Has Calgary's Arts and Entertainment Community Sold Out?

Here is an excerpt from a letter that appears in this week's Fast Forward magazine, Calgary's local news and entertainment weekly :

I love the fact that Calgary seems to have a newspaper that leans a little left of centre.  I was shocked, however, that you would run the insulting advertisement created by the Calgary Downtown Association entitled "Your generosity is killing me."

Shame on you.  These images only perpetuate the myth that all homeless folks are addicts.  This is not the truth - some are, some aren't.

I have spent 25 years working alongside the homeless community and here in fat-cat Calgary, over half of those staying at shelter warehouses have full-time jobs.  We have no rooming houses with a door and key so the working poor don't have to suffer the indignity of being called homeless.  Many wonder, "Do I use my meager paycheck to eat or pay the rent?"

Sellout I echo this reader's sentiments.  I am shocked, offended, and disheartened every time I come upon a CDA ad while browsing through Fast Forward magazine. I just don't get it.

Apart from Fast Forward itself, I cannot believe that none of the venues and artists featured in the magazine take issue with the ads of the CDA. This is particularly puzzling since most of these venues and artists pride themselves on being oh-so-edgy. 

Do we even have a counter culture in Calgary?  Or, has Calgary's entire arts and entertainment community sold out?

I encourage those of you in Calgary to look at the list (provided below) of arts and entertainment groups affiliated with the Calgary Downtown Association.  If an organization you like and support appears on the list, I would suggest writing or emailing them to ask that they reconsider their affiliation with the CDA in light of its unfair and damaging campaign against low-income Calgarians.  Likewise, consider asking venues, artists, bands, etc. that are featured in Fast Forward to voice concern over the CDA ads.


Shame on FFWD for running addict ads via FFWD online
A list of arts and entertainment groups affiliated with the CDA
A thorough definition of the term 'selling out' from wikipedia for those who need reminding

More Generousity, More Killing

The latest advertisement from the Calgary Downtown Association:Cda_blame_victims_needle_9

It occurred to me today that one of the aspects that I find most offensive about this ad is its use of the first person: "Your generosity is killing me". The Calgary Downtown Association claims to speak for the panhandlers. Of course, the true voices of panhandlers and low-income Calgarians are not heard; they are further marginalized and distorted by the mainstream corporate discourse.

Calgary: Home of Two-Tier Alcoholism

A recent article, by the CBC, is titled: Calgary, A New Destination for Luxury Items.  The article reads as follows:

Alberta's booming oil economy has resulted in a new crop of high-end retail stores in Calgary, making the city a new destination for luxury shopping.

Retail sales have been growing faster in Calgary than in the rest of the country for more than a decade. The sustained growth in jobs has created a new wealthy class in the city who are spending more on luxury goods.

The new stores have attracted consumers from afar.

" I have the largest scotch [whisky] selection in North America," said David Michiels of Willow Park Liquor. "You want the most unique [bottle], I can get that for you."

Some of Michiels stock, which is being ordered by customers from as far away as Vancouver and Toronto, sell for as much as $20,000 a bottle. "People are drinking less, but their drinking better," he said.

Cda_blame_victims_bottle_6Interestingly, the article ends with comments from Richard White, president of the Calgary Downtown Association:

Richard White of the Calgary Downtown Association agrees: "There's definitely a trend towards quality as opposed to just quantity."

White says Calgary has surpassed many of the world's major cities in offering a broad range of luxury products.

Perhaps, the Calgary Downtown Association should amend its new ads against panhandlers to read 'quality not quantity'.

Of course, that depends what quantity one is referring to.  After all, $20,000 for a bottle of liquor is no small sum. 

If you ask me, Calgarians are drowning in their luxury, not their generosity.

We are steeped in consumption and greed, and it is killing our city's spirit.

Operation Panhandling Freedom

The Calgary Downtown Association (CDA) is launching its second phase in its war against panhandlers. 

Behold the new propaganda for Operation Panhandling Freedom:



Never forget, folks, generosity kills people, not poverty!!!

Below is an example of some ad busting I did to oppose the campaign last year:



I will be posting new ad busting examples, ideas and strategies soon.  In the meantime, I encourage people, especially Calgarians, to partake in a counter-campaign against the Calgary Downtown Association's victim-blaming strategy.  Let Calgary know that you believe in fighting poverty, not people.

Please send me any ad busting images and I will post them on this site.

For more information on the CDA's campaign, see Calgary Poverty Watch which includes earlier entries from this blog.

Two Can Play At That Game

Sometimes, things really piss me off,



and I have to let the anger out...



Anti-Poverty Group Challenges Calgary Downtown Association

The Calgary Downtown Association launched a campaign last month that unfairly targets the poor through print ads and the use of so-called "Street Teams".  For more information, please refer to Letter to the Editor in the October archive of this blog. (http://marginalnotes.typepad.com/pj/2005/10/letter_to_the_e.html)

Food Not Bombs Calgary is an anti-poverty, anti-war group active in Calgary, Canada.  They are holding a rally on November 22, 2005 to call on the Calgary Downtown Association to stop its campaign against the poor.

Cda_rally_4 For more information, view the poster for the rally, or visit the Food Not Bombs Calgary website.

Letter to the Editor

I was so outraged over the downtown association's campaign against panhandling, and the media's naive coverage of it, that I wrote a letter to the Calgary Herald.  My letter appeared in the paper yesterday, however my criticism of the Herald itself had been edited out.  Here is the original letter:

Target Poverty, Not People

Re: "Anti-Panhandling Campaign Begins", October 4, 2005
Dear Editor:

I do not believe that adequate attention is being given to the issues raised by The Calgary Downtown Association's new campaign against panhandlers.  As journalists, you are required to explore the underlying issues of the stories you report, yet Gerson's article reads as though she has simply taken from the Calgary Downtown Association's media release.  None of the key questions were asked: Who does the downtown association represent?  Whose interests does this campaign serve?  In what way does the campaign address issues of poverty?  What will the impact be on the panhandlers themselves?  How much did this campaign cost the Calgary Downtown Association?

The reality is that The Calgary Downtown Association represents businesses in Calgary, and not citizens.  This campaign is aimed to enhance the business milieu of downtown Calgary; it is not aimed at ameliorating conditions for panhandlers.  To be clear, I am not advocating for panhandling.  However, I am very worried about how the downtown association's campaign obscures the realities of poverty by reducing the issues to addiction.  Furthermore, I am concerned at how the campaign itself will impact the people living on the streets.  As you reported, the campaign involves having people, dressed as 'professionals', stand at intersections, holding signs asking for spare change to support their addictions.  To me, this is a hostile act against panhandlers.  It makes a mockery of poverty and dehumanizes the homeless.  Would we, the citizens of Calgary, ever allow such targeting of any other social group?

Finally, The Calgary Downtown Association asks Calgarians to contribute to organizations, rather than giving to panhandlers.  I would like to ask the Calgary Downtown Association: how much did this campaign cost and why was the money not used to develop real solutions to poverty?

The Calgary Downtown Association: Smells like Corporate Spirit

Cda_header_1 The Calgary Downtown Association launched its new campaign against panhandling earlier this week.

I myself am sick and tired of people describing themselves as "professionals" and acting like they're immune from life's problems.  The downtown professionals have addictions too...They just get drunk with their pals after work and then cab it home.  Their addictions are simply less visible.

Are we supposed to believe that addictions are the reason people are on the streets?  I wonder if the constant stigma facing the poor and the mentally ill has anything to do with it!

This type of "downtown" mentality is truly stupid and contagious.