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Home » Recent News » Make the Arts a Focal Point in Communities

Make the Arts a Focal Point in Communities


by Robert Fraser, OCSM President and Member of Local 247 (Victoria, BC)

The International Federation of Musicians (FIM), of which the AFM is a member union, held its fourth triennial International Orchestra Conference (IOC) in Montreal, May 11-14. It was the first time this event was held in North America. I would like to thank all the organizers at FIM headquarters in Paris and the officers and staff of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ) for organizing a wonderful conference. You can find summaries of conference discussions on the FIM IOC website (

If I had to summarize the conference in a “tweet” it would be: “Orchestras all over the world face the same challenges—some more than others.” Thirty nations were represented. I fully expected the room to be divided into “haves” and “have-nots”—nations that have traditionally shown support for artistic institutions, contrasted with those where symphonic music is seen as a frill, a symbol of a foreign (and not necessarily friendly) culture, or even a threat. Instead, what I observed were remarkable similarities.

Every orchestra struggles with its own mission, defining its place in society. Every orchestra faces the same funding challenges—even those with strong government support. And every orchestra faces the challenges of the new reality in media. In every country, the burden of creating an orchestra’s recorded legacy and media presence is falling away from broadcasters and record companies, and onto the orchestra managements.

The organizers of FIM IOC are to be commended for reaching out to orchestra managements to participate in their conferences. Orchestras Canada held its annual conference during the same week as the Montreal conference and shared a common day with the FIM IOC. I have always believed that management/musician cooperation and collaboration, where appropriate, can only make our organizations stronger.

At the FIM IOC it was a thrill to hear both of OCSM’s Montreal-based orchestras perform in the same week: the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and the Orchestre Métropolitain. Both performed in the beautiful Maison Symphonique. Sitting in this hall built in 2011, made me think about Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations this year.

Arts Infrastructure in Canada

When Canada turned 100 in 1967 (and a number of provinces celebrated centennials shortly after), there was a lot of investment in performing arts infrastructure in Canada. Do an Internet search for “centennial concert hall” and you’ll see what I mean. Since then, however, not much has changed. Performing arts infrastructure hasn’t always kept up with the growth of our artistic institutions, the ever-increasing demands of population, and ever-changing community policies. Canadian cities that have been fortunate enough to build contemporary concert halls have done so through private-public partnerships, which aren’t always possible in mid and small population centres like Halifax, Nova Scotia; Victoria, British Columbia; or London, Ontario.

Canadian orchestras and our partner organizations in the ballet and opera world have grown immeasurably since 1967, yet many of our organizations are “homeless.” They rent facilities to perform in that, in some cases, were not designed to accommodate a symphony orchestra. They have nowhere to store a library or equipment, and they have no base of operations to engage in the ever-increasing activities that are expected of modern orchestras (supporting artists in nonsymphonic genres of music, making use of multimedia enhancements, or recording).

Aside from a much-needed new home for the Stratford Festival in Ontario, and a renovation at Southam Hall at the National Arts Centre, there is nothing on the radar in this sesquicentennial year—but it’s not too late. Let’s see what we can do to make the arts a focal point of our communities.

As always, I look forward to the round of player conferences this summer—ROPA, TMA, OCSM, and ICSOM. I hope to see many of you there. Have a great summer.

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