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.
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.
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!