- Voices of Nature
- Community Outreach
- Get Involved
- The Wilds
Chapter 2: Environment Week on the Airwaves, EcoFest. In which ART takes on the Federal Government, and wins…sort of.
We knew we had to raise money, so we got busy creating the most kick-ass proposals you ever saw, with the help of our trusty Imagewriter dot-matrix printer, and colour photocopiers at Kinko’s. We did it all by paste-up; we didn’t have the software to do it digitally on computer. Featuring Carl Chaplin’s immortal artwork and Gary Larsen Far Side cartoons. We sent them out to every important, famous or powerful person we could think of, asking them to write a letter of support for Ecofest, as we’d come to call it. We got letters back from David Suzuki, Maurice Strong, Bill VanderZalm (then-premier of BC), Senator Ray Perrault, MLA Darlene ….., and a couple dozen others, all of which were sent to the Minister of Environment, Robert de Cotret.
At this time, in 1990, the Mulroney government had introduced the billion-dollar Green Plan. The environment was number one in the polls. We were invited to participate in the Round Table on the Environment in Ottawa. The idea behind the Round Table was to bring stakeholders from all sectors of society together to discuss controversial issues and find solutions for sustainability. First Nations, environmentalists, government, corporations, and artists…us. We got our way paid out to Ottawa to join in, and we knew this was our big opportunity. We got meetings set up with the Director General of Environment, Gilles Anres Gosseline, and with Minister de Cotret.
The government had provided for environmentalists from groups all over Canada, to come a day earlier to have their own meetings and develop their strategies, going in to the formal Round Table sessions. This was intended to “create a level playing field” for the environmentalists, give them some extra time together, so they could encounter the much more well-funded corporate folks. So we joined them. After a day of discussions, writing on blackboards and whiteboards, everyone was getting a little fatigued. Not too much had emerged that was bringing everyone together, and we all knew it. Finally someone (I can’t remember who exactly) stands up and says, “Here’s what we should do. Let’s boycott the meetings. That will send a message that will be heard loud and clear!”
Stephen and I sat there, stunned. As far as I know we were the only artists there. Stephen stood up and said, “We’re a small arts organization. We’ve had our way paid out here, and now you wanted us to boycott the sessions? It doesn’t make any sense.” As the meeting broke up, and we were walking out, a group passed us and called out, “Come on, we’re going for dinner!” We responded, “But aren’t you going to the big reception being hosted for us all by Environment Canada? Minister de Cotret is going to be there.” They answered, “Aw…we’re sick of talking to bureaucrats.” We went back to our hotel room to reconnoiter and fortify ourselves with a drink. On the one hand, we were flattered and overjoyed to finally be included in “the group” with nationally-based environmental organizations. On the other hand, we had a mission: Raise support for Ecofest. So we decided to go to the reception, and armed ourselves with our brochures, letters and music. Well, it was like letting the wolves in with the sheep. There was Minister de Cotret, Deputy Minister Len Goode, and Tim …… from the ….Section at Environment Canada, who proved to become a key ally. There were no other environmentalists in sight. We had them all to ourselves, to explain Ecofest, give them our fabulous documents and CDs, sing to them. Stephen had to run back to the hotel room to grab more copies, because there were so many high-powered people that we got to talk to directly, with no competition. I guess we kind of filled a gap for them too; we were obviously from the environmentally-oriented side of things, but we were so friendly and puppy-like; we basked in their attention. And they seemed to like us too, I think we seemed harmless.
This was March 1990; we proposed to produce a national broadcast campaign to take place in June 1991. We were asking Environment Canada to provide $275,000 in funding. The concept was to engage musicians throughout Canada in a broadcast campaign, where they recorded PSAs with eco-messages, for radio and TV. We would produce a Catalogue of Green Songs to be sent to every radio station, asking Program Directors to choose enviro-songs already in their playlists, such as After The Goldrush by Neil Young, If A Tree Falls by Bruce Cockburn, etc, and play them during Environment Week along with the PSAs. It was the right “ask” at the right time: we weren’t asking broadcasters to add new songs, only to play ones already in their roster. Environment Week on the Airwaves gave people the opportunity to do something to help, that was within their power to do. The purpose was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Canadian Environment Week, a very well kept secret, raise awareness of the Green Plan and generate public support for positive action.
The next day we got to meet with the DG, Gilles Andres Gosseline. We were asking for $5,000 of seed funding to get Ecofest off the ground. He ushered us into his office, sat us down, and proceeded to harangue us for 20 minutes, scolding us for creating so much work for his officials. “Do you realize, that every time a letter comes into our offices from high-profile people like Maurice Strong* and David Suzuki, we have to write seven letters to deal with it? You have caused a bottle neck, created huge work for us, at this very time when we’re implementing the Green Plan, coordinating these Round Tables, etc.” He was really unhappy with us.
Here is how Stephen recounted the tale of this historic moment, many times in subsequent years: “I said to Gilles Andres, ‘You have to understand. We are a small arts organization, we create music about the environment. It is really hard to raise support for what we do. As artists, we have to be prepared to…’ (at this point I raised my arm and pointed towards his huge office picture window looking out on the verdant lushness of the Ottawa, 27 floors up, it had a panoramic view; Gilles Andre’s eyes followed my hand to look out, and I knew I had him) ‘…jump out of a window this high, douse ourselves in gasoline, and light a match as we’re falling, just to get peoples’ attention for what we’re doing.”
Gilles Andres sat open-mouthed for a few pregnant seconds, and then he laughed heartily. I guess it was his good old Quebecois appreciation for culture that came through. He gave us t-shirts and posters…and committed to provide the $5,000. We were ecstatic! We were on the way!
We had a meeting with Minister de Cotret. He was known to enjoy a drink or two, and we were warned that the early afternoon timing of our meeting might mean that he was not at his fullest attention. It proved to be the case. We had 30 minutes. We started talking to the Minister, and noticed after a few minutes, his head was nodding. Stephen asked me to sing a song, which woke him up. We continued with the presentation; each time he’d nod off, I’d sing a bit and wake him up. He loved the music, and the project too.
We went to Toronto to meet with Gary Slaight, the CEO of Standard Broadcasting. We’d got his attention by sending him some smoked salmon that went astray in the mail, and he finally received when it was rotten and stinky, but I guess it made an impression. He liked the concept, and said he’d help get the Canadian Association of Broadcasters on side, and recommended that we work with Joanne Smale, a publicist. Together we got luminaries from the Canadian music industry on board: Stan Kulin, CEO of Warner Music Canada; Rob xzxxx of XHFJ in Montreal, and many more. The train was starting to fire up the boilers.
Back in Vancouver we went feverishly to work, putting together the big proposal, and contacting musicians everywhere. The response was huge. All in all over 80 artists participated, including Bruce Cockburn, Barney Bentall, Sue Medley, Gowan, Mitsou, Jim Bynes, 54/40, Patricia Conroy, Molly Johnson…and on and on.
We got the first go-ahead from Environment Canada, with an initial commitment of $50,000. But we had to get back to Ottawa to sign the contract, and we didn’t have the cash to buy plane tickets. We went into our bank, the Royal at Broadway and Bayswater, to meet with the manager, Fred Wickett. We sat down with him in his office, showed him the government contract, and explained that we wanted to have a $5,000 line of credit so we could fly to Ottawa and sign the contract for $50,000. He listened, and then excused himself for a few minutes. We waited. The door to his office was open, and we could see long lines of patrons lined up for the tellers; this was back in the day when you actually dealt with people at banks. When Fred came back, he said, “I’m sorry, but we can’t give you the line of credit.” I guess he’d been checking his lending guidelines, where artists probably rank lower even than drug dealers—at least they have cash flow! Stephen put his elbow on Fred’s desk, leaned forward and said, “This really pisses me off. You’ll lend money to pesticide manufacturers, which poison the land. You’ll lend money to real estate speculators, and look at how many of them go tits-up. You’ll lend money to car dealers, and look at the damage cars are doing. And here we are, musicians who create music about the environment, with a government contract committed for $50,000, and you won’t lend us $5,000 to fly out to Ottawa to get it signed.” He turns to me and says, “Holly, sing 3 Minute Culture.”
I sank down in my chair. But I knew I had to do it, or my life would be hell for three days, because Stephen would feel so let down and be very, very unhappy. Not only that, I had to do it with conviction. So I started snapping my fingers and sang acapella,
A three minute culture, who is dealing poisons?
Who is trading futures, who makes the loans?
The sound of my voice carried out into the main part of the bank, where dozens of customers stood waiting to see the tellers. I gave it all I had at the end,
Compassionate culture, wise folk make decisions
For seven generations look ahead and behind
Compassionate culture, wish folk step lightly
They watch and listen for the signs
Of a planet in crisis, a Mother who suffers
From centuries of plunder, neglect and greed.
It’s time to care for each other, it’s time to use only what we need
This is right, everybody knows this is right
This is right…this is right…SO right…everybody knows this is right!
When I stopped singing the entire bank had fallen completely silent. Fred clapped his hands together and said, “That’s right!” And he gave us the $5,000 line of credit.
Now the real work began. With Joanne in Toronto, and ART in Vancouver, we activated the entire country. Corporate sponsors came on board, Shell Oil, Imperial Oil, Trans Mountain Pipe Line. (flesh out other entities, people, etc)
And the biggest job of all: finalizing the contract for the remaining $225,000. What we didn’t know is that even though we had support at high levels (the Minister and Deputy Minister) it’s the bureaucrats who actually implement the job, and they can really slow things down if they decide to. We started to run into serious head winds from Judy Holland and Hugues Lacombe. Everything was proceeding full steam ahead, and Stephen was knocking himself out trying to get the remaining funding in place, and we were being stonewalled. Stephen went back to Ottawa, met with everyone again and again, but we were being shuffled to people at a lower level who didn’t have the discretion to draw up the contract. We were being told that the department had not approved the funding. He was meeting with Gail Turner, in her office. She had to go out for a few minutes, and Stephen put his head down on his arm, on her desk, in exhaustion and despair. He happened to be looking straight into her waste paper basket, where he noticed a crumpled document with the words “Ecofest” and “Environment Week on the Airwaves” on it. He pulled it out, flattened it, and read it. It was an inter-office memo documenting that the $225,000 had been approved by Environment Canada. So we were being mis-led and lied to.
Stephen put the document into his briefcase, and came back home. In the next communication with officials, when they told us the funding was not approved, he made oblique reference to the memo. After that the contract was finalized.
In the end we raised $375,000 in cash, a further $1.25 million in in-kind contributions. Over 600 media outlets and 80 artists participated throughout Canada. We produced a 1-hour radio special called, “Artists Out To Save The World…and pay the rent”, which aired on 35 stations nationally, including CFOX in Vancouver and CJFM in Montreal. We produced a 30-minute TV special called “Let’s Start Communicating” about forestry issues, featuring Bob George (son of Chief Dan George), Dr. William Rees (author and creator of Ecological Footprint), Larry Bell (then-CEO of BC Hydro), which was broadcast nationally on YTV.
Collecting our final payment was a trial; Environment Canada officials did not make it easy. Thanks to the rigourous paper trail and record keeping of Stephen and Joanne…we were able to compile a 3-volume final report of the project. When we finally sat down with Ed ….. in Supply and Services, who had to review our report and approve our payment, he was effusive in his praise of what we’d accomplished and how we’d accounted for it all. It was a victory, very hard-won, but a victory.
If you recall, the whole reason we conceived of Environment Week on the Airwaves was because we couldn’t get our songs played on local stations. Stan Kulin, the CEO of Warner Music Canada, was an early supporter of Ecofest. We met with him, and he agreed to strike a licensing deal for my next album, just self-titled Holly Arntzen. This was huge!
Thus began the next chapter of our initiation into the music industry.
* Maurice is the father of Fred…our partner who financed Last Spike and many other projects in the coming years. Maurice was the Secretary General of the upcoming UNCED 92—the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development—the first gathering on the environment to involved virtually every country on Earth. So Maurice was a big fish indeed, from our point of view.