You Are Never More Dangerous Than When You Are Trying To Help

The following post was written by Trevor Malcolm about the work being done by the Lollipop Guild in Windsor and Essex County. This group (and several other collaborators) received support from the Collaborative Community Initiatives Program to pay artists living and working in rural areas outside of Windsor to participate in the Lollipop Guild’s May Day event – which Trevor discusses nearer to the end of the post. 

The next deadline to apply for support from the Collaborative Community Initiatives Program is next Friday, June 28th. The third annual deadline will be October 28, 2018. For more information about the program email

By Trevor Malcolm

I’ve never written a blog before, though I have often said what I thought, so here goes.

We could tell our regional culture was rich in talent in all types of disciplines concerning performative arts and emergent forms thereof. After having a SPARC initiative on Pelee Island it became apparent that the real innovation in our community would be getting paid to do this cultural work. Most artists that we have engaged with have done work for free for causes they felt strongly about.

I have personally done benefits as a musician for cancer (every type), mental health (from depression to schizophrenia), poverty (working and abject), nuclear disarmament, and environmental initiatives, just to name a few. I personally have made and donated thousands for the mission downtown and am going broke doing it. I don’t think I should jump the line for soup because of my good works, but I also shouldn’t be thought of as a villain for expecting a stipend of some type for my efforts in putting these benefits together. I have been approached at a paying day job to do a free gig. It is sort of an honour. This is the crux of our problem. We want to assist with our art to a meaningful end, but by giving it away we have contributed to a regional devaluation of our own creations and the training that goes into developing it.

To be fair, our region is very generous to obvious charitable situations, and I don’t disagree with volunteering and donating time and money. I just think it should be a choice, rather than the only expected option. It’s an important distinction, because when you criticize unfair trending situations, people think you are suggesting that they are always unfair.

The people who volunteer their energy and time are not criminals, but their kind deeds are hindering the creative community they think they are supporting and representing. Toward this end our first PROtest as the Lollipop Guild was at a show of our own, where everyone got paid. By “walking the walk” we can help guide others to the path of financial arts appreciation that we see.

It is still important to make the participants in the current system feel heard, even though I think they are wrong, or at least right for the wrong reasons. Anytime you want to change a common practice you are going to have to change how people think, and this is the main challenge. How do you show people their actions are wrong without making them feel wrong themselves? It’s an “emperor’s new clothes” type of thing where everyone can tell we value these fine things, but no one wants to acknowledge it by paying.

Our second PROtest was held at a show where none of the artists on stage got paid. I was called by the executive director of the Windsor Symphony, who administers the venue, and was admonished for this action. All we do is audience education, telling people that the performers either are or are not getting paid. It is impossible to change this region’s professional cultural practises without everyone on board. Do we have to find a way to do this that doesn’t make the current power structure feel threatened? It is a delicate and thankless dance.

Unfortunately, it may require another heroic effort, so, thanks to funding from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program, we co-ordinated with the Bloomfield House project, Making Waves and May Works Windsor to assemble non silo-ed artists from many disciplines. This group included people from the show we PROtested and artists who work on Pelee Island through the Stone & Sky series. Each individual was paid to either perform or speak to their situation in a celebration of Art as work. By reaching out to the labour community we were able to contextualize “artists as labourers”. Making Waves’ Patrick Hannon spoke eloquently on that concept. Tea Jaey from the Bloomfield House performed and spoke of the Arts in the west end maturing from the ground up, through the help of their neighbours.

All the performers were paid and took a small survey administered by Patricia Fell, Artistic Director and charter member of the Lollipop Guild. The survey results gleaned, in essence, that every artist has been asked to work for free and been depressed at one time or another. With artists working across so many disciplines echoing the same experiences, this is a remarkable trend.

We know we are being watched and that our education efforts are being recognized by the amateur theatre in town. The language used in their casting calls has begun changing. They are starting to self-identify as “non-paying” and “non-union”, which is a big step in audience education. By continuing our affiliation with labour councils and May Works, we hope to maintain this pressure to cause change in our community, so that all may recognize the negative impact that the current “free art” system has on our local artists.


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