On July 17, The Chieftains are performing in Charlottetown, produced by the Confederation Centre of the Arts, on something called the “Outdoor Plaza — ATV Mainstage.” I had the good fortune to run into Confederation Centre CEO David Mackenzie this morning here in Mavor’s and we had a good chat about the concert.
The “Outdoor Plaza — ATV Mainstage,” it turns out, covers a large swath of Charlottetown’s downtown core, up and down Queen Street and along Grafton. The tentative plan is to erect a fence around this area, closing off the affected streets, and limiting access to the area to ticket holders during the late afternoon and evening. Tickets are $28 before July 7 and $35 after that. The stage itself is to be mounted in front of the CIBC bank building, with the audience set out onto the street and the Centre’s plaza.
I mentioned some misgivings about putting a chunk of downtown Charlottetown behind a “pay wall” — taking public space out of the public realm and making it only accessible to people who can afford to pay for access (and offering it up to ATV to wrap their brand around). This has always been my problem with the Festival of Lights on the waterfront: setting aside their acoustic assault on the neighbourhood, for almost two weeks they take our local public park out of commission.
To his credit, David took my concerns seriously, and we had a good talk around how the Centre might work to mitigate the problems the concert is going to create for downtown residents. I suggested, for example, that a simple note from David explaining the concert details, the rationale for holding it, and so on, dropped in the mailbox of residents in the Centre’s neighbourhood might be a good idea.
Now I must admit that I’m a lot less worried about this concert than I am about the “insert hit rock band of the moment” concerts on the waterfront; that’s a simple, entirely subjective aesthetic judgement. I like The Chieftains and I think it’s a good idea to have them come to Charlottetown. And I know that to afford that, the Centre needs a big audience, the kind of audience they can’t shoehorn into the main stage. And I think that having art happen outside, in public view, is a good idea. I think the Centre should bust out of its walls more often.
At the same time, I think carving out a large important chunk of public space — space we’ve all paid, with our tax dollars, to construct and maintain — and saying to a family of four that they need to come up with $112 to participate in the cultural life of that public space is problematic. It doesn’t feel right.
Of course public spaces are set aside for private events all the time — the Winnipeg Folk Festival, for example, takes over Birds Hill Provincial Park. The New Bedford Summerfest takes over their entire downtown. You could argue that the Confederation Centre itself is a piece of public infrastructure with a pay wall around it — we’ve all got to pay to go inside and see Anne of Green Gables.
So, in other words, I come down on both sides of this issue. The Centre is talking about the concert internally this week, and going forward to City Council shortly. If you’ve got thoughts on the issues, I’d love to hear them (you can add comments to this post), and I’m sure David would value them as well.