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Salt Lake's Olympic artistic director sends open letter to VANOC

John Furlong, CEO of VANOC speaks during a news conference in Vancouver, BC, January 12, 2010.

lyle stafford The Globe and Mail

The artistic director of Salt Lake City's 2002 Olympic Winter Games Arts Festival has sent an open letter to VANOC head John Furlong, urging him to withdraw a clause from artists' contracts that prohibits negative comments about the Games and Olympic sponsors.

"The clause is both dangerous and unnecessary," writes Raymond T. Grant. "It does nothing to sustain the artist's talents, advance the Olympic Movement, and celebrate a pluralistic democracy."

The controversial clause, first reported by The Globe and Mail, reads: "The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC."

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In his letter, Mr. Grant says unless the clause is removed, it will "depress the cultural value of the Olympics."

Mr. Grant's The letter comes on the heels of an scathing essay by Vancouver's poet laureate. In Notes on a World Class City: Why I have declined to participate in the Olympic Celebrations, Brad Cran charges VANOC with "misrepresenting" Vancouver and suppressing political activism and free speech.

In making his decision not to participate in the Games, Mr. Cran cites the same "muzzle clause" that concerns Mr. Grant; a neglect of literary events in the Cultural Olympiad; deep cuts to arts funding in B.C.; the "grilling" of U.S. journalist Amy Goodman at the Canadian border; and a Vancouver Public Library memo instructing staff to favour Olympic sponsors.

Concerned about the thin offering of literary events in the Olympiad, Mr. Cran suggested that Canadian poets be featured at the city's celebration sites, even for two minutes a night. "I thought: 'I'm the poet laureate and if the Olympics come and go, the biggest cultural event in our city's history comes and goes and I've made no attempt to promote poetry during that time, then I've failed,'." Mr. Cran told The Globe.

It was suggested that Mr. Cran himself read poetry on specific themes, including equality. (To this, Mr. Cran mentions his poem In Praise of Female Athletes Who Were Told No: For the 14 female ski jumpers petitioning to be included in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.)

Mr. Cran ultimately declined the offer. He then started doing some research into VANOC and felt strongly enough to post his essay publicly.

By Wednesday afternoon, he said he had received "hundreds" of comments (a Tweet from Margaret Atwood helped). Only two of them, he said, were negative.

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He is quick to point out that he is not anti-Olympics or anti-Cultural Olympiad. Wednesday night, he attended a Cultural Olympiad performance of The Blue Dragon . Thursday, he's getting cable installed for the first time in his adult life so he and his eight-year-old daughter can watch Olympic events.

"I still have butterflies in my stomach over [speaking out]" he said. "As well as being the poet laureate, I work as an accountant. I'm not an anarchist. I don't spray-paint the Olympic clock. But I have definite views about how I think the literary community should be treated and I don't think it's been treated properly. On top of it, I have major concerns about the issue of free speech."

When asked yesterday about Mr. Cran's essay, Cultural Olympiad program director Robert Kerr said he had no comment.

In response to Mr. Grant's concerns, VANOC pointed out that it would not restrict artistic content, as long as it does not put VANOC "in contravention of commercial rights, copyright or other provisions of our agreement."

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More


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