State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Sleep, delay, love

This week Nuit Blanche takes over Toronto and Culture Days goes into full swing. Ah, it’s a good time to be an art lover in Ontario. Both events are free to the public and you can see an enormous amount of art work that runs the gamut from truly awful to awesomely amazing. While Nuit Blanche is an all night endeavour that caters mostly to culture vultures of the hip kind, Culture Days is supposedly for those of us who like a good night’s sleep and don’t live below Dundas Street in Toronto. Both are indicative of what the art world is vying for; huge displays of art that engages the public in a huge way.

Culture Days and Nuit Blanche are funded by different levels of government and both have big timey sponsors from the financial sector. The engagement both of these events produces is successful; people come out in droves and really enjoy themselves. And both events are looked upon as ways the art world can inspire people to get more involved in art. Does this aspect work? Yes and definitely no.

For the most part artists are asked to supply their expertise for free. Some events in Nuit Blanche do pay those involved, and if you are a high profile artist with national and/or international cache you will be lucky enough to not only get paid but get the kind of glamorous attention usually reserved for movie stars. I don’t dispute that these events are not worthwhile but when energy and focus goes toward art related activities on the scale that Nuit Blanche and Cultue Days engenders, it is a bit disconcerting that for many of the artists that make these events so special being paid seems to be the act that dare not speak its name.

Having participated in Nuit Blanche I can say that it is a really great event on many different levels. It works and gets people discussing art which is amazing. But then again I made sure that I got money to do it. I’m like that. I like to get paid; it makes me a little unusual in the art world but I believe that my constant demand for payment for time spent is an act of advocacy and in some circles (certainly where I live where there is an atmosphere of oppressive volunteerism) it seems revolutionary.

The glamour of it all. Your art blogger setting up for last year’s Nuit Blanche.

Culture Days on the other hand seems outrageously dismissive of treating artists like professionals. Created to encourage communities to get more involved in local cultural activities, Culture Days seems more akin to a social experiment in national online public relations. All you get for your efforts is a website that mentions your event, a strained relationship with a local business if it doesn’t go well and a chance to be part of the Culture Days social media engine. If you are an artist, you don’t get paid; in fact it is very clear on the website that you must volunteer your time and expertise. This particular demand is almost fascist in its bluntness. As my friend who is a classical musician said, “Culture is important but not important enough to pay for.”

This all brings me to the point of this blog: Let’s get lazy. If you are an artist and really want to do something that has radical impact, drop out. Take a sick day. Go on vacation. Just don’t get involved. More and more artists spend time whirling about like chickens with their heads cut off because they now have to squeeze these huge art events into their lives as well as constantly look for funding for what they actually want and need to do; they have exhibitions that they need to prepare for and present; continue to improve their practice and have the time to look at other great art and have a life. By participating in too many of these events they will have very little time left to actually make anything that is recognizably good.

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness: obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day, ” states New York Times writer Tim Kreider. Art festivals happen one after the other now, exhibitions are back to back and artists are making work all the time for many different shows at once. Like everyone else we need a break. But unlike everyone else we can take one. So why don’t we?

Being an artist does mean to a certain extent that you have stay available for opportunities since they are not built into your profession. There is no trajectory from school to career; it kind of zigzags into infamy really. But I also think that artists tend to fear non-existence on a regular basis. We create therefore we are – it’s that kind of thing. In an accelerated culture like ours this syndrome just gets worse. Contemplation, gestation, meditation, these are the things we need from art and the very things that our culture resists daily.

If you are going to Nuit Blanche my friend Kirsten Johnson’s video This is Now. can be seen as part of the Amber Project at the Gladstone Hotel.

And another brilliant friend, Thom Sokoloski’s Dada Reboot will be on throughout the Distillery District.


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