Nourishing Toronto’s artistic communities is no easy task

All along his portion of Queen West, Philip Monk sees ghosts, wrote the Toronto Star April 22. They linger near the former derelict factory at John Street that became Citytv headquarters, or in the glossy, chain-brand storefronts between Duncan Street and Spadina Avenue – Zara, Aritzia, Urban Planet, to name but a few.

Monk, the director of the Art Gallery of York University, has been curator at the city’s biggest art institutions, such as the Power Plant and the Art Gallery of Ontario, since the mid-’80s. And the spectral presence that haunts him every time he ventures along this strip is of an art scene, long dead, moved, displaced and replaced by the hyperactive retail bustle of the street’s contemporary reality.

Downtown, at the city’s last stand, art waits with little hope. Monk laments the notion of an art scene untethered to place – again, and again, and again. "We’re running out of spaces – that’s the problem," he says. "If artists are struggling just to maintain what little they have on Queen Street, what is this language of the creative city and cultural renaissance really about?"

In the creative city, Monk says, no one should be anticipating new ghost stories to tell. "It’s a fight for the city, and it’s a fight for the money," Monk says, quoting a slogan emblazoned on the York University gallery’s own shopping bags. "That’s the problem with this blanket language of creativity: It sweeps conflicts under the carpet. Artists need a way to make it clear: ‘We are of value: You have to support us in some way.’" 

‘Cross-dressing professor’ Michael Gilbert profiled on CBC

Michael Gilbert, philosophy professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and a cross-dresser who sometimes teaches class dressed as a woman, was profiled on "CBC News: Sunday" on CBC-TV April 22. The 11-minute segment included scenes of Gilbert in his classroom at York, interviews with some of his students (one said Gilbert was a prof who had changed his perspective) and interviews with Gilbert that alternated between him dressed as a man and as a woman. Gilbert said he is heterosexual and that a variety of theories have been put forward about why some men like dressing as women at times. When he dresses as a woman, he observed, he becomes more feminine and notices things from a more female point of view. After the feature concluded, hosts Evan Solomon and Carole MacNeil engaged in an unscripted conversation about their own tendencies, amid nervous laughter, that some viewers took exception to, although Solomon himself said it showed that Gilbert had raised challenging issues. The feature and viewer comments are currently available at the CBC News: Sunday Web site.

Cyclists: Use your head and wear a helmet

Ontario‘s bike-helmet law, passed in 1995, ended up exempting riders over 18, after vigorous lobbying by bike activists, wrote Jeff Gray, alias Dr. Gridlock, in a column in The Globe and Mail April 23. But in a quiet move in December, the Ontario Legislature approved a non-binding motion from Kitchener Centre Liberal MPP John Millroy asking the government to make all cyclists in the province, regardless of age, strap on a helmet, or face penalties.

Alison Macpherson, a professor of kinesiology in York’s Faculty of Health who did her doctoral thesis on bike-helmet rules, thinks the law should force you to wear a helmet and insists that reputable science backs her up. In fact, she said, every single peer-reviewed scientific study of the effect of bike helmet laws in jurisdictions around the world shows a decrease in cycling head injuries. Over all, the risk of a head injury on a bicycle is 85 per cent lower if you are wearing a helmet, she said.

Deafening silence

For bird people, the disappearance of songbirds is THE issue, wrote Tom Spears in the Ottawa Citizen April 22. For anyone else – well, when was the last time the gang at the office talked this one over? Enter Bridget Stutchbury. Her credentials: Biology prof at York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, educated at Yale and the Smithsonian Institution, and has a high regard for "citizen science" such as the bird surveys done by tens of thousands of ordinary people.

Her strength is that she’s that rare bird, a scientist who can write for the rest of us. This is the great thing about scientists: Underneath all the stodgy verbiage they publish in scholarly journals, they have very cool experience with research that most of us don’t even know is happening. 

Stutchbury, a headliner at the Ottawa Writers Festival April 22 at Library and Archives Canada, shines in her thorough knowledge of birds that aren’t, but should be, basic to all our lives. The fact that they aren’t is our loss. I’ve heard biologists tell the hazards of songbirds before. But I do appreciate having someone go a step beyond that, with big dollops on the lives of these fascinating animals.

  • This book is filled with numbers so immense it is hard to add them all up, but each one of Stutchbury’s maps and graphs has a way of poking the reader in the eye – making the statements with clarity and force, wrote the Edmonton Journal April 22. Tying it all together is her focus on the role of birds in our vast, complex world of nature. They assist in everything from insect control to forestry management to the fundamentals of pollination.

By her well-documented account, the world is losing them at an alarming rate. Stutchbury optimistically suggests it is not too late to save them and the vital role they play in nature’s self-management. They’re more than just another set of pretty faces, with another set of pretty songs.

Milevsky to deliver paper on new retirement strategies

With baby boomers approaching retirement, a protracted bear market might cause them to become more conservative in a hurry, wrote the National Post April 23. Most boomers focused on equities in their wealth-accumulation phase but the industry expects an increasing emphasis on wealth preservation. Finance Professor Moshe Milevsky in York’s Schulich School of Business argues annuities can play a role in reducing portfolio volatility once investors reach the "retirement risk zone."

In a paper to be delivered at an upcoming conference, he tentatively agrees with the premise that the new generation of variable annuities contracts may help retirees by encouraging them to take on more investment risk than they would with no guarantees.

  • My gentle suggestion to those still alive in their 70s and 80s with $400,000 and $500,000 in their accounts is to…enjoy the money while you can, be it by travelling or visiting old friends, or by gifting money to children or to the arts or an educational institution or religion or medical cause that is close to your heart, wrote columnist Ray Turchansky in the Edmonton Journal April 21.

Of course, not all people are in the situation where their money is outlasting them. Last October, Moshe Milevsky, finance professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, released results of a study which showed that what happens to your investments in the first few years of retirement has a huge impact on how long your savings will last. The study promoted what Milevsky called "finsurance," which Manulife was unveiling with a product called Income Plus.

Cpl. Brent Poland laid to rest

York alumnus Cpl. Brent Poland (BA ’92) was remembered Friday as a courageous soldier who loved his family, friends and country, wrote the Sarnia Observer April 21. Poland, one of six Canadians killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Easter Sunday, was laid to rest following an emotional funeral service at Temple Baptist Church.

His younger brother, Osgoode alumnus Mark Poland (LLM ‘05), told an estimated 1,200 mourners that Brent could easily have avoided combat, had he wanted to. In fact, Brent had suffered a back injury in training that made it impossible for him to continue serving as a second lieutenant. At that point, he could have transferred out of the infantry, retained his rank and accepted a less demanding job in the Canadian Forces.

When he enrolled at York, Brent invited Mark and his friends to visit him, despite the fact they were still in high school. Some on campus may have thought it wasn’t a "cool" thing to do, Mark said. "But Brent could have cared less. Brent lived life independently minded and fiercely loyal to his family and friends."

  • He was an officer who gave up his higher rank and higher pay to serve in the Canadian Forces infantry, wrote the London Free Press April 21. And Cpl. Brent Donald Poland, 37, died in the service of his country, doing what he wanted to do, 1,400 mourners were told here yesterday. He was prepared for anything and said: "If I die on the battlefields of Afghanistan, then that is my destiny." "His willingness to give his own life makes him a hero," said his brother.

Personalities make Black trial more interesting than Pickton murder trial

Alan Young, criminal law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, draws a comparison between the Robert Pickton trial and the criminal proceedings now underway in Chicago involving former media baron Conrad Black, wrote the Toronto Star and The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) April 21. "No doubt, people in general are more interested in murder stories than corporate financing," says Young.

So, why is there so much interest in Black and not in Pickton, who is alleged to have committed heinous and gruesome crimes against some of society’s most marginalized women? "The Black trial is full of personalities, larger-than-life personalities," Young says. "The Pickton trial is about a marginalized community. There is no gripping narrative. "When I saw how much the media invested in the first week, I knew that people would back pedal because of the nature of the way this story would unfold."

Online sales surge 40 per cent as firms buy and sell automatically

Whether it is for buying or selling, a "critical mass" of Canadian companies, and customers, are turning to the Internet to do business, according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada, wrote CanWest News Service in a story that appeared in many Canadian newspapers on April 23. Henry Kim, a professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, was not surprised by the survey’s findings. "I think it’s just another piece of evidence of the ubiquity of the Internet and the web," said Kim, who teaches e-commerce. Firms have realized by now that to be competitive and to grow their business, they have to be players in the e-commerce game, the study suggests. "People recognize that it’s a necessity," Kim said.

Hip hop being used to put a stop to violence

High school students are trying to use the words, music and dance off hip hop culture to fight a culture of violence threatening local teens, wrote the Brampton Guardian April 22. Students at Harold Brathwaite Secondary School organized a showcase of rap and hip-hop dancing Thursday morning to send a message of non-violence to about 500 schoolmates. Members of the local student body with a talent for expressing themselves through rhyme and poetry joined a York University troupe called Hip Hop Away from Violence to capture the attention of the teenage audience and deliver the message.

On your mark, get set, get angry

A few years ago, a very wise man advised me that if I didn’t want to get irate on Saturday mornings, I should simply avoid certain sections of the paper – those sections full of lifestyle columnists who are paid, essentially, to send thoughtful readers into apoplexy, wrote Christine Sismondo, an instructor in York’s Department of Humanities, Faculty of Arts, in a book review for The Globe and Mail April 21. I followed his advice and have never looked back. I’ve had about 412 consecutive peaceful weekends since. My blissful state was disturbed this week when confronted with the essay collection Cake or Death: The Excruciating Choices of Everyday Life , by Heather Mallick, ex-Globe and Mail columnist who now writes for CBC on-line. I could barely remember if she was one of the worst offenders — and I’m happy to say, she’s not the very worst of the lot, since at least Mallick is well read, occasionally clever and can generally write well.

On air

  • Mark Stein, professor in York’s School of Women’s Studies, spoke about York’s Sexuality Studies Program on CBC Radio’s "Here and Now", April 20.
  • Sergei Plekhanov, professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and coordinator of the Post-Communist Studies Program at York, was interviewed by CBC Radio’s Michael Enright, on April 22.