CBC hopes to draw an audience with arts initiative

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Hew praises Exhibitionist host Amanda Parris as “super smart, likable and gorgeous”

Is there an art to getting viewers to watch arts programming on television?

We’ll find out this season as CBC launches an aggressive new arts initiative. Taking the high road on arts seems like a kamikaze mission for a broadcaster given all the shiny distractions on other channels. Covering Canada’s thriving national arts scene has one big thing going for it, however: these documentary-style shows are relatively cheap to produce. That works for CBC these days given losses in revenue on both the ad and appropriation side.

It also must work for arts communities across Canada. I was in Regina a year ago visiting the set of the Corner Gas movie and was treated to a lively and surprisingly playful aboriginal art installation at the Mackenzie Art Gallery. One display had film of native dancing timed to a rap beat. There were also plenty of neon displays of traditional aboriginal icons. It was cool, and I would never have experienced it if I hadn’t been brought there.

“We want to bring those experiences to you,” says CBC Arts Executive Producer Carolynne Hew. Think of the CBC digital arts platforms as a modern, virtual experience of an exhibit. You don’t even have to leave your couch to see Exhibitionists, says Hew, a player, prior to her CBC tenure, on Toronto’s indie film scene.

“CBC Arts really wants to be a connector,” she says, “and connect the Canadian artists with a different audience they wouldn’t normally come live face to face with.” Hew sees the initiative as all part of the new sharing economy. “We want to help share their creativity.”

Two new CBC arts programs launch this week:

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Crash Galley host Sean O’Neill

Crash Gallery, premiering Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET, seems like another TV talent show, with three painters and other visual artists competing to win a showdown competition. The difference, says, Dettman, is that “this is not a show about who’s going to win or lose. It’s about watching creativity unfold in front of you.” It’s hosted by Sean O’Neill from the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Exhibitionists (premiering Oct. 4 at 4 p.m. ET) profiles emerging and established Canadian artists. Recent Toronto International Film Festival “Best Canadian Feature Film” winner Stephen Dunn is featured Sunday, as is James Kerr, gaining notoriety as “The Renaissance Man of the GIF World” for his Monty Python-like mashups of high art and low comedy. Amanda Parris hosts.

A third TV series, Interrupt this Program, begins Nov. 6. Part travelogue with stops in Kiev, Athens and Beirut, Dettman says the five-part series will show how artists are “reimagining their city” and are the true “agents of change.”

Three other digital arts originals also premiere this fall, with The re-education of Eddy Rogo—about a wheeler dealer in the world of arts and antiques—already streaming on-line at CBC.ca/arts. There’s a Rogo episode up now that features an artist who glues bashed up pianos back together and calls it art. You be the judge here.

Hew adds that all three new TV shows will also be available to stream on-line—two days ahead of their TV premieres. “We want to give out digital audiences a little bit of a scoop,” she says. “People want to be the first too see stuff.”

Hew also says the digital arts producers somehow talked author Salman Rushdie into sticking around after a CBC News segment and reciting and evaluating Drake lyrics. The result is pretty hilarious. Check it out here.

Finding humour in arts coverage–now that’s something to celebrate. Read more about the new CBC arts initiative here at this feature I wrote this week for The Canadian Press.

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