Open Letter to the Canadian Cultural Attaché of Mexico

OSN_Lara_St_John

At the Palacio, Mexico

Dear Mr. Bailey,

I enjoyed, last week, a wonderful and successful time in the city and country in which you are presently the Canadian Cultural Attaché: Mexico.

I represented Canada for the opening concerts of the Festivál del Centro Histórico, performing as soloist with the National Symphony of Mexico on March 31 and April 2. Despite repeated attempts over the past month by the festival, the orchestra, and my manager to reach your cultural department to offer tickets to those who might be interested to attend such an event, no emails were answered nor were phone messages returned.

In a final effort, I myself went to your office on Schiller Street on March 30 – the day before the first concert – with my Canadian passport, a few of my albums, and programs from the Festival. The guard took my passport (I arrived just before 4:00 PM directly from a rehearsal with the symphony) and he left me waiting outside the metal bars for over half an hour. When he returned, he told me I was late (it seems that your website, which lists the embassy closing hour as 5:00 PM, is not accurate and in need of an update), and he said that possibly someone would come down if they could find anyone.

Eventually after quite some time, a lovely member of your staff came down and exited the cage-like structure which surrounds your building to speak with me on the sidewalk. I wasn’t allowed in my embassy.

I told her about the concerts, and she said that I was very late. I explained just how many people had tried to get through to you and your staff for weeks, and she apologized and said she would spread the word and let me know how many comps the embassy might request as soon as she could.

She also, very kindly, posted links on social media.

I then went to the Anthropology museum across the street from your building, which was incredible. So, thanks for that! It was amazing.

But.

Not a single person from the Canadian Embassy, even the cultural section, was able to find any time in their days to come to either concert.

So, my consternation is thus – if a Canadian violinist, making her debut in the two opening concerts of one of Mexico’s largest festivals in the famous Palacio de Bellas Artes of the capital city with the national orchestra, does not merit the attention of the cultural section of the Canadian embassy, then what, exactly, is the purpose of the department?

I am aware that for many years, the arts were looked upon with disdain by the Harper government, and culture was considered superfluous at home and abroad. This may well be something you are trying to continue.

However, I have always been proud to be a musical ambassador for my country, and this, my first visit to Mexico, I thought especially important, considering the imminent demise of government support of art and culture in the country which lies between.

I am aware that it takes some time to change administrations, and I will continue to represent my country in music and beyond as always. However, a show of support from those who are tasked with representing Canada and its artists abroad would be nice. The festival and the orchestra were surprised, and frankly, aghast that no one from my country managed to show up, especially after all the efforts we collectively devoted to alerting the embassy to the events.

While I imagine the demands of your office are significant, surely you have sufficient staff to respond in a timely fashion to invitations from bonafide cultural institutions.  I am both embarrassed and disappointed by my Canadian embassy in Mexico. I was informed by the festival leadership that the embassies of numerous other countries involved in the festival (i.e. Brazil, Colombia, Holland, Germany, Australia, India, etc.) took an interest in their cultural exports, and supported them by coming out in droves.

The concerts are over now, I had a wonderful time in Mexico, and I am now in other countries. But I would be very happy if I heard that the walls against your own citizens working to inform embassy staff about events representing Canada in the country for which you are the cultural face of Canada manage to get broken down.

Hopefully, change is not too far off.

Sincerely yours,

Lara St. John

P.S. I hope you enjoy the CDs. They are produced by my own company which I began in 1999. I included the Juno-winning one. Cheers!

16 thoughts on “Open Letter to the Canadian Cultural Attaché of Mexico

  1. Thank you so much for your very thoughtful and considerate letter to the cultural attaché. As a Canadian living in the U.S. I am embarrassed and dismayed at such dereliction of duty and support of a fine Canadian artist. Seems like you stumbled on a place where no one is home. Surely our Prime Minister and the Ambassador to Mexico will address the need to replace the attaché and staff who are not doing their jobs. I was invited several times while I lived in Los Angeles to the residence of the Ambassador to celebrate the achievements of Canadian artists. The bunker-like atmosphere in DF indicates fear and isolation from the local society.

    Please inform us of the results of your posting. You are an outstanding young ambassador for Canada and we appreciate your gift and your generosity.

    Sharon Smith

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. Same thing happened to me when I played as a soloist with the Hanoi Philharmonic in Vietnam. I had repeatedly invited the Chilean Ambassador and even but their emblem on the program. No one ever responded. I wondered how many Chileans ever even make it to Vietnam??

    Viviana Guzman Viviana.org :: TEDxBerkeley Speaker “An imaginative artist.” The New York Times 2014 GRAMMY Nominated CD Twitter :: Facebook :: YouTube ABC :: CNN :: NBC :: CBS :: FOX Good Morning America :: Huffington Post

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  3. Truly unbelievable. I don’t get that you were not let in and someone spoke to you on the sidewalk. The whole thing is very disrespectful for you and the Symphony. These days though nothing surprises me.

    Keep up the good work, All the Best, the Baileys in Napa

  4. I was embarrassed by just reading your post. As a fellow Canadian, I apologize. If you ever receive a response from the embassy, I really am eager to know what explanations they are going to come up with. I assume you also copied the ambassador.

  5. As a supporter of the Trudeau government and knowing your work I find your comments indefensible. The. Whole lot should be fired on the spot. Obviously they are drinking too many Taquillas . Thank you for bringing this to our attention. GET in touch with your MP unless he is a conservatirve . Hate to say this but if you lived in in Quebec they would have all been out to support you and thrown in a cocktail party

  6. I have to say….I’m dismayed and discouraged by the public response to the letter, which, instead of engaging in a little inquiry or reasoning, jumps to angrily denouncing government employees as taquila-drinking lazy retards. They might be. The details in the story paint a sad picture, but to me it seems more likely that the embassy is under-staffed, under-financed, and…dare I say, under-supported by a public that expects services but doesn’t want to pay taxes to provide them. My own guess would be that the functions and hours have been cut back to the minimum and bare essentials for budgetary reasons, and that consists of diplomatic relations between nations, and helping pick-pocketed travellers who have lost their passports. Or things of that sort. Do we know everything that an embassy is expected to do? I sure don’t. Let’s hear what the administration has to say. The fact that there was so consistently a non-response on artistic emissary support suggests to me that they just are not staffed and organized to do that. And if that’s the case, the question becomes…..now why would that be? As far as employee competence goes, perhaps when a public adopts anti-government attitudes and the conviction that it’s all a big waste of taxpayer dollars, and budgets are cut and competent and dedicated people can’t be retained …we get a bit of a vicious circle and downward spiral? (It happens in the private sector too–I’m sure you’ve seen it.). But maybe my own hunches are wrong and I’m just a naive liberal and Govt employees are just lazy drunken retards afterall. Certainly Lara was not saying anything like this in her letter. I wonder if she would like to address the firestorm of negativity that followed–in her role as public figure and artistic emissary.

    • Well, Lefty, I certainly didn’t call them lazy retards. And, I didn’t denounce anyone, nor did I ask for any money or support, or do anything except try to give them free tickets to concerts. Like, a really big two concerts, which should have been big deal for Canada. I am pretty sure that the Cultural attache there is supposed to; not help travelers who lost passports, but instead be a go-between for these two countries who are presently separated by, well, complete governmental idiocy, cultural and otherwise.

      It was disappointing, and I wouldn’t call the comments a firestorm, but it does take a while to change the status quo, and ideally my letter will have helped artists coming to Mexico in the future! It’s not like it hurt me in any way, the shows were awesome and I had a fantastic time!

  7. I have been in your position (as a Canadian artist performing in a foreign country as a cultural ambassador) on several occasions in the distant past.
    Things have definitely changed for the worse in recent times, based on your deeply disappointing experience.
    Our “servants” displayed appalling judgement and a shockingly cavalier attitude to the power of the very arts they are swore to support. I am disgusted and angry.
    Russ Little

  8. As a former employee at the embassy in Mexico I am sorry to say that this is not an entirely unusual experience. I do not know why we in Canada say that we value culture and rattle on about the value of soft power; when push comes to shove, if there is no immediate commercial pay off no significant resources will be invested. Perhaps the attitude represents the priority of a former regime, but your experience reflects the dominant reality in Mexico and elsewhere.

  9. So sorry to hear that!! Perhaps if it was county music instead they might have come.
    Appaling to say the least!!

  10. I am shocked and disappointed in our Embassy. The Ambassador is also responsible, not just the cultural attaché. Support for Canadian artists and all citizens is a fundamental part of the Embassies around the world. As a Canadian abroad I rely on my Embassy and have been always treated well, this is a very disappointing situation.

  11. Lara St. John – I’m not only one of your devoted followers, and have lived in Mexico for 18 years. I wanted to come to hear you, but could not. My close friend, pianist Ana Cervantes, told me about this awful situation, and I am appalled. I’m going to make sure everyone who should know about it DOES, and I see that my country hasn’t emerged from its “sleep of prisoners”, its apathy inherited from Harper, but they sure will now! You are a national treasure and I truly value your remarkable talent…yes, I have your CDs. May you continue to thrive.

  12. Having spent many years in Mexico, a country that loves its talent in all fields (musicians especially, from all over the world, adore the enthusiasm of Mexican audiences) I will not stand up for the negligence of the embassy regarding our star violinist. I’ve nothing but praise for the staff regarding passports, etc. but isn’t an embassy supposed to represent more than a notary’s office? When I was young, many years ago, the Embassy had PRESTIGE…it represented the SOUL of a country. Has Canada’s wishy-washy attitude towards Mexico become a disease? No – it’s not Europe, but with a minimum of research, one can discover that Mexico City is considered to be the vanguard of culture in the WORLD. Canada’s image is looking very bad these days, in spite of Trudeau, due to the desecration of the land through our greedy mining companies. If Ottawa wishes to undermine our reputation even further, I advise it to keep up the negative attitude towards the world’s artists, I am deeply disappointed in a government that cannot even recognize the value of courtesy towards even its OWN brilliant musician: the esteemed Lara St. John. I worked for Justin’s father and I assure you, he’d have been as indignant as I .

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