Alice Klein

By Rachel Horner

The importance and influence of NOW Magazine on Toronto’s cultural and political landscape is a testament to co-founder Alice Klein’s ambition. Since helping to establish the ever-popular weekly newspaper, Toronto’s first free alternative press, Klein has steadily built a name for herself as a social activist, media mogul, and filmmaker.

Born in New York City, Alice Klein came to Toronto with her parents who had fled wartime Europe. She became involved in politics and social justice causes at an early age, eventually graduating with a degree in social history from the University of Toronto. Klein was first published in 1971 — a leftist and feminist piece entitled “The Velvet Fist.”

In 1981, Klein saw a need for an alternative press that would cover the cultural and social movements that were mostly being ignored by the mainstream media. With the Trudeau-era focus on finding a specific Canadian brand of culture, many underground artists were being neglected in favour of more high-profile, government-sponsored events, leaving the grassroots in a cultural hinterland. As Klein puts it, “We didn’t see exciting local culture covered in the mainstream media.”

Klein and her partner, Michael Hollett, created an accessible form of media that featured issues at the forefront of politics and culture — a space where they and their peers could dissent, create, and get the word out about events, people, and ideas outside of the mainstream. Toronto could now be more than just the National Ballet or City Hall — it could be a city with layers.

When asked about how NOW would fare during the current economic recession, Klein responds diplomatically, citing that as a business, NOW will see hard times. It’s a familiar challenge: it was, after all, a 22 percent interest-rate climate when Klein and Hollett founded the weekly during an earlier recession. When probed further, Klein reveals that the effects of the music industry’s lacklustre economic performance can be felt in the independent media; the advertising dollars that were coming from the music sector are dwindling. Klein chuckles and points out that the nature of the magazine business is something of a constant economic struggle, the newspaper’s established reputation aside. “There are no laurels in publishing,” she notes. Despite dwindling ad sales, Klein is optimistic that the recession will offer a new opportunity for an economic and social order that is more just.

NOW Magazine has competitors for advertising such as EYE Weekly and Metro, but Klein doesn’t seem worried. With podcasts, websites, social networking groups, and more to come, the evolution of NOW into a multimedia entity seems like a natural progression for the nearly thirty-year-old publication with a focus on freedom of expression and social justice. The era of Web 2.0 will surely bring exciting things, both online and for print, from the folks at NOW, and in Klein’s words, “it is a creation every week.”

Klein’s stance on civil liberties is unambiguous when it comes to her advocacy of freedom of the press and freedom of expression; she is a board member of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). CJFE is a non-governmental organization, supported by journalists and sympathizers, that is responsible for providing legal assistance to journalists who find themselves in socially oppressive circumstances. Klein also sits on the board of the Toronto Arts Council, which provides funding for arts projects and programs all over the city, further ensuring that independent art and culture production are given a fighting chance.

In 2007, Klein released her film, The Call of the Hummingbird, which was shown at festivals in Europe, North America, Latin America, Toronto’s HOTDOCS festival, and Mexico City’s DOCSDF; it was universally well received. The film, in brief, is about a colony of people that sets out to change the world — for the better — in a very limited amount of time. Although she is not currently working on any films, Klein hopes to work on more projects in the near future.

For now, to ensure that the future is reshaped in an equitable and responsible fashion, Klein has put her burgeoning career as a filmmaker on temporary hiatus so she can focus on what is going on in Ottawa. Klein’s autumn of 2008 was devoted to preventing a Conservative Party majority and rooting for the proposed coalition government. Klein has also been a frequent contributor to where she makes no bones about her left-leaning political persuasions and her criticisms of the Harper government.

One of the rallying cries Klein sent out was in the form of an activist network called The purpose of the organization is to encourage strategic, ecologically minded voting. The site encourages voters to speak directly to their MPs about their environmental concerns, and to bring together those who see the Conservative Party as a threat to progressive Canadian environmental policy.

Klein also works with Green Enterprise Toronto. GET provides a network and resources for businesses seeking to decrease their eco-footprint and who wish to make sustainability a part of their business plan — putting people and environment before profit.

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