Despite spending four years in London, many students never leave the Western bubble to explore the city around them. They never get a taste of the city's thriving arts community.
The Oct. 4 panel, Arts Trailblazers, featured Emma Donoghue, award-winning author of the book Room; Andrew Chung, general manager of the London Symphonia; Andrea Halwa, executive director of the London Arts Council; and Kathy Navackas, executive producer of the London Fringe Theatre Festival.
“I want to ask people how much traveling they’ve done because when they speak with such conviction, ‘my city is not great.’ I want to say, ‘compared to what?’” said Halwa.
London’s reputation was touched upon more than once during the hour-long discussion, as well as various ways in which the four hoped the artistic community could continue to grow across the board.
Navackas notes that her theatre festival frequently has to apologize to potential volunteers and candidates applying from "Big London" (in the U.K.)
Diversity was one of the key aspects the city was seen as lacking. All panelists agreed the city could benefit from an increased range of different artistic voices.
“One of the reasons Toronto seems a lot cooler than London is that it is so obviously multicultural in what’s available,” Donoghue says. “I know London has huge pockets of immigrants, and we should be showing that wealth of international population.”
Navackas points to the crowd. “Looking around the room, it’s fairly homogeneous, and that’s a huge problem.”
On a more abstract level, Chung pointed to the fostering of connections between different artists in the city as another way to improve.
“I’m more interested in breaking down these silos between [artistic groups] and saying how can we collaborate with another community?” Chung says.
All four panelists agreed that the responsibility for change rests on everyone involved in the community, from the artists themselves to the organizers and the audience.
“I think Western students don’t always go to the downtown events. They can feel a bit cut off,” Donoghue says. "I think they need to explore what’s really going on in this city before they write it off and go on the 401.”
The next panel discussion at the Grand Theatre takes place on Jan. 11. It will focus on the notion of creating new plays, locally and nationally.