What are we paying for?

As I take a look at my 2010-11 fees, something just seems wrong. When I was accepted to U of T two years ago, the last thing on my mind was ancillary fees. My course fees add up to around $6200. There are certain extras I’m more than willing to pay for, such as use of the libraries and publication of The Varsity. Thus, we can add around $230. This makes our total $6430. ROSI tells me I’m currently owing $6940.78. This leaves around $500 dollars unaccounted for.

For example, this year, we pay $136.05 per semester for Athletics. This is $272.10 for the entire year. To me this says that I will have paid around $1000 by the end of four years. And what will I have paid for?

Before the fervour of health nuts and athletics students sets in, let me explain myself. I should be able to opt out of paying, just like I opt out of paying for medical and dental because I’m already covered. What about those of us, myself not included, who already belong to gyms? Should they have to pay for athletics as well? Is it possible to have a system wherein a student goes to a U of T gym, has his or her T-Card swiped or Student Number entered into a computer, which displays whether or not he or she has paid for a gym membership?
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U of T charges us for student services, health services, athletics, Hart House, and Constituent College fees. It also charges us on behalf of student organizations, for student society fees, social and cultural services (Hart House excluded) and other fees levied by student organizations to cover the costs of operating the organizations or services provided by them. To quote the policy: “The University may act as a collection agent for [any] student organization.”

So let’s take a look at ROSI and break this down. We pay around $140 dollars a year to Hart House. Hart House has plenty of contributors, and easily makes its money back in ticket sales, so why should we have to pay all this money for it? Especially those of us who aren’t in Arts or Theatre and couldn’t care less? This is on top of fees we pay to our colleges (as a Vic student, between VUSAC and student services, I end up paying $150 a year as well as UTSU and ASSU fees. This is a slight exaggeration, but since part of this money is going to something that is basically useless to me (Athletics), I see it as a waste.

Could some of the money we pool our facilities, which are some of the most expensive in Canada, instead be diverted to the Arts and Sciences undergraduate programs which have suffered major budget cuts this year? I would be more than happy to know that my extra money could contribute to the saving of the Centre for Ethics, the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, and the Centre for Comparative Literature?

It is, however, my choice to do what I want with my life. It should thus be my choice to pay $1000 in fees to Athletic centre or not. This should not be forced upon me, nor should it be forced upon any U of T student, especially those on restricted budgets.

Going Constitutional

Unless his political fortunes take a sudden turn, it may be years before our current prime minister moves out of 24 Sussex Drive. Despite autumn election rumours, the result is far more likely to be a Conservative rump minority than a Liberal government of any sort. But in the past four years, Stephen Harper has already sown the seeds of his constitutional legacy and the harvest is set to be poor at best. Harper has done more to change Canada’s constitutional order than any of his recent predecessors and he has done so with extraordinary cunning and skill.

Worries that Canada’s government is gradually becoming parliamentary and more “prime ministerial” or even presidential, are not new. This accusation has been leveled against Conservatives and Liberals alike since William Lyon Mackenzie King was prime minister, and especially vociferously since Pierre Trudeau held Canada’s top job. No prime minister is more deserving of this accusation than Harper. The details of Harper’s first prorogation of parliament in late 2008 are well known: facing a coalition of the three opposition parties who were committed to defeating his government, Harper simply asked the Governor General to end the session.

Harper’s request itself was not problematic, since prorogation is usually an uncontroversial procedure used to take a break once the government has completed the bulk of its legislative business for the session. However, Harper used it to avoid a vote of confidence which he would surely have lost. In doing so, he made it clear that he felt that his right to remain in office was not tied to the will of parliament. If so, then what could it be tied to but his own will? His second prorogation a year later was likewise objectionable, though less so because it enjoyed greater support of precedent.

What was concerning about Harper’s second prorogation, however, was that he did so to shut down the hearings of a special committee on the handling of detainees by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. When Parliament returned, the prime minister argued that the government could not release the classified documents requested by a Parliamentary committee, in clear violation of the parliamentary privilege to compel any and all papers and testimony it requests. The opposition asked the speaker of the House of Commons to rule on the question. His decision struck a difficult compromise and is currently being implemented.

These three events demonstrate the prime minister’s will to alter the relationship between his office and the most important institutions of our constitutional order, the Governor General and parliament, to suit his political purposes. The prime minister has given every indication that he will continue to do so. There is an important sign otherwise that we cannot afford to ignore. Amid the speculation that the prime minister might appoint a partisan to replace Michaëlle Jean as Governor General, the government implemented a new selection process to guarantee that the choice would be non-partisan.

The process centered around a secret committee of eminent Canadians which quietly consulted far and wide to find a non-partisan candidate. They settled on David Lloyd Johnston, then president of the University of Waterloo and former University of Toronto law professor. The choice was widely lauded and rightly so: Johnston is an excellent nominee. What deserves more praise though is the way in which Johnston was chosen. Non-partisanship was placed above even bilingualism as the key characteristic of the nominee. Expertise in constitutional law was also a criteria, which shows that the government expects that the Governor General’s judgment may come into question if the prime minister makes another controversial request for the exercise of a reserve power.

Unlike past governors general who seemed to be chosen mostly on the basis of loyalty, the process organized by the prime minister’s office which eventually selected Johnston ensured that the nominee would be beyond reproach. It is doubtless that this was the result of political pressures on the prime minister, but it nevertheless presents an important opportunity to solidify the constitutional role of the Governor General. Doing so would transform Stephen Harper’s constitutional legacy for the better and would protect the Governor General’s crucial role in the Canadian system of government. He should begin by entrenching the selection process and using the reform as an opportunity to launch a broader conversation on the role of the Governor General. Instead of slowly changing the balance of power, he might create an opportunity for Canadians themselves to shape it.

Help Conquer Cancer with Your Computer

Curing cancer can be added to the list of ways to procrastinate come September. U of T’s Help Conquer Cancer (HCC) project uses your computer’s spare processing cycles to understand the functions of cancer-fighting proteins.

The program works by asking volunteers to download a program that fetches data whenever their computer is turned on but not in use. Anytime a screen-saver would normally turn on, the program fetches data to calculate.

“A project’s data is divided into work units and sent out to WC Grid members’ computers,” explains Scientific Associate Chistian Cumbaa. “Each work unit takes a few seconds to download […] once complete, it is uploaded from the members’ computers back to the WC Grid server.”

HCC is part of the World Community Grid, a distributed-computing network funded by IBM that supports computer-intensive research projects. The WCG estimates that computer owners typically only use 10 to 15 per cent of their computer’s power.

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The collective computing power of grid computing far surpasses the ability of any supercomputer.

“The numbers describing the World Community Grid are crazy,” says Cumbaa. “There are about 520,000 members that contribute to the WC Grid, donating computer time from 1,580,000 computers”

Since HCC launched in November 2007 the program has screened over 12,000 proteins and generated over 115,000,000 images. In an average day the WC Grid calculates 288 CPU-years of data. This is the same amount of data a single computer running at full capacity would take 288 years to complete.

The ability of grid computing to fight disease is not a new concept. In 2003 scientists used the technology to uncover 45 potential genes to fight smallpox. Other grid computing projects currently underway relate to HIV and muscular dystrophy.

The WCG was founded in 2004 with the mission of becoming the largest computer grid in the world. HCC is funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Research Chair Program, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and IBM.

To learn more about HCC and use your computer to fight cancer, visit www.worldcomputinggrid.org

Dysfunctional government

In recent years democracy in Canada and the United States has been significantly undermined by a lack of transparency and an increasing trend of ideological pettiness. This has polarized voters and created an atmosphere of political cynicism in which the deliberative process necessary to run a democratic society has given away to whatever power can be grabbed from moment to moment. If these trends are not reversed then democracy in Canada and the United States itself will become increasingly less relevant, because everyone will either be too defeated, or too indifferent, to care.

The Conservative Party of Canada and its leader, Stephen Harper, formed a minority government in 2006 with a mandate towards accountability and transparency in Ottawa. Four years later, the Prime Minister has twice prorogued Parliament to avoid public debate. The first was on December 2, 2008 to avoid a coalition of the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois formed to defeat the government in a non-confidence motion. The second prorogation occurred on December 30, 2009 to avoid public scrutiny over the treatment of prisoners of war in Afghanistan. This summer, Minister of Industry Tony Clement announced the government would scrap the mandatory long form census and replace it with a voluntary short form census. According to Statistics Canada, the new census will only have 70 per cent compliance compared with nearly 100 per cent for the mandatory long form. This undermines the integrity of the data, the uses for which are diverse and multi-faceted. The provinces use population statistics provided by the census to determine education funding, and also by non-profits when they apply for federal funding. The Conservatives have essentially undermined one of the most reliable, accessible, and vital forms of public information.

The government continually silences its critics. Veteran Ombudsman Pat Strogan will not have his term renewed simply for criticizing the handling of disability treatment by Veteran Affairs Canada. He now joins Paul Kennedy at the RCMP complaints commission, Peter Tinsley at the Military Police Complaints Commission, and Linda Keen at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, who have all been silenced by the government for simply criticizing it, even though these offices exist to provide oversight. These moves would be unnecessary for a government that respects transparency, openness, and accountability. However, the Conservatives govern based on the idea that public access to information is a privilege rather than a right. The government’s current stance on democracy gives us the worst of both worlds: weak regulatory bodies combined with the public perception that since they exist they must be doing their jobs.
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In the United States, where public servants pride themselves on working with a spirit of transparency, political dealings are equally opaque and disjointed. In the Senate – the upper house of the nation’s legislature – democracy is routinely undermined by a severe lack of transparency. Earlier this year, the Senate voted down a proposal by House majority leader Harry Reid to have bills posted online for public access prior to consideration in the house, just months after they shot down a proposal to have the Federal Reserve’s audit papers made public. Today, there still doesn’t exist a reliable mechanism to track how taxpayer dollars are being spent, nor how individual Senators are handling their office expense accounts. Comparatively, problems of transparency in Canada involve the government skirting around accountability, while in the United States, the lack of transparency is more institutional and a function of the problematic way that government is organized.

Perhaps more consequentially, a stubborn commitment to ideology obstructs legislative efficiency and undermines the democratic process in the United States. Consider, for instance, the recent health care bill, which, save for Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning, the entire Republican contingent in the house voted No on. The sensible conservative argument against the bill – that a combination of open-market competition and tax credits would more adequately serve public needs – was abandoned in favour of vitriolic, strident partisanship, couched most notably in statements decrying Obama’s plan as “socialist.” Obama’s proposed economic stimulus faced the same narrow, unreasoned ideological opposition. Earlier this year, Evan Bayh, a veteran Democrat from Indiana, chose not to seek re-election, saying that: “There is too much partisanship and not enough progress-too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving.”

The implications of narrow ideological politics are far-reaching and troubling, especially considering that the Obama administration has major short term goals – educational reform, withdrawal from Iraq – that will require a very involved, deliberative democracy. If upcoming public debate is going to be littered with the same poor quality party-line rhetoric, you can expect decision-making to be slowed and progress, ultimately, to be hindered.

The Conservatives and Republicans clearly believe the legislative process is not only an inconvenience, but something that can be exploited or dismissed. When one states that “government is broken” one is speaking of government as an abstract entity that is somehow not affected by the people inside or outside of it. This is precisely what the political right wants. By removing ourselves from the responsibility we have to fix the democratic process, we are only helping those who seek to break it further.

Point/Counterpoint: the census

The voluntary short survey will work

Recently the Harper government has decided to replace what is known as the “long form” census, a mandatory 40 page form which Canadians must fill out every four years. What it will be replaced with is the new “short form” census, which the government contends will allow for better privacy for Canadians. However, many francophone groups, which include The Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities and La Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick, contend that it may violate the language rights of their sections of the country.

This charge however is facetious as the new census includes two more questions about language. One asks what language one can hold a conversation in, and the other asks which language (either English or French) is the primary language spoken at home and, additionally, if any other languages are spoken. This removes any possibility of claims that the new census will violate the Official Languages Act, a claim made in a recent Ottawa court case.

The new census will also remove the threat of jail time for failure to fill it out. This removes the risk of everyday Canadians being sent to prison for a mere oversight. The new short form census will be voluntary for Canadians, rather than the previous mandatory long form census. It pains this author to think someone could be possibly sent to prison for the failure to check their mailbox.

Liberal MP Bob Rae (Toronto-Center) alleged that Mr. Harper has scraped the long form census because he feels that it will reveal the growing inequality among classes in Canada. However, if one is to track the previous censuses, this simply is not the case. Incomes are increasing, and so are the number of people with college and university degrees. As such, Mr. Rae’s claims are unfounded.

Much of the controversy surrounding the issue comes from NGOs and other such organizations, claiming that they need the information that the census provides. Are they incapable of getting their own information? Is there no one among their employees capable of conducting a simple internet or e-mail poll? Can they not conduct the slightest bit of market research? Charities have begun to subcontract to marketing firms to get their message out, providing large numbers of unskilled jobs. Can these NGOs not do the same? Or are they just too eager to get free information from Statistics Canada?

Many in the Conservative Party have been shocked by how much criticism this action has fueled. Party Whip Gordon O’Connor (Carleton-Mississippi Mills) has been quoted as saying: “This isn’t an issue people are going to live and die on. I mean it’s not a big issue.” The NDP and Liberals are merely looking for a whipping boy and they have found it in the Minister of Industry, Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka). The only MP who has received a large number of calls on the issue in John Baird (Ottawa West-Nepean)and mostly people working for Statistics Canada.

Many of the questions in the long form which are set to be scraped are considered intrusive by many Canadians. For instance, one question concerns how many hours of unpaid housework are done around the house. Most of the questions which are removed are those which deal with what Canadians do with their time while they are not working, such as questions about their volunteer work. Some even contend that having a census nowadays is useless, as modern methods of polling and market research have almost rendered the census irrelevant. Using these methods, the same information can be gathered with much less human cost, and much less bureaucracy. It would seem Statistics Canada seems to be attempting to justify its own existence.

Incidentally, the Treasury Board President Mr. Stockwell Day (Okanagan–Coquihalla) has introduced new measures to reduce the influence of lobby groups and promote transparency in government. These issues are not being discussed. The opposition is looking for something to complain about, and this census issue has offered them the chance to. If anything, all this census does is give Canadians time to drink a cup of coffee or smoke a cigarette. It’s not a big issue. The lives of everyday Canadian men and women are not going to be changed by having to fill out less in their census. When the Conservative Party’s mandate is over, will you see the new Liberal Government re-institute the long form? Probably not.—Patrick Langille

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The long form census is necessary

If Conservative plans succeed, one in five households won’t be required to fill out a 50-question census that shapes our country’s decision making. Rather, one in three will be given a voluntary survey.

The census is used by governments, charities, and NGOs to shape their policies. Most homes will continue to receive a mandatory short form with basic questions about the age and number of residents. But experts warn that making the long form voluntary will lead to inaccurate results since many will opt out of responding altogether.

In 2003 the U.S. Census Bureau conducted an experiment by issuing a voluntary survey – one quite similar to what the Conservatives propose – to some households. The mail-back response rate of those given the option to reply dropped by a third, and plans for a full voluntary survey were scraped for being costly and ineffective.

The changes proposed by the Harper government will cost an estimated $30 million for distribution and advertising. The census should be left unchanged, and not just because it’s cost-effective. The current system has worked well for over three decades and is vital to our democratic process.

Harper’s supposed rationale is that the census is intrusive and Canadians shouldn’t be threatened with jail time for not completing it. But no one has ever been imprisoned for failing to complete the census, and all federal parties are vowing to remove the jail threat in parliament this fall.

Some conservatives note that European countries are moving away from censuses to more effective means of data collection. But Harper’s proposal is about supposed government intrusion and has nothing to do with better information gathering. Additionally, we should be wary of some alternatives used in Europe.

In Scandinavia, governments issue mandatory electronic identification cards that collect hoards of data on personal relationships and bank transfers. The government gathers so much information that annual income tax forms are mostly completed when one logs in to verify the numbers. Talk about intrusion. Meanwhile, the information collected from Canadian censuses is anonymous.

Politicians in the UK are looking to Switzerland, where this year’s large census is being replaced by an amalgamation of other government data and more frequent microcensuses. But the UK government’s changes will come after their 2011 census, meanwhile Harper is implementing a massive overhaul weeks before our 2011 census is sent to print.

Changing how our government collects data is not a bad idea, but it merits enough time for democratic discussion and debate.

Accurate data is especially needed in Canada because our cultural and geographic diversity far exceeds that of European countries. Without reliable data, we can’t take effective decisions to meet the needs of francophones, aboriginals, immigrants, ethnic minorities, same-sex couples, and the poor.

The Conservatives assert that organizations needing information can collect it themselves. This is not only a ridiculous, but a potentially dangerous suggestion. University researchers and advocacy groups with limited resources depend on this data to shape public discussion. Even if organizations could fund data collection, Statistics Canada has never had a breach of security and our information is put at risk if multiple organizations go about collecting it.

Conservative pundits seem to have very little reason to axe the census and have begun ridiculing some of its questions. Popular examples include the number of rooms in a house and how people get to work, despite the fact that such data are used to track density, standard of living and public transportation needs. Others cite the worldwide phenomenon of indicating one’s religion as Jedi, a red herring which is at most an ineffective personal protest.

In the absence of credible reasons for axing a functional census, many speculate Harper wants to cut advocacy groups’ access to politically inconvenient statistics. That wouldn’t be surprising coming from a government that justifies spending billions on building unneeded prisons to deal with “unreported crime.”

Harper’s plan to cut the census is a rushed, costly, and dangerous proposal that doesn’t make sense. The Rotman School of Management and U of T School of Public Policy and Governance have signed a letter opposing these ludicrous changes. It is my hope that the staff, students, and governors of U of T will organize similar public protest.—Dylan C. Robertson

Fire Island

The sun was setting and the air was sweltering as Arcade Fire took the stage at Toronto’s Center Island on August 14. Following a charged performance by local favourites The Sadies and a soulful, exuberant set by newcomer Janelle Monae, the Montreal band stepped out to thunderous applause before playing eighteen songs spanning their entire career.

Having released their third studio album The Suburbs earlier in August, this was the first time many of the songs had been performed live in Toronto, and the island concert’s huge crowd was a mix of young and old, urban, suburban, and rural. I discovered that several of the people standing next to me throughout the performance had travelled from Woodstock, Ontario: a smallish city situated in the province’s agricultural heartland — and also the biggest town nearby during much of my childhood.

On one side, Woodstock had an ever-struggling mall, which chain stores would briefly colonize before abandoning due to poor business. By the time I stopped frequenting the city after moving to Stratford for high school, the emaciated concrete structures of the strip had been completely abandoned, while the other side of the city had exploded with growth. Walmarts, Best Buys, Future Shops, and McDonalds’ had sprung from the earth, bringing with them a burgeoning sprawl of urban development. Columns of identical homes had sprouted like dandelions and the city’s old boundaries disappeared. Like in so many other cities across North America, this growth was rudely interrupted by the toppling of the global financial pyramid in 2008.

Bust and boom, boom and bust.

Win Butler, a native of a similar sprawl outside of Houston, Texas, who has fronted the Arcade Fire since its formation in 2003, once commented that there was something deeply suburban about the band’s music. “I think we have a drive to find a semblance of universality, which to me seems innate to kids from the suburbs. You relate to different kinds of things than someone who grew up in a super-rural environment or in a really dense big city, where there’s an actual culture.”

This was in 2004, predating Funeral, the album that propelled the Arcade Fire to success. Yet each record the band has produced has increasingly affirmed these words: aesthetically unbound to any particular musical haven, instead fluctuating within a pastiche of different themes, moods, and instrumentations.
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Funeral is an often dark, yet ultimately uplifting album, conceived during a year when several of the band members’ relatives passed away in tragic succession. Neon Bible, the follow-up which emerged three years later, blends in its title evocations of the most synthetic and the most sacred, while its sounds layer the earthy textures of Funeral with both the electronic buzz of synthesizers and the hallowed hum of church organs. The Suburbs, the band’s newest creation, and the centerpiece of its Toronto Island show, is no less expansive, and even more ambitious.

Inspired by fraternal band-mates William and Win Butler’s childhood in the Houston sprawl, the record uses suburbia as a canvas for its explorations of consumerism, urban existence, and modernity. Like Funeral the album is heavily self-referential, with particular themes, melodies, and lyrics recurring across its sixteen tracks. But unlike Funeral, in which these connections felt somewhat spurious, there is a real structure to The Suburbs, making it the most effective Arcade Fire record to date: the opening title track is a true conceptual preamble to the rest of the record in a way that “Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels),” the opening track from Funeral, was not.

The album opens with a jovial but vaguely dissonant chord progression as Butler sings:

In the suburbs I learned to drive/And you told me we’d never survive/Grab your mother’s keys we’re leavin’

You always seemed so sure/That one day we’d fight in/In a suburban war/Your part of town against mine

So you’re standin’ on the opposite shore/But by the time the first bombs fell/We were already bored

These opening stanzas, with their simultaneously sublime and dystopian overtones, set the tone for the rest of the album, which wavers between oppositional moods and emotions, sometimes meshing them together. Like the real-world sprawls in Woodstock and Houston, idyllic but sculpted with sterile precision, The Suburbs juxtaposes feelings of serenity with desolation and emptiness.

At the Toronto Island concert, the band played much of The Suburbs along with older material, with relentless energy and a powerful, symphonic sound. The rendition of the Funeral classic “Rebellion (Lies)” prompted the entire audience to repeat the melodic refrain dozens of times after the band finished playing. “Wake Up” was accompanied by a vibrant light-show which briefly turned night into day. The album’s final track (save the short epilogue “The Suburbs, Continued”) also appeared near the end of the concert. The pulsating “Sprawl II, Mountains Beyond Mountains” is a soaring sketch of a never-ending suburbia spilling over the horizon. Despite its theme, the song is somehow uplifting: the gloomy suburban wasteland left by the booms and busts of the past 50 years never sounded so glorious.

They heard me singing and they told me to stop/Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small/Can we ever get away from the sprawl?/Living in the sprawl

Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains/And there’s no end in sight/I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights

Art, Hipsters, Bikes, Oh My!

Spinning along on my white roadster, I slowed my pace and approached the main gate of Trinity Bellwoods Park on West Queen West, and was greeted by a flock of artsy-types with bikes. There were shaved heads, big glasses, and a woman doing an impromptu performance-piece consisting of falling to the grassy ground.

I assumed that I was in the right place for Art Spin, a free monthly art crawl, in which participants ride in a team of bicycles to get to each gallery, guided each month by a guest curator or artist.

Participants met at Trinity Bellwoods at 6:30 p.m. This month’s leaders were Michael Paré, the president and founder of Queer West, a week-long series celebrating queer arts, and Rui Pimenta who is the founder, coordinator, curator, and leader of the crawl. The two explained that participants of the art crawl are led to a variety of galleries in the city, where they are greeted by the curators and forced to interact with a group of art-enthusiast strangers.

At just past 7 p.m., approximately 20 wanna-be art connoisseurs pedaled into the sunset. The group was made up of an eclectic mix of individuals: largely students, couples, professionals, and amateurs. Following the leader, we did a lap of the park before hitting our first gallery, Lausberg Contemporary. One of two global locations, Lausberg is unique in Toronto, featuring local artists alongside international artists. Their idea is to foster our own scene while keeping in touch with the global. Greeted by Pimenta’s explanation of the space’s mandate — and some well-appreciated refreshments (no free booze, sadly) — we were encouraged to explore the summer exhibition, a collection of sleek, non-representational pieces by various artists. Although fairly subdued and undemanding (read: boring), it was like wading into a kiddy pool of the toured galleries.

Our second stop was InterAccess, a space focusing on new media works. As Pimenta, the fearless leader of the gaggle of cycling art enthusiasts, explained, this space is an important creative hub for digital art, featuring a gallery on the second floor and workshop on the first. Their latest exhibition, Kunstkammer/Wunderkammer, seeks to mimic a cabinet of curiosities, a European practice in which oddities and artifacts are collected and displayed. In this exhibit, however, antique oddities have been replaced with eclectic new media pieces – a banana plant which emits noise when petted, jellyfish-like constructions which gyrate when exposed to sound, a small canvas painting with moving gears – which are displayed in the dim lighting of the second floor. Several of the pieces demand engagement, assigning the viewer an active role. Sometimes you are required to do more than stare at art, tilt your head, step back and sigh. This exhibit was my favorite of the evening: visual enough to catch my attention, sinister enough to make me ask, weird enough to keep me — like a shadowy playground.

Show and Tell Gallery is a quiet but modest space, currently showing two artists — Anthony Lister and Niall McClelland — in a whimsical double-feature exploring such ideas as punishment and reward systems and perpetuated adolescence, with a tongue-in-cheek sass all-too-often absent from recent contemporary art.

PM Gallery boasts the latest works of Keith W. Bentley’s. The gallery owner and curator, a fan of Bentley’s work, explained his somewhat macabre process — due to his unique fascination with Victorian ‘hair art’, Bentley is known for working extensively with hair as a creative material. This latest collection is a series of pieces constructed from found art and horse hair. The pieces aim to immortalize bodies which have since passed, embracing the morbid and calling attention to the unnatural. I found the pieces affected me exactly in the ways the owner had warned: I was simultaneously attracted and repulsed. The black hair against the white walls was visually striking. The idea that these once living creatures had been replaced and used like our earlier ‘readymades’ is conceptually haunting. Looking at one piece, I turned to a viewer on my right and remarked it gave me the creeps -“you know, kind of like when you pull that gross clump of hair from the shower drain?”. But then I realized he was bald, and couldn’t relate.

The evening ended at a quiet bar, locking up our velocipedes and heading for the patio. The group who sat before me, from all walks of life, were incredibly down to earth, affable, keen to listen and eager to tell stories. Nothing breaks the ice between people like hair art.

Art Spin is a monthly art crawl on bicycles. It happens on the last Thursday of the month, and will run until September. Art Spin is a free event, and open to anyone regardless of cycling ability.

 

Updated (April 26, 2015): Author’s name omitted.

Drew Dudley leaves UTSC

Drew Dudley, Coordinator of the Leadership Development Program at UTSC, has decided to leave the university after seven years of building leadership and community at UTSC.

National Chair of Shinerama, co-founder of Conduct Becoming Canada and first ever chair of “Million Dollar Youth,” Drew attended Mount Allison university in Sackville, New Brunswick. With an aversion to big cities, Toronto was never on the list when Drew began applying for jobs. He doesn’t remember why he applied for a job in Advancement at UTSC. After initial doubts on the part of the hiring committee, they gave Drew a chance and were happy with his interview.

When Drew joined Student Affairs as Coordinator of Student Development he was in charge of campus groups and leadership. Too big to accomplish together, leadership was put on hold while he restructured the way campus groups operated.

In November 2005, Drew was invited to be a part of the Leadership at Allison speaker series, which he had been a part of as a student. It was the first time he gave a leadership talk in front of a large crowd. “It turns out I was good at it,” says Drew. “So when I moved to student life, I [put] all those elements together, and it was so well received, that we knew we had to stay at it.”
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The university then hired staff to take over campus groups, and Drew managed to focus on the leadership development program.

This program focuses on making sure students leave with more than just a degree. Divided into five categories, students attend several talk, workshops, and discussions. The Inside the Leader’s Circle, in which Drew interviews influential personalities like Peter Mansbridge, Adria Vasil, Douglas Coupland and Jeff Rubin, is the most popular series.

Leadership is a significant factor for Drew, who says he always wants to find ways to get better. “It [is] a drive to want to be better, happier, have more of an impact. I always enjoyed being a part of something that makes a difference. With leadership it’s making a difference in your life and hoping that it makes a difference in others.”

Asked where his inspiration comes from, Drew says it’s mostly from the students. “My inspiration comes from the idea that what I’m doing makes a difference to people.” However, he says, it’s a struggle.

“It’s the weirdest balance. I love it when people say I’m an inspiration but I have never been able to wrap my head around the idea that I deserve that. I see myself as such a screw up […] that I get inspired to be what the people in the audience think I am. I will never be better than when I’m speaking. That’s the best Drew there is.”

Drew cites an inspiring reason for leaving UTSC. He tells a story about his friend Alison who dropped out of university several times until she found a place that was right for her.

“What made Alison so spectacular was that she had the courage to keep making changes until she had the life that she deserved, and I was telling this story to a group of students in Calgary in June and a voice in my head when I said it said you’re a hypocrite. I couldn’t shake it. I realized I wasn’t happy.”

“I was telling people to have the courage to make changes in their lives until they were happy, and I wasn’t doing it [and] I realized I couldn’t go back up on stage again until I did it.”

“There [is] no step forward [at UTSC] and I need to get better. I realized there was happiness out there for me and […] I was too scared to go chase it, and that was inconsistent with what I was telling people.”

Drew’s job is yet to be filled, though Hamza Khan, who has worked with Drew, will take over until the end of September. “I did the best I could on the way out to make sure that my leaving would have as small an impact as possible,” he says.

Since his decision to leave, Drew has set up the company Nuance Leadership, where he hopes to host weekly workshops at several schools. He has also applied to speak at TEDx Toronto, and is waiting to hear back.

Having invested so much into the leadership program, Drew thinks it’s time to accomplish more outside of his work. “Follow your heart, follow your dream, you can do whatever you think you can and when you do so it has a positive impact on others. This is my version of living up to the message I gave for a while. And I’m not saying I didn’t do that but I think I can do it better.”