The juiciest arts divorce ever sold

Macleans Magazine has just gone online with as much smut as it can muster on the rampaging divorce case between heiress and singer Eleanor McCain and former Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) president Jeff Melanson.

We know you’re not interested in smut. Those who are may click this link for the full story.

As far as the musical impact is concerned, these two paragraphs sum it up rather well:

melanson divorce

One arts insider is aghast: “It’s damaging to Jeff, it’s damaging to the TSO, it’s damaging to the Canadian arts community and it’s damaging to the McCain family. It’s a train wreck.” Lawyers are chattering: one shudders at “the abuse of the legal system to try to ruin someone’s career.”

But the combatants also represent the extremes of the insular Canadian art world—buyer and seller, donor and visionary—and at least some of what’s wrong with it. If McCain bought her way into the arts scene, “[losing] money on her ‘artistic’ endeavours,” as her estranged husband alleges in his claim that she “buys opportunities for herself and loses money on her ‘artistic’ endeavours’,” Melanson sold his way in: catapulting to celebrity status, particularly among the philanthropic elite, with a compelling, marketable vision of how the arts enrich communities, nations and economies. Such was Melanson’s charisma and celebrity that this is a world in which the hare, not the tortoise, gets the spotlight even if he doesn’t finish the race. It’s seldom acknowledged that his near-$1-billion plan for the Banff Centre was abandoned 2½ years in, and his epic $166.4-million plan for the money-losing TSO to build a recording studio and media lab went unquestioned publicly.

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  • MacLean’s is Canada’s national news magazine — it is not a tabloid newspaper, not People magazine, not the National Enquirer, and it doesn’t publish “smut”. I write this as one who certainly is not always in agreement with what it does publish. Passing references to romantic affairs and such are not smut, merely part of the weft and woof of a rather byzantine saga. And so, I recommend the entire article to readers here, especially any who want to get something of an insight into the Canadian Arts world and the machinations behind the scenes. Only if you look at the whole can you see coherence, and the whole Melanson-McCain story has implications for the entire Canadian Arts scene. Canadian nationalism has given the country a strange sort of insularity, and in some respects they have a different way of doing things here. A Londoner in origin, I’ve lived here many years, much involved in the Arts, and the problems that plagued that world circa 1980 plague it still in 2016. Melanson is a prime example, but also illustrates what happens when corporatising of musical institutions, or attempts at it, go whole hog.

    • I agree: the article is in no way smutty, and has lots of background on the Canadian arts scene. It is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the running of arts organisations who, like me, is not interested in either Melanson or McCain. I doubt I would care for any of them.

      Funny Ms. McCain’s June engagement with the NAC Orchestra is listed nowhere on their website, neither in the June events nor in the Orchestra schedule. Has she hired them for a private gig? If it was at the Arts Centre it would be on the list, as even the rentals are listed in Events.

  • What exactly has this man done to justify his reputation as a “culture czar”? Seems to me that he’s actually just a bamboozler who builds one house of cards after another, all of which blow away in the wind. He dreams big, but so what? Lots of people can dream big. It’s the follow-through that really counts. And if your dreams can’t be implemented and realized, they’re really just pipe dreams, and have nothing to do with vision.

    The czar has no clothes. So let’s move on. In spite of the supposed “insight” into the Canadian arts scene the article purports to reveal, I betcha the arts scene is actually rife with dedicated, hard-working folks doing their best to serve and ensure the survival of the arts in Canada. Mr. Melanson was (note past tense) a poseur, a glutton, a con man, and obviously no great friend of the arts.

    • I thought the observations on the whole fundraising climate were interesting. I tend to agree with you about Melanson. Reeks of the charlatan.

  • A well written article in the Cdn equivalent of Time Magazine. It all rings true – a carpetbagger who swoops in on the heels of more successful administrators (Bob Sirman and Mary Hoffsteader (sp)), taking credit for their successes, and then breaking all the furniture in the room and leaving. I knew there was going to be trouble in Toronto when he put his name above the music director’s on the wordmark/logo. Widely considered to be a “haircut” with little real substance by colleagues.

    • You’re referring to Mary Hofstetter. I remember thinking what chopped liver Melanson made of her in an interview in the Globe & Mail shortly after he arrived in Banff.

      • Exactly. Or when he was appointed “arts czar” for that miscreant Rob Ford. Melanson had never sold a ticket, produced a show or run a performing arts venue in his life and ran a school that got up to 40% of it’s funding from the government. The community was (rightly) agog and angry.

  • I know little of the arts scene in Canada or of its media culture. But the article does seem to me quite reasoned and far from smut. Neither party comes out of it well. The main point to me is that Melanson comes across as a self-inflated, pompous egomaniac with something of a Bernie Madoff mentality about him. At one point a board member says his board did due diligence before pointing him. I seriously doubt that!

    • The due diligence of the boards of both the Banff Centre and the TSO likely consisted of a couple of Google searches made by very costly headhunting firms. It took a woman scorned – a very rich woman very scorned – to hire a private intvestigator. THAT’S due diligence.

      • Well, if that’s the case – if Board due diligence consists of a google search – the next Board will have a lot of information to mull over before making an offer.

        • They sure will.

          Actually, it’s hard to blame the boards in Banff and Toronto. They’re both likely populated with smart and successful businesspeople who are only able to volunteer a few hours per month. While not exactly hobbyists, they certainly don’t live and breath the arts the way that staff and musicians do. Naturally, the boards will then rely on headhunting firms, who command top dollar and then cast their own spell on boards. It’s headhunters who found and recommended this bamboozler. And who spent time Googling media puff stories when they should have been digging elsewhere.

          I’m just glad this character’s career in the arts is toast.

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