FRANKE JAMES

Canadian Government Tries to Silence Franke James

by Franke James

Franke James essay Dear PM

“Who was the idiot who approved an art show
by that woman, Franke James?”

Memorable words from one of Canada’s top officials on hearing that
the Canadian Embassy in Croatia had offered support for Franke’s art show.

MAY 28, 2013: Please see my new book, Banned on the Hill: a True Story of Dirty Oil and Government Censorship, and the new Indiegogo campaign to get people talking about climate change — even the head honchos in Ottawa.

NOVEMBER 10, 2011: Please see the latest news about the Access to Information Documents and the billboard/poster show in Ottawa.

July 25, 2011 – Summary of the Problem:

The Canadian Government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, is actively working to shut down my solo European art exhibition, which is set to tour 20 cities in Europe. [Update Nov.10, 2011: Please see latest news about the Access to Information Documents]

Canadian officials have also bullied the NGO, Nektarina, and warned them repeatedly to cancel the exhibition because they are opposed to “Franke James.” They are doing everything in their power to make sure my show is killed. An employee with Amnesty International in Croatia reacted to the news by saying, “This is a sad day for Canadian democracy.”

“Franke James is tackling a great Canadian taboo with humour and culture – insisting Canadians must act on climate protection despite polluting profits from the tar sands. She should be celebrated and supported as a Canadian treasure – instead our diplomatic circles are told to blacklist her from Canadian international auspices. Artists, environmentalists and anyone who cares about Canada’s reputation in the world should rise up to support Franke’s efforts.” ~ Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth Canada

Please read the post below to understand the petro-state politics that are underlying this censorship — and see how you can lend your support.

My Reaction to the Blacklisting:

At first I couldn’t believe it. Me? Blacklisted? What?!

I’m the person who wouldn’t even build a green driveway without getting permission from City Hall! I believe in working with the system to change laws, not break them.

alice drawing from Paradise Unpaved by Franke James

How does it make sense to blacklist me? This is crazy!

But apparently, I’ve ignited the Harper Government’s fury by telling the truth about Canada’s footdragging on climate action. And having the audacity to advocate pollution taxes and tougher environmental policies on Alberta’s Tar Sands! (recommendations which are in line with many respected environmental NGO’s including the Pembina Institute.)

Since May 2011, the Canadian Government has been using underhanded, behind-the-scenes tactics to get my “What can one person do?” art show in Europe cancelled.

The goal of the ambitious show, organized by Nektarina Non Profit, is to raise environmental awareness with youth, and inspire teens to make their own climate change art. The show has the support of the Ministry of Culture in Latvia and the Croatian Agency for Environment. It’s a huge honor for me — but I can also see that it’s a direct result of the visual essays I’ve written, and the green conscience workshops I’ve done with students in Canada and the USA.

You would think that Canada would be proud of me. And in fact, the show initially received enthusiastic responses from Canadian embassies in Europe, and a promise of funding. But in mid-May this support was suddenly cancelled by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa, with the words, “Who was the idiot who approved an art show by that woman, Franke James?”

Here are two examples of the government’s interference to date:

  1. NGO WAS ADVISED TO DROP THE SHOW
    This past May, a Canadian Embassy official met with the show’s organizer, Nektarina Non Profit, in Croatia. She advised them to abandon the show because my Dear Prime Minister visual essay — created independently by me for the 2008 Federal Election — offended the Harper Government. It did not support any political party. It only asked that carbon polluters pay. (See my press release from 2008.)
  2. NGO BULLIED BY CANADIAN EMBASSY OFFICIAL
    On July 13th, a Canadian Embassy official called Sandra Antonovic at Nektarina, and pressured her. The official reminded Sandra that she could apply for more grants in the future — and said that it was the artist (Franke James) they objected to. On July 22nd, Nektarina published an official statement on the bullying by the Harper Government. Here is an excerpt:

“In the past few months we have encountered many difficulties in organizing the exhibitions, usually connected to interventions of the Canadian Government or institutions under Canadian governmental control.  We continued to look for ways to collaborate with the homeland of the artist, although at times we felt patronized and even intimidated, as a small NGO trying to reach an understanding with a powerful state. This was most surprising given Canada’s reputation over many decades as a leader in promoting democratic freedoms, the right of free expression and also supporting the international community (through its role as a peacekeeper and in many other ways).  It is clear that Canada has a difficult position to resolve in relation to its narrower national interests (in particular the exploitation of natural resources) and its wider responsibility in the international community.” ~ Sandra Antonovic, Nektarina Non Profit

Canadian Embassies can’t even offer me a Handshake

At first I was skeptical that the Canadian Embassies would be so hostile to “me”, a Canadian citizen and business-owner. I’ve even led a Trade Mission to Los Angeles a few years ago… So, I approached them myself asking if they would host a press conference to announce my show (as they do for other artists and authors). Surely, they will greet a Canadian artist with open arms?

But no… I was rebuffed on the phone, and by email. None of the Canadian embassies wants anything to do with me or the show. Not one embassy has agreed to honor the event. They can’t even offer me a handshake, which seems very strange and very ‘un-Canadian’.

Is the show being blocked because the Harper Government doesn’t want Canadians to worry about the tar sands, our largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution? All I can think is that it’s a wee bit inconvenient for them if my work shows up just when the European Union is deciding on the EU Fuel Directive which could slap a “dirty oil” label on the Tar Sands. Or the CETA negotiations.

Or maybe, they simply don’t want kids to learn how to protect the environment? Because that’s what the show is about.

Is this the Canada we want? A country that cracks down on artists who speak up when they see a government policy that’s wrong, and that’s endangering our children’s futures?

Dirty oil is making for dirty politics and it’s soiling Canada’s reputation – destroying the Canada we know and love.

This climate change art show is a tremendous opportunity to make a difference. But it’s all at risk because of the blacklisting and interference by the Harper Government.

I could use your help. Whatever nationality you are, and wherever you are in the world, you can help to spread the news of this shocking interference and blacklisting by the Canadian Government. It’s an abuse of power, and a threat to free speech and freedom of expression. In many countries, artists and writers are afraid to speak out for fear of being punished. But few would point the finger at Canada as that type of oppressive country. Sadly, I am being punished for speaking out. I believe this attempt to muzzle me calls for immediate and strong action. Please see ideas below on how you can lend your support.

How can you help? Updated August 8th with news of the billboard art in Ottawa. Here are some ways:

  1. Make a pledge on LoudSauce.
  2. Leave your comment below about this blacklisting.
  3. PEN International and PEN Canada work to protect writers and artists right to free speech. Consider a donation.
  4. Share this blog post on Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

Support for Franke James


“Franke James is among the tiny handful of really powerful and profound artists who have taken on climate change – the most important topic on the planet, but one so big and all-encompassing that it often defies artistic interpretation. Her work is incredibly important for many of us around the world.”
~ Bill McKibben, Founder 350.org

“Franke James’ work is honest, powerful and funny. She has a rare ability to sweep past the polarization and complexity of critical issues and shine a stark spotlight without over simplifying. Her work is not be missed by anyone interested in climate change or the future of Canada!” ~ Tzeporah Berman,  Co-director Climate and Energy Greenpeace International

“Artistic communicator par excellence, Franke James is a Canadian visionary and master of inspiration for lighting the passions around the epochal realms of our time. Her visual essays brilliantly pare the broad complexities of climate change down to a human scale narrative that resonates with the Canadian public.”  Toby A. A. Heaps,  Editor-in-Chief, Corporate Knights Magazine

“The words ‘visual artist’ do too little justice to Franke James. She is a commentator and educator, an entertainer and provocateur. Her thoughtful and thought-provoking work is whimsical, accessible and resolutely non-confrontational – sometimes indignant, but never impolite. Franke can’t make me feel better about climate change, but she’s one of the few people around who gives me hope.”  ~ Richard Littlemore, co-author of Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming

“Franke James is a unique asset to the climate movement: a fearless artist whose work simultaneously bursts with joyfulness and hard-hitting rationale about the current crisis to our planet. Without fail, after reading one of her visual essays, I’m always freshly motivated to address these challenges head-on.” ~ Jess Leber, Environment Editor, Change.org

“Franke James is a Canadian treasure whose art has helped to explain the global climate crisis in understandable and even humorous ways. She is meticulous about the facts and substance, but her voice is eminently refreshing and approachable. I love her art, and that she uses it for story-telling to raise awareness of humankind’s urgent challenge.” ~ Michael Noble, Fresh Energy

“Franke James’ artwork is a vital and beautiful tool to awaken greater consciousness and action on the part of people all over the world to confront our greatest challenge: climate change.” May Boeve, Executive Director, 350.org

“Franke James has an extraordinary talent for mixing engaging stories and the latest science to make action-provoking climate art.  Naturally, it has been a pleasure to work with Franke and Bill James on the CO2 Toaster website widget that has helped get the attention of hundreds of thousands of people to think more about humanity’s single most important environmental data.”  ~ Michael McGee, Creator of Earth’s CO2 Home Page

“Our climate experts are desperate to explain their science in a way that promotes action. So are environmentalists, social justice activists, and intellectuals of all stripe. Franke James just might have the key. Her visual essays make detailed, sound arguments, but they are delivered in a way that lets people hear. She eschews polemics, admits her own uncertainties, and draws everyone into the circle of change. Here’s one voice I’d like the whole world to hear.” ~ Cathryn Wellner, This Gives Me Hope

“I have long been a fan of Franke James’ unique brand of storytelling – so much so that I’ve borrowed from one of her best – Paradise Unpaved – and made it a centerpiece of more than 30 presentations on environmental leadership I have made to more than 4,500 people from across Canada. Her story of taking on City Hall for the right to build a green driveway is exceptional for its ability to engage diverse audiences on a very sensitive matter. Her literally “grassroots” activism gets people thinking how each of us contribute to the environmental challenges we face, and also to the solutions – and for doing so in a way that is empowering.” ~ David Noble, Principal, 2degreesC

For more information contact:

Franke James, Artist
Tel: 416-256-9166 franke@frankejames.com

Lisa Borden at Borden Communications.
Tel: 416-484-6489 lisa@bordencom.com

miniature of Dear PM essay by Franke James


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