Art is a crucial part of any conversation about sustainability. It inspires us to think about how we build bridges within our communities and how we will live together, sustainably and equitably. More than ever, the arts in the province – north and south, in big cities and small towns – are offering unique experiences that inspire their audiences to participate and take action.
Ontario is fortunate to have a world-class art scene that produces thought-provoking exhibitions, performances, and films. Across the province, in restored heritage sites and modern facilities alike, artists can be found sharing new ideas and concepts. Communities are developing ways to cultivate the arts and make them accessible and exciting. From municipal poet laureates, to an art bus in Thunder Bay, to the prevalence of music festivals, including Parry Sound’s acclaimed Festival of the Sound and the renowned Elora Singers in Wellington County, the arts brings both joy and community cohesion. My book of stories is full.
Our greatest potential
Ontario’s artists have long expressed deep connections to their environment and a strong sense of identity with place and culture. In recent years, the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario launched the Identity: Art Inspired by the Great Lakes, an exhibition featuring contemporary artworks that capture both the power and fragility of the remarkable waterway. For the travelling exhibition Awakening, curator Bruce Mau assembled provocative pieces from the Canada Council Art Bank that brought focus to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and encouraged people to think globally and act locally. He wrote, “the artworks… testify to the power of art to open our minds and hearts to our full responsibility and our greatest potential.”
Curators and artists are raising awareness as they question environmental, social, and political issues. The Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada presented the exhibition Anthropocene, a multidisciplinary initiative by photographer Edward Burtynsky and filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier. Their compelling series of photographic murals and innovative augmented reality installations reveals the scale and gravity of human impact on the planet. Their latest documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch delivered a powerful wakeup call to filmgoers as the sobering movie was released worldwide.
Empowerment and hope
The performing arts offer similar opportunities to probe such existential questions. Canadian Stage in Toronto presented The Watershed, documentary theatre that explores how we can balance between economic growth and environmental stewardship. The Stratford Festival premiered The Breathing Hole, a thought-provoking play set in the Arctic and supported by performing artists from Nunavut. The National Arts Centre in Ottawa launched the first national Indigenous theatre department in the world to showcase Indigenous talent and stories. Audiences in Ontario are seeking to expand their perspectives and understand universal issues. As artists across the province invite them to ponder words and images of protest and peril, they are also encouraging personal responses of empowerment and hope.
In my role as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, I have had the great privilege of celebrating, recognizing, and witnessing how artists impact and change the way we see the world. Indeed, the music room in the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite at Queen’s Park has inspired me to welcome artists of all kinds to the home of the Crown in Ontario. From hosting performances there like Tapestry Opera’s Oksana G, where beautiful original music and lyrics brought the pain of the victims of sex trafficking straight to the heart of each attendee, to a screening of the Canada C3 Expedition documentary, to a special performance of Downtown by Petula Clark in celebration of the eleventh Glenn Gould Prize.
I have found that Ontarians love and embrace art in all its forms. When society supports artists, we are all enriched. The arts and culture sector has become an important part of the economy, representing over $26 billion of our GDP and over 300,000 jobs in Ontario. To be sure, supporting our artists allows for more inclusive economic prosperity, particularly important to early-career artists who often struggle financially, and I have also seen first-hand how art enables social cohesion.
The stories carried by art encourage empathy, and the act of learning and sharing one another’s stories helps us to understand each other. It is no coincidence that Multicultural Day in 2017 at the Harbourfront Centre was celebrated through art exhibitions, including an interactive Beck Taxi, which invited the public to climb into the backseat of the iconic cab and hear a driver’s story.
Over the course of my own mandate, I have used art to encourage Ontarians to think about what environmental stewardship means to them. The art we have chosen to place on the walls of the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite provides a moment to pause and reflect on the nature of our fragile and precious democracy. We tell stories – your stories – and in doing so attempt to share widely and with pride the identity of our province.
It is at this apex, where art connects with the everyday, that we see its lasting power.Sustainability