It is quiet with an air of excitement as This Writer walks down to the Old Bank on Wellington Street to the first ever infringement World Festival Conference.
The Old bank is an fantastical antique and inviting space with wooden pillars, a dome ceiling, huge key windows and wooden floors. This presentation is the
grassroots politics behind the infringement Festival Montreal. The day begins with coffee and baked goods, the entire event is catered, a warm Socialist hug.
The program begins with Kasai Dear, a much travelled Poet/Activist from New York, who has lived in Austria for 5 years and then Germany for 1 year. He discusses how Totalitarian Capitalism controls the spaces we think in and the arts. “Our generation wants to be free, Our generation thinks everything should be free, Our generation thinks we should share everything.” In a Totalitarian Capitalist society there is no space not to be Totalitarian Capitalist. Art galleries/ concerts/events/Artists backed by corporate sponsorship can be coerced into realms of the undertoad or they forfeit their financing. Kasai Dear: “The Weimar Republic was not just racial genocide, it was cultural genocide.” By attacking or censoring the artists, they were censoring the conscience and the Spirit of the people. In the Middle Ages Artists were supported by the Catholic Church or by Wealthy Patrons, both had agendas, the Artist was coerced to give the Patron what they wanted to see. In Communism, “you couldn’t have a political program without a cultural program”. A note from This Writer: Social Realism was a form of art that emphasized the positive, and disallowed the truth of things that were not positive or in support of the new statehold regime. The Russian Revolution inspired jazz music. (The world has been compartmentalized, single people units (28% of people live alone in Canada) buy items individually, which feeds the capitalist marketplace - a note from This Writer). To get out of the aloneness of this system Kasai Dear says “infringe everyday”, talk to your neighbours where you are living, talk to people you know in town, people over the Internet. Corporate sponsorship does not necessarily have to have strings attached, in which case it is not a bad thing.
“What the Fr*nge!” was next by Donovan King. He invited us to yell out "What the Fr*nge!" whenever inspired throughout his talk, an invitation to fun. This is Donovan’s experience with The Fringe Festival in and since 2001. “Car Stories” was running at The Fr*nge Festival Montreal, there was an argument with a theater critic from The Montreal Gazette (also a corporate sponsor of The Fr*nge) who wanted free tickets to see the show. There was an entendu with the ticket seller. She said she would not Review any of The Fr*nge Shows until the cast and crew of “Car Stories” were kicked out. So Donovan and “Car Stories” cast were excluded from the Festival and not given their receipts nor given a refund of their entry fee monies. They put the entire incident into sendup, as if an art installation, in a letter written to the Editor. Donovan then created “The infringement Festival” in the fashion of the original “Fringe Festival” from Edinburgh in 1947, also a response to exclusionist treatment of artists. Democracy in action, anyone can participate, there are no entry fees, and the artists are the volunteer administrators of their acts and sometimes the hat is passed at the end of a performance. With The Fringe there is an entry fee of about $607 to play which the Artist may or may not get back in a percentage of ticket sales. The artist gets a listing in a program and advice. The 1% of administrators of The Fringe are paid salaries “while the actual artists are broke.” The corporatization of “The Fringe” artists festival, has included trademarking of the word “fringe”, "cross branding, cross marketing, censorship, favoritism, conflict of interest, betrayal of diversity and corporate interference."
There has been a running gag line with the Fr*nge Festival, which has seen the infringement Festival people “culture jamming” and putting the set to’s into art installation videos. We showed up at “The Fr*nge” for Donovan’s birthday and were denied entry into a public arts venue as the audience, there was much theater as the argument escalated and we drew lines on the sidewalk with chalk, which they sprayed off with water, and then Donovan called the police because the “Fr*nge Festival” was not operating to it’s public mandate, to allow the public in to see its shows. It was the classic “the accountant” (the door guy taking orders from the man) vs. “the artist” (good guy, super hero).
There have also been instances of exclusion of a disabled volunteer at the Edmonton Fr*nge, a complaint of sexual assault and a closing of a children’s Fr*nge Festival because of ads advertising alcohol around children (which is illegal).
In the audience were members of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, who asked questions and invited Donovan King to next year’s Edinburgh Fringe Society Congress.
Artists are important, exclusionist policies hurt the Artist’s Community and the Society, infighting wrecks the “l’esprit de vie” of the Community of Artists. The Arts protect justice and peace in the Community, get the word out, tell the stories of the people, a truth-telling, systems analysis, feed the economy, the creating of mythologies, a dream of how things could be better, invent new ideas, celebrate and heal the Artist and the Community. The infringement Festival Montreal is democracy in action. (Stay Tuned . . . )