. In short, our composers are working towards an international standard of excellence and again are achieving an expression of their own. Our interpretive musical artists--Jon Vickers, Lois Marshall, Glenn Gould and many others--have scored enormous successes in Europe and Russia. These people are Canadian exports of the finest quality. Amongst our exports is, of course, our own National Ballet. We, too, are happy to have received the approval of critics and audiences throughout the U.S.A. and in Mexico, and we are proud to be interpreting Canada abroad to people who have long regarded this country as the place where you get rich quickly by purchasing shares in a gold mine at a penny each.

Perhaps the vigorous development of the creative arts in Canada is most obvious in the theatre.

In the last ten years there has grown up a theatrical community in Canada which has challenged the imagination and earned the respect of people across the country. A few years ago, the only professional theatre which Canadians could see came from New York or London. How different the situation is now. In Montreal, Gratien Gelinas, in his own theatre, the Comedie Canadienne, is producing works for a full Fall, Winter and Spring season. The Theatre du Nouveau Monde performs steadily through a full season, giving unsurpassed performances of Moliere and bringing Canadians the work of their own playwrights, such as Marcel Dube.

In Stratford, Ontario, the Festival has become a major industry. Shakespeare's plays are presented in a new dimension on an ingeniously designed stage. Here, too, the productions reach a high international standard, yet achieve a distinction of performance which has almost become a trademark. In fact, one might guess that the disappointment which the Canadian public sensed in the recent performance of the Old Vic Company could be attributed to the more virile style of acting and presentation to which we have become acclimatized through our visits to Stratford, Ontario. In Toronto, the Crest Theatre continues year after year to give us highly entertaining repertory theatre. The Opera Festival Association presents an annual Opera Season, and fresh musicals and revue such as Spring Thaw and Clap Hands pop up frequently. On the other side of the continent the Vancouver Festival has struck a high standard of excellence with its opera, music and theatre and after one season it seems clear that this daring adventure will be firmly established. This past year, The National Ballet appeared in eight provinces taking ballet of an international standard to people in our larger cities, on the stages of our major theatres. The Company has also performed in smaller centres such as Trail, British Columbia, and Edmundston, New Brunswick, playing in hockey arenas and school houses. Everywhere we met the same response--a vigorous interest and a sincere delight to find Canadian entertainment of professional calibre which is a joy to behold.

It is satisfying to observe that, as public demand and interest grows, the press of Canada is increasing the amount of space devoted to theatre, music and the other arts. Good theatre coverage is now what is called a circulation builder.

But one of the progress--retarding elements in theatrical touring is the shortage of theatres, although even in the creation of buildings our architects are making progress. New auditoria in Edmonton and Calgary have, at a stroke, practically doubled the number of legitimate theatres in Canada. Vancouver will be next in the field with a new auditorium and Windsor and Toronto will follow close behind. (Our ballet, for instance, will next year perform several days in the new Windsor Auditorium instead of the usual performance on a stage the size of a postage stamp.) In Montreal, too, plans are under way for the construction of an ambitious concert hall-cum-opera house.

It now seems possible that we shall within the foreseeable future have a chain of theatres across the country in which the work of our Canadian producers--and it is to be hoped that of foreign producers also--can be seen by all of the people, not just those living in the densely populated areas of Ontario and Quebec. Needless to say, the quality of performances will improve under the vastly superior facilities we hope these new buildings will provide.

It is so exciting, while on the subject of architecture, to watch new buildings taking shape--buildings such as the British Columbia Electric offices in Vancouver and the Imperial Oil Building in Toronto. How satisfying that the Canadian public now accepts our fine architects as artists in their own right. No longer is an architect thought of as simply a master carpenter. These days even governments are prepared to give the architect a chance--witness the design competition for a new city hall of Toronto; and I would think that the controversy created by the result of this competition was clear evidence of the public interest and its desire for the best that can be found.

It is perhaps a platitude to say that we see ourselves in the eyes of others, yet I venture to advance this old saw as an important part of the explanation of the development of the arts in Canada in recent years. Canadians have been trying to achieve a standard of work which would meet the cold criticism of the international world. Narrow nationalism was not good enough for either artist or public. We have taken our best work abroad where it has been pronounced excellent and this assurance has given confidence to the Canadians at home.

Canadian painting first came to European attention in 1925 with an exhibition at Wembley but of recent years Canadian exhibitions abroad have increased remarkably. The first appearance of our painters at the Venice Biennale was in 1952 and we have been represented there regularly ever since. In 1956 the National Gallery at the request of the Smithsonian Institute organized a comprehensive show of abstract painting for circulation in the United States. In 1955 the Musee de l'Art Moderne honoured Alfred Pellan in a retrospective exhibition, and painters such as Riopelle, Borduas and Roloff Beny are as well known in Europe as they are in Canada.

I have already touched on our musical exports but I must say how proud I am to include in the National Ballet's repertoire two scores written by composer Harry Somers.

His ballets "Fisherman and His Soul" and "Ballad" are most successful abroad and when local impressarios ask me to present these ballets again they find my smugness positively sickening. This young composer, incidentally, has received a commission and award from the Koussevitsky Foundation. He will also be the first Canadian to have a composition played by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra which will this spring perform his Passacaglia and Fugue.

Two famous names in Canadian theatre are Wayne and Shuster who could hardly find a sponsor a short time ago. It is ironic to note that since their success on the Ed Sullivan Show they now have sponsors bidding against each other for the privilege of presenting them on the C.B.C.

We all know that the American public beats a steady procession along highways leading to our Stratford Festival during the summer and the Theatre du Nouveau Monde has been hailed in Brussels and Paris as one of the most skillful companies of actors of our time.

We can agree then that the arts in Canada are showing vigorous works and are receiving a large measure of popular support. The future then would seem assured. The voice of prophecy, however, must urge caution. According to the report of the Gordon Commission on Economic Affairs, Canadians are getting more numerous so that by the 1980's we will have a population of over twenty-five million who, lucky people, will work shorter hours than we do now. There will be more people with more money and more leisure time. Will we be able to meet the inevitably bigger demand for an increasingly lively programme in the arts, or will we only be capable of providing a formula made up of nine-tenths import of second rate foreign material?

Our progress has been so rapid--our achievements attained so quickly, that we are now in danger of burning ourselves out. In the mad struggle for success we of the entertainment arts at least have been unable to devote enough time to the education of future artists. Already, there is a deficiency of skilled musicians and dancers. The public will no longer tolerate the technically weak and artistically naive. We would be secure enough were there a short cut to artistic excellence, but unfortunately it takes many years of arduous training before the talented youngster can reach professional standard after which must follow the inevitable period of apprenticeship. Only very gradually and very seldom does the true artist emerge. How much success have we had in the training of teachers? In my own field I must admit that from the student-teachers who have studied at the National Ballet Summer School over the past eight years I could select no more than five per cent who are capable of training a dancer from the beginning stages through to professional standard. Canada is lacking in professional schools of the arts. To guarantee a supply of high calibre ballet artists we must establish a permanent residential academy which will provide general school curriculum together with lessons in ballet and other subjects pertaining to ballet theatre. Many people even in our own profession do not realize that the education of a ballet dancer should include such subjects as elementary anatomy, comprehensive musical training, concentrated geometry to facilitate a sense of pattern, an advanced knowledge of literature from which ideas for scenarios can be drawn and so on. Certainly our ballet company today possesses some fine artists and I am very proud of them, but it is our duty to provide the next generation with the finest educational opportunities. In my opinion, the establishment of such a school is of paramount importance and must be accomplished as soon as funds are forthcoming. Even when we train students under these ideal conditions, only a small percentage is likely to make the grade if one can judge from results obtained in older countries where these schools have existed for years. So there is no time to be lost.

Speaking of theatrical arts in general, schools for stage managers, designers, carpenters, electricians and painters are required. These people need specialized training. The designer must be made not only to be aware of the limitations involved in designing scenery for ballet, opera or drama, but how also to take advantage of these limitations. A stage director must be taught that in planning a lighting plot for ballet, the dancer must at all times be clearly visible because the dancer's way of communication is through facial expression and body movement only. In legitimate theatre, the actor's body communication is aided by speech, therefore, more contrasted lighting effects may be used.

We must at the same time conduct a campaign to interest the public in the work which we artists are doing. It is not good enough to have symphony and ballet still popularly regarded as the preserve of the "long-hairs". Not that I am suggesting that we should label ourselves as "smooth" but it does seem to me a pity that a much larger sum of money is spent on advertising and promoting "rock and roll" than is spent on trying to interest young people in symphony. Their interest cannot be roused by conducting courses in the class room only, but they must be taken to the concert hall to hear the music.

We have found that students of any age are a wonderful audience for ballet.. Each year we are adding special matinees for students, and boards of education in Hamilton and London have decided that ballet is important enough in the education of their students to allow the children to leave school early to attend the theatre. In Toronto, the education authorities have become so interested that they have encouraged their staff in the schools to tell the students about performances and to help their students get tickets for these special matinees.

In any of the arts of which I am talking, we have to face one final bitter fact. They will not make a fortune for anyone. Certainly there is no possibility of the musician or the dancer becoming a wealthy parasite. Indeed, we have just barely brought these people down from the garret.

The development of these arts has been possible because public-spirited Canadian businessmen and women have been willing to undertake the responsibility of developing a healthy, artistic life for their countrymen. We now have the Canada Council which is a great help, but the Council cannot do more than supplement the work of the private supporters.

Wherever humans have achieved outstanding artistic accomplishment, we find that such accomplishment is the product of a combination, altogether too rare, of a gifted artist and an understanding patron. The successes in music and painting of the middle ages were a direct result of a combination of artist and church. In the renaissance, the arts flourished under the patronage of princes and erchants. In Canada the upsurge which we have witnessed in the past few years has resulted directly from the support of the business community for Canadian artists. Take any of the successful artistic endeavours you wish to name, whether it be an art gallery or a symphony, ballet or opera--you will find this combination--a group of businessmen who are prepared to accept the responsibility on behalf of the people and an artist who has the ability to create. At the risk of sounding parochial, I would like to cite the National Ballet as an outstanding example where a small group of men of affairs undertake the responsibility of financing one of the most expensive arts. The devotion and energy which these men have given and are giving makes me wonder where they find time to run their own businesses. There is no aspect of our work which does not receive the detailed scrutiny of highly skilled accountants, lawyers, bankers and men of business. The understanding of ballet which they have developed, added to the business skills which they represent have enabled us to produce a ballet company at an extraordinarily small cost. At the present time, about seventy-five per cent of our expenses are met by box-office receipts. The remainder must be found by way of financial support from citizens, private and corporate. Since it is not possible to operate a ballet company which will meet all of its expenses at the box office, this support is essential and the support which the National Ballet requires is small indeed when compared to that required by other similarly scaled companies. Perhaps a practical illustration will make clear what I mean when I speak about the devotion and intelligence displayed by our directors.

From the beginning they realized that if a theatrical organization was to be accepted in Canada, international recognition would first of all be essential. They understood that unless artists were consistently employed they could neither earn a living nor raise their standards. Therefore, as a Canadian tour alone could not provide a reasonable season of employment the directors decided that the ballet must needs be exported and with this in mind they set out to sell their product in the United States which was the closest foreign market. On the early appearances in the United States the critics agreed that the National Ballet was a fine company but the American public, while readily admitting the Canadian wheat and oil resources, incredulously turned its back on the idea of Canadian ballet. Consequently, box office results were very disappointing and losses very high. The directors of the National Ballet thought over carefully the problem of merchandising their product and decided that if the losses could be sustained by raising funds to cover them the Company could by continuous annual tours of the United States develop the audiences there. It is a tribute to their foresight that they found money to make those tours possible and that the market has, I'm pleased to report, responded almost exactly as predicted.

In the coming season, The National Ballet's fees in the United States will be the highest paid to any ballet company performing in that country, and while we are not making profits on our American tours, our losses in that country are now negligible by comparison with our losses in Canada, where we still have to face the present chronic condition of thinly populated towns and cities spaced too far apart.

So we see that it is the job of the professional to create the art and the job of the devoted amateur to give business advice, secure funds and help create the audience. The co-operation between the professional artist and the man of affairs is the best augury for the future.

I would also add that I can see no reason to be ashamed that the arts cannot pay their way on gate receipts. We do not ask that our universities, our libraries or our hospitals meet their expenses out of earnings. Surely it is also important that we have first rate music, painting and ballet. In the enjoyment of these arts we find ideas for the mind and refreshment for the spirit, which makes our country a more pleasant and interesting place in which to live.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. Harold Lawson, First Vice-President of the Club.

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Canada's Artistic Boom

A growing interest in the arts as seen in the work of the Conference of the Arts. Local arts councils. The necessity to supply the country's demands for a rounded way of living. Details of Canadian achievement in the arts. Canadian initiatives in art, music, and theatre. Media coverage of the Canadian arts. The Canadian public accepting architecture as art. An explanation of the development of the arts in Canada in recent years. Canadian exhibitions abroad. Musical exports. Wayne and Shuster. The education of future artists. The combination of a gifted artist and an understanding patron. Co-operation between the professional artist and the man of affairs as the best augury for the future.