I’m on day two at the Canadian Opera Summit, two days into my Interim General Director role, and I’ve failed already.
I promised to share photos on social media about all the good things we’re doing here.
But all I have is this pic. I text it to our General Director on leave, Robin, and we exchange heart emojis at the succinctness and all it says.
This is the pinhead of Our Current Moment. Any other picture pales.
At the welcoming reception, Joel and I spot each other and pull in for a hug. We’re both reeling at the loss of arts titan Norman Armour, and having a hard time putting it into words. I remember the rigour of his thinking in PuSh Industry conversations. The beauty he brought to the arts sector. What it takes to be the disruptor. I tell Joel: “there is no Norman 2.0. There is no Joel 2.0. We evolve legacies, we don’t replace.”
Day 2, there are talks of generational shifts in values. Detailed data is a clear mirror. Our challenges: declining box office sales, art that doesn’t equitably reflect our world. Our opportunities: building pipelines for BIPOC artists and women in leadership roles. I see small organizations taking up the mantle as Change Agents. Between slides, I think of the phrase The Young Are At the Gates. I see the ones in the room. I know some are still storming. Others are seen but not heard. I watch for Why. I connect dots, spot potholes, and find liferafts.
In the midst of all this, more hard change. My family loses one of our own titans. I tuck out of a session to clear my head and find a familiar haven (vintage shops). Somehow, he’s here. I smell farm machinery fuel, buried deep in coveralls that defied my grandma’s washing, wafting from these shirts. Later, we’re given a tour of the Human Rights Museum and I fixate on Ukraine’s Holodomor genocide. I remember the tenacity of my ancestors and the thrill it gives our elders to see their legacy living through our joy.
I am grain seeds.
In breakout tables and over coffee breaks, small packs of us chatter about the pressure of This Moment. We are in the post emergency phase of a years-long pandemic, enduring inflation, political divisiveness, and a sense of helplessness in multiple global humanitarian crises.
I hold the complex feeling of missing art as a party while asking myself, What is the purpose of Art in all This? I sense weary spirits but hopeful hearts of our ever-changing role(s) in moving This to That. I clock clear-headed steps that are both bare bones and revolutionary: Care and Connection.
In sessions with David Devan, he surveys us to gauge priorities in our organizations:
How are we feeling? How do we move forward?
He picks up on a guarded tone in the room. Talk of Fixing the Sector feels insurmountable. We move, instead, to the Self. Things open up. We are asked to identify (to ourselves or our groups) what we’ll Start, Stop, and Continue to better serve the work we do. My table discloses our individual specifics. We let each other in on Our Work. Like usual, it bonds. We are invited to identify accomplices in our efforts.
I wash the day off my face and look back at my notes:
Stop reacting to anxiety (don’t let it run the room).
Start shaping the bones of What Now — for feedback, moving fwd, and finding our New Person.
Continue being a brave disrupter.
At the bottom of my scribbles, an added note in response to a colleague who gently offers that this work takes time: Have patience for the journey.
These are my promises to you, in the time I have with you.