We read, via the ever-informative Norman Lebrecht, that the Sydney Opera House’s main auditorium will be renamed in honour of the celebrated Australian soprano Joan Sutherland. Our correspondent is livid about this, pointing out that the hall is a klunker and unworthy of the Great Dame’s name. (You can find his outrage here.)
It’s not because we build better halls, or because we are more circumspect when splashing around the names of famous artists. It’s because, these days, we only name concert halls after rich people or corporations contributing towards the construction costs.
Looking around Toronto, I see Roy Thomson Hall, Koerner Hall, George Weston Hall, the Four Seasons Centre and the Sony Centre, among others. These are not named for artistic, cultural, political or social leaders – they are named after people and corporations who simply bought the naming rights. (A glaring exception is the Glenn Gould Studio at the CBC. While there are ironies attached to naming a concert hall after a performer who shunned them like the plague, it’s still a better idea than simply offering up the name as a saleable commodity.)
And it should, I think, be noted that all of the above donors only partially funded the halls that bear their names. Back in the good old days, when Andrew Carnegie or the Massey family (in Toronto) wanted to put their names on public buildings, they had to pay the whole bill out of their own pockets. Under the current arrangement, the taxpayer usually pays the lion’s share of the costs. Then some self-aggrandizing donor steps up, gives a small percentage, and gets all the glory.
A few months ago, I took a trip to London, Ontario, to the University of Western Ontario. Upon arrival at my old alma mater, I discovered that the Faculty of Music is now named in honour of Don Wright. Finland has the Sibelius Academy, Hungary has the Liszt Academy, Britain has the Purcell School of Music – and we have the Don Wright Faculty of Music. So who the heck is Don Wright? A prominent Canadian composer, performer, pedagogue or musical scholar? The UWO’s website identifies him only as “a philanthropist.”
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for thanking donors. But there are other ways to thank them that don’t involve naming a hall or building after them. The names of public buildings should be reserved for public figures whose contributions to Canadian society have made them worthy of memorializing.
Why do we cheapen ourselves so? And what’s next – an annual auction of the Order of Canada to the highest bidder?
© Colin Eatock 2012