News and horror from the last two weeks

Remembering Mike O’Brien: a writer and actor passes away

There’s a moment in the movie The Unsaid, a not-too-shabby psychological thriller filmed in and around Regina over the summer of 2000, when Andy Garcia finally confronts the person who committed the truly heinous act which remains unsaid for most of the film. The first time I saw it I laughed out loud. The villain, revealed at last, was Mike O’Brien, whose time at the Leader-Post overlapped with my own.

It’s not that O’Brien, who died of cancer on Sunday, May 24 at the age of 51, didn’t play a compelling villain. It was just such a jarring difference from the Mike O’Brien I knew to be one of the nicest, funniest and smartest guys in any room he happened to find himself.

Most of my conversations with him involved either the rock band Fugazi or Paul Chadwick’s Concrete comic book series. I was in awe of his range of knowledge and talent, and admired the way his writing career bloomed after he left the Leader-Post — first for CBC Radio in Regina, then Winnipeg. Along the way, he scored recurring roles on the only two Prairie TV shows that matter, Corner Gas and Less Than Kind.

I didn’t laugh out loud when I saw Mike on Less Than Kind. At least, not for the same reasons. He was a perfect fit on that show, which embraced the haphazardness of life.

Mike kept a blog the last few years as he battled cancer and started a family — he leaves behind a wife and a four-year-old son. The Big Diseasy is Mike O’Brien at his best: fall-down funny, deeply moving, and always unflinching.

I can’t be the only one wishing it had been renewed for another season. /Emmet Matheson

Art And Drama: what’s going on at the Saskatchewan Arts Board?

The last few months have been busy at the Saskatchewan Arts Board. In January, it unveiled a new strategic plan. CEO David Kyle resigned then, and associate Executive Director Peter Sametz was dismissed shortly after. Then in April, Jeremy Morgan, who’d been hired to replace Kyle until a new CEO could be hired, stepped down as well.

Responding to concerns expressed by member organizations about all the changes, the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance organized town hall meetings in Regina and Saskatoon on May 19 and 20.

“The SAB is a cherished institution, and while we’re happy it hasn’t received major funding cuts the changes have been alarming,” says SAA president Marcus Miller. “We didn’t expect a lot of content with the Q&A, although we did get some, but what we were really hoping is that people would show up which they did, so it was a show of concern.”

During his opening remarks at the Regina meeting, Parks, Sports & Culture minister Mark Docherty assured the capacity crowd the government was committed to supporting the arts. Acting CEO Ranjan Thakre and SAB board member Ken Azzopardi echoed those thoughts, and repeated the same message the next day in Saskatoon.

At both meetings, says Miller, “a lot of frustration was aired.

“People were expecting their questions to be answered clearly, and for the most part they weren’t,” Miller says.

Morgan’s unexpected departure was one issue raised. A well-respected arts administrator, he had the confidence of the community. Thakre has an impressive c.v. as well, but as a SAB board member, he was technically ineligible to be appointed acting CEO. The board did an end-run around its regulations, though, by having Thakre resign first. Azzopardi said that was done to facilitate SAB operations until a new CEO could be hired. That’s expected in late June.

Other questions addressed longer standing concerns, such as the static nature of SAB funding over the last two decades. With more artists and arts organizations active in Saskatchewan, the arts funding pie is being cut into ever thinner slices.

At an in camera session after the Saskatoon meeting, says Miller, concerns were also expressed about Creative Saskatchewan — which the government established in 2013 to provide marketing support for artists and industry associations.

“It’s not that people are against it, but they’re wondering how this new agency with a much larger budget than the SAB — and which seems to be run in a different way with no commitment to peer review or arms-length relation to the government — will impact on the SAB,” Miller says. /Gregory Beatty