Tag: funding

Confusion Reigns

I don’t know what to make of this.

My first feeling is that $100,000 could be so much better-spent inviting Canadian groups to present their works overseas. It would certainly go farther. Artists, last I checked, could barely afford their rent, let alone fancy hotels or European jaunts.

However, my second instinct says Canada’s Governor-General is a really good ambassador to sell Canada’s cultural industry abroad. It’s part of her function, and it’s good to have a smart, accomlished, classy figure like Michaelle Jean as the public face of this country internationally.

In stark contrast to those who feel that $100,000 is too much money to be wasting in these economic times, I point you to a certain politician’s platform on the arts, and his stance on the importance of promoting them amidst harsh economic times.

Not only is arts education indispensable for success in a rapidly changing, high skill, information economy, but studies show that arts education raises test scores in other subject areas as well.

As Russell Smith pointed out last week, it’s precisely in such times that people turn to the arts. The 50,000+ who lined up in the cold to get a peek at the new Art Gallery of Ontario this past weekend are proof positive that art matters to people -all people, not just some of them.

Oh, and it makes a whack of dough too. I’m just not sure Mme. Jean’s overseas visit is the best way to use our resources right now. Considering the Conservatives are all about fiscal prudence, it seems like a bit of a waste not to consult the arts community about what they want first. Surely they could be of help in advising on matters like cultural diplomacy? Hmmm. Considering the resourcefulness of this country’s artists, it seems like a pity they weren’t consulted.

Politics. Economy. Art.

One of my favourite pastimes is pouring over the weekend papers amidst steaming cups of tea, with Go or Michael Enright on in the background, nibbling away on bits of toast, egg, bacon or waffles. It was with great interest and more than a little sadness that I read the story of Zakariya Zubeidi in Saturday’s edition of The Globe and Mail:

It was the hardest decision of Zakariya Zubeidi’s life. Slightly more than a year ago, the powerful commander of Jenin’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, one of Israel’s most-wanted for plotting shooting attacks and suicide bombings, walked into a Palestinian security office and handed in his gun.

At 32, he had concluded bitterly that his fight had failed. And he had another ambition: to deter this poverty-stricken camp’s children away from the path of violence by rebuilding a children’s theatre destroyed in the last intifada.

Offered, along with other gunmen, a rare amnesty from Israel, he spent time in a Palestinian jail and swore to remain unarmed. On his release, he pledged to dedicate his time to the Freedom Theatre’s workshops and performances, trying to recreate his own boyhood experiences in drama thanks to the work of a Jewish-Israeli peace activist.

But today his past has caught up with him, illustrating the difficulty of starting a new life after one of violence. The theatre, now thriving under the direction of the original founder’s son, does not want him there for fear that he will scare off much-needed foreign donors in the theatre’s quest to expand.

I wonder if anyone in the Canadian theatre world could imagine this happening. We all understand the importance of keeping benefactors happy, and resorting to sometimes-questionable measures to keep its members happy. Juliano Mer Khamis’ has a point about fearing Zubeidi’s association with the theatre; it may truly harm their reputation, their chances of fundraising, and indeed, their physical safety. Still, to isolate someone whose whole being seems so entirely bound up with theatre feels… horribly sad. Isn’t part of art’s purpose to enlighten? Even re-reading it now, the story puts the role and significance of theatre –and its relationship to politics -in a whole new light.

At a time when artists need to stick together, cultivate community and spread awareness, it’s heartbreaking to see possibilities being ripped asunder by politics and nationalism. I don’t know what kind of a suggestion to offer here, but I’m so grateful to the Globe for publishing this story. Yet another example of how art impacts life, and life impacts art.

In that vein, it was with great interest that I read Mark Vallen’s blog this morning about the impact the global recession could have on the livelihoods and outputs of visual artists. While it’s tempting to tut-tut at art’s role in harsh economic times, it’s equally apt to suppose that (to twist a phrase) “art is the mother of necessity.” History would seem to bear out the fact that harsh economic reality tends to yield some wonderful stuff –and that stuff, whether it takes the form of painting, sculpture, performance, writing or otherwise, is a reflection, examination, and exploration of the economic reality we all face.

Hardship knows no bounds; conversely, its unbound nature allows its expression in many creative outlets. And there’s something reassuring about that.

Not Anon… But Awesome


Here’s a note my friend Thom Marriott imported from his own, very-fine blog, to Facebook. It’s worth a read (or two):

In a major cabinet shuffle this morning, Stephen Harper announced sweeping changes to his inner circle and introduced many new faces to some very important positions. The major news is undoubtedly the inclusion of 10 women, representing 26% of the cabinet seats. This is a long overdue move by any sitting government, and the Conservatives should be lauded for this move in the right direction toward equality in parliament. However, I have concerned myself with one specific move – one which actually demotes a woman from a major to minor portfolio.

Josee Verner, MP from Louis-Saint-Laurent, was demoted this morning from her post as Minister of Canadian Heritage, Minister on the Status of Women and Minister responsible for Official Languages to Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister for la Francophonie (two minor cabinet posts). This is a fantastic move on the part of the government. Ms. Verner has been an embarrassment in her post of Heritage minister, cutting programs without the ability to defend those cuts and failing to fight for her portfolio and its programs with the same verve that is expected of other ministers in their positions in Industry, Environment or Finance. I will grant that she was overburdened by leading three portfolios, but that simply emphasizes the lack of commitment to arts and culture by this Conservative government. Stephen Harper and Josee Verner have played that portfolio to their grassroots supporters, following the pro-free-market stance of Margaret Thatcher’s Tories in England. However, the English Conservatives have not held power in England since the retirement of Thatcher, and Ed Vaizey, the shadow cultural minister for the Brit Tories, is now pushing for more government funding of the arts, exclaiming that politics has no place in arts funding.

“Government money is pump-priming money,” he says. “Success breeds success. The irony is, if you double the grant to an arts body, you probably end up doubling the amount of private giving to it as well, because people say, ‘I want to invest in something that has the backing of the government.’

Today, Mr. Harper made a change to the landscape of arts in politics. James Moore, the youngest cabinet minister (he’s 32), has been named to the Heritage post and I must admit that it concerns me. Mr. Moore holds college diplomas in economics and business administration and a university degree in political science. He was first elected an MP at 24, quickly becoming Deputy Foreign Affairs Critic, Deputy National Revenue Critic, Senior Transport Critic, and Vice-Chair of the Commons Transport Committee. After re-election in 2004, Mr. Moore served as Official Opposition Transportation Critic, as well as Amateur Sport Critic in Harper’s shadow cabinet. After the Conservatives took power in 2006, James Moore was appointed to Parliamentary Secretary to both the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and the Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics. By the time the most recent election rolled around, James had again shifted – this time to Secretary of State for the 2010 Olympics.

James Moore is obviously a hard worker and well liked within the Conservative Party. In his first term, he was named “the best up-and-coming MP” four years in a row by fellow MPs and staffers. His resume is impressive and his education is extensive. However, where are the qualifications to understand the portfolio that he has just been handed? What is his knowledge of the arts industry and its needs? In this time of uncertain economics, do we really have time to wait while a former transport critic learns the ropes of an underfunded portfolio? Will this MP take the time to fight for the support that is so desperately needed in the arts and culture industry, or is he already looking to the next rung on the ladder?

A change in leadership at Heritage Canada is a good thing, and I hope that James Moore is the right person for the job. If so, I leave him with this advice…

Listen.

Listen to the artists that strive to eke out an existence with meaning; with purpose.
Listen to the songs, the poems, and the plays that attempt to define our identity as a nation.
Listen to the heartbeat of a nation longing for a culture to call our own.
Listen to us and our cultural industry will thrive and be the envy of the world.
So much is possible from the office you now occupy, Mr. Moore. All you have to do is listen.

Welcome

Not long ago, I got into a huge argument with a friend of mine. Our initially-polite discussion about the threatened arts cuts turned into a huge torrent of emotion and passionate debate; I realized, in speaking with this person, that, despite my being an arts writer, I still had a lot to learn about the arts in Canada, and of the nature of the lives of working artists.

The recent announcement (make that non-announcement) of the cuts to the Prom Arts and Trade Routes Programs, among many others, has sparked a heated debate within the arts community. What with the promise of a Canadian election on the horizon, I can think of no better time to foster an ongoing dialogue with artists, as well as those outside the arts world, about the role and nature of culture in Canada.

I’ve started this blog to allow for a more free-flowing discussion, of not just the threatened cuts, but about current affairs issues that relate to arts and culture within this country.

What makes this blog special, or different, from the myriad of others covering the same topics?

I’ll be putting my interviewer skills to work, and featuring artists, as well as public figures, sounding off in their own inimitable way, about current affairs. All interviews, unless noted, will be anonymous. The focus will be on the issue, not the person. Context for the individual (and their views) will be provided.

Look out for lots of talk within the next few weeks. In the meantime, I’ll be re-posting my blog from Arts & Thoughts here, so that everyone can comment, not just those with a Myspace account.

Enjoy.

There’ll be no road too narrow
There’ll be a new day
And it’s today
For us
-Nick Cave

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