Keirartworks's Blog

hmmm. hmmm? Observations, actions and connection points through art.

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Bill Reid, Through and In

My phone is in Kingston, 200 km of driving sleet and transport trucks ago.

I travel through this with my daughter from my aunt to my niece. There’s a rightness to the timing.

Bill Reid's Orca

Bill Reid’s Orca

In the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau I find a plug upstairs after the cafe closes.  There’s a bench with cushions so I cross my legs and balance the laptop as I would find centre and lift my paddle in a canoe. Then I write, staring at horizon.

There’s a curve in the tail of Bill Reid’s Orca that keeps him suspended in the air, impossible and alive.

My paddle-calloused fingers type,

I intend…

2001- a painting from a show called Sea Hear, in which I tried once again to paint music

a photo of  ‘Play’ from a 2001 show Sea Hear, in which I tried with all my heart to paint music. My daughter, at 5, chose all the imagery for this one, especially the orcas.

Weightless I am, suspended in the air like this massive hunter whale.  Out of my element, on purpose:  I intend.

I am above the Ottawa River which looks drugged into surrender by the ritual, annual, comforting January cold, across from the Parliament buildings where Justin son of Pierre sits with renewed and informed vigour as our head of state.

They built the beautiful, flower-shaped, buttressed library on the river side, away from the possibility of attack.  Those Statesmen, their advisors, their Wives.  Some of them in came and chose and made it so in ways I can respect.

Bell1, 2015, 20" x 24", mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.

Bell1, 2015, 20″ x 24″, mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.

I think about my Scots ancestors who fled here two generations & eight generations ago to look for a horizon they could aim for, for once.  I think about now and La Loche and four people dead like lightning, like an arrow to what we need to see and be accountable for.  I think about Idle No More, about Truth and Reconciliation.

I can barely remember the last specific, technical idea I had about music or painting – these old old ideas are far stronger.

'Black'. 2014, 36x36, acrylic on dyed cotton.

‘Black’. 2014, 36×36, acrylic on dyed cotton.

I intend.

To take the next precious decade of my life to examine and build a good answer to these things I wonder and care about, more every day.

My thinking fingers have written this:

We are all a product of our own small community that overlaps in myriad ways with larger ones like the Internet, like a city, a collective, a field, an orchestra, a band, large or small.  I’ve come to believe over this small span of years that each is an ecosystem that thrives according to the strength of it’s connectedness.

I’ve found also that few connectors are stronger than the making of good music. As a painter who also writes and performs regularly as a vocalist/cellist…

…I have experienced this time and time again: visual art and writing connect us more deeply to ourselves but music connects us, through ourselves, to others. One might say that community music is like mycelium – a connective tissue that can convey a supportive ‘nutrient’ through the system to everyone who requires it….

photo by Robbin McGregor, bee-keeper

photo by Robbin McGregor, bee-keeper

The timing is right.  I will get my Master’s degree at Laurier, in Community Music.

Like the impossibly suspended whale, like a Rebel, I will pay for this with the proceeds from my paintings.  They will be on paper and canvas, in watercolour, ink and oil.  They will sing.


Find a door you like, one that calls change to you.  Then you go through and in.

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We can do this Here.

I highly recommend watching this TED interview with Sistema Founder Jose Abreu,   and then watch this video of Sistema Youth Orchestra performing in Caracas under sistema graduate Gustavo Dudamel (now conductor of the LA Philharmonic, and two other leading orchestras on two other continents)

I happy-cry every time I see this.

The following text is taken from the Sistema Toronto webpage, which you can get to here.

Sistema Roots

Throughout Venezuela, a quarter of a million children annually are studying classical music; a radical social project where children, living in unthinkable circumstances, are succeeding with the help of skills learned through music.

El Sistema, born over 30 years ago and with 11 original participants, is funded by private sponsors and government and offers free music classes to any child regardless of their ability to pay.  It also provides the instruments.  Not only a flagship of national achievement, it is producing transformative social change, artistic excellence, and producing and exporting musicians of extraordinary quality.

It is based on the premise that it is not just the lack of a roof or of bread, or literacy skills that holds kids back, it’s also a spiritual lack – a loneliness, a lack of recognition and of achievement.  It is based on the belief that children are born into the world as assets – not liabilities, and that poor people deserve to see beauty.

The Venezuela project has demonstrated children can acquire spiritual wealth through music.  They have shown that art is not the property of the elite, but the heritage of the people – and is within the grasp of every citizen.  They have shown that great art is for everyone and that it has the power to improve the lives of citizens as well as transform and enhance society.

Venezuela has verified the possibility of transformative social change through music.

For poor, the at-risk, disadvantaged children, music is the way to a dignified social destiny. Poverty means loneliness, sadness, anonymity. An orchestra means joy, motivation, teamwork, and the aspiration to success. It starts with children, it is possible, it is deserved, it is incredibly fun – and it changes the future for children.

The El Sistemaprogram

  • Children are given an instrument as soon as they can hold it;
  • Tuition, outings, and music are furnished free of charge in return for the child’s agreement to play in one of the sistema’s ensembles;
  • Orchestral playing is a part of the program from the beginning;
  • Lessons are in groups;
  • Children who have mastered a scale or two are delegated to teach younger children; peer support is fundamental;
  • Practice is supervised;
  • Six days a week, four hours a day, the children play together

The El Sistemaspirit

  • Music is taught as play rather than a chore;
  • The objective is discipline, respect, and achievement through work;
  • The goal is excellence: the point is not to be the best, but to be the best you can;
  • Everything is communal, everything is about the team; the culture is one of mutual support.

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Enemy lines

The struggle for six hours daily to make fingers move at lightning speed, and in the balance of the day to re-shape one’s mind into a vast reservoir of history, style and technique, impress the right teachers and build the pedigrees that could make all the difference in earning potential  – this felt, to my 17-year-old mind, like a serious distortion of what I knew and loved about music.  Six hours of practise daily – good exercise, but no balance with laughter.  There was nothing playful about it.

I never found a mentor there, or perhaps I wasn’t open to the possibility after receiving a damningly dismissive letter from my Conservatory teacher just months before.  The world of music study felt cold and hard.

So I put my cello away for a decade and pursued fine art – York University in the ’80’s, Sheridan College in the ’90’s, many joint and solo exhibitions since.   With apologies, because I’m just beginning the process of overhauling this old website, here’s some of my work @

At the time I believed that music and art were two different things.  Silly me.  Eventually I figured it out, got my cello & vocal chops back and have included music and performance in every art show I’ve done since.

Here we come to my point – ANY artistic discipline is equal parts cold, hard and terrifying, and deeply, soul-quenchingly rewarding.  There’s no way around it, if you’re serious about the job of being an artist.  We serve our communities by tackling the toughest questions and finding (hopefully pro-active) means and ways to offer solutions, generate discussion, make precise, accessible statements that have universal resonance.  It’s an incredibly difficult job to do well.

Ask any serious artist about obstacles – constant lack of time or money is the obvious one, though I’m  frankly sick of the the ‘starving artist’ stereotype – so often this comes from an overblown sense of entitlement.  In some few cases artist poverty happens for legitimate reasons rooted in abuse and mental illness, but such is the case in any profession.  Being a professional artist in this culture includes the hard work of attending to self-promotion, maintaining multiple streams of income, and making sure you respect yourself enough to cover your needs.

A conductor friend of mine once told me that he spends only 3% of his time on his craft.  The remaining 97% he spends building and maintaining the continued possibility for good work.  Most young artists don’t understand this  – it’s where we mostly fail.

However, I find that the difficulty of mastering those things pales when I’m finally alone in a studio, developing a piece, a show, a concept, and building the images that will describe what I’m trying to communicate.  It takes a strong stomach to face down the inner demons who will tell you:  Nobody will get it.   This is weak.  This has no relevance whatsoever to what’s happening out there.  You can’t see.  You can’t draw.  This work has no function, no meaning.  You’d be better off mowing the lawn.

The enemy lines.

I have been at it long enough to know that if I don’t feed them, the demons will fade away.  If they’re stubborn, I pick up my cello and dissolve them with music.

Happy art-making, everyone.  Stick it out, and make it good.



Lighten Up. or, Where I’ve been these past six months

Oh how I’ve missed writing here – it feels very good to be back.  I’ve been gone from this blog for some time now, entirely absorbed in a job that I chose to expand into more than a job, once I understood the value of the Festival that sponsored said job.  It has been, I believe, worth it.

I hardly knew anything about the Festival itself.  Turns out this wacky, huge and varied collection of 300+ light displays is the biggest Community-based winter thing happening in Grey-Bruce-Simcoe Counties (second only to dear old Wiarton Willie), and brings in over $1 million to Owen Sound & its environs every year.  Although this may sound like ‘tourism talk’, it’s nothing to sneer at in these economic times, regardless of how you might feel about the display design, hydro usage; dollars spent on lights, supplies (and my salary); the enormous amount of effort.  Owen Sound has lost several large employers this past year – retailers and service industry folk Need this kind of positive injection more than ever – increased consumer spending, more protection of wages for employees, more ‘bums in [theatre, restaurant, concert & taxi] seats’.  Valuable.

Pedestrian-only Downtown on 8th street & 1st West Nov 18th

The festival is 24 years old this year.  So every display, every lightbulb has been checked & repaired for 24 years, new displays built locally and adopted into the mishmash of ideas and styles and interpretations of ‘seasonal’ and ‘lights’ that adorns the City’s riverbanks and park.  All of this maintenance has been (for 24 years) facilitated by a core group of volunteers and a couple of City Parks staff members, who by now can be called expert in anything related to rope lighting, making the most out of an electrical feed, hanging and maintaining lights in giant deciduous or coniferous trees (there’s a big difference), and arranging, re and re-arranging displays every year in and over the geography that is Owen Sound.

Movers and shakers join the organization on the board level and pour in their energy because they’re drawn to the gentle but massive impact of Opening Night, or moved by their children’s (or their own) sense of wonder on a snow-filled, peaceful evening in December. Others join because they see the real economic value for the area, and the potential for supporting a sustainable vision for its growth.  They inject energy, attract new faces who eventually step in to take over – somehow, there are always excellent people ready and willing to step in and build, or re-build the vision.  What’s really happening here, I think, is that we’ve decided, as a community, that we MUST throw a big party & light up the darkest nights of the year.

sorry the people are blurry - these are the fireworks just before the lights are lit @ 7pm

As an effective, powerful community cultural festival it’s quite impossible to resist when you learn the stories, understand its impact, and see its real potential.  So, these past six months at least I’ve been writing reports to the board, writing letters to sponsors, writing emails, promotional blurbs, award applications and grant applications, writing to do lists instead of writing this blog (a little bit like giving up vegetables in one’s diet – a dumb idea if done for too long).

I’m not done yet either, but I believe Festival is now going to get through a transitional tunnel (city-run to independent NFP Corporation), so I can at least balance my output a little more, and stretch back into my happy places – writing, painting, singing, cello-ing.

I’ll be here again soon – there’s quite alot of music to write about, among other things.  But I’ll leave you with this image:

I believe James Masters took this one. I really love it.