State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Destiny beside a bronze cow

If you are not Canadian you do not know that our current federal government is in the midst of scandals growing so numerous and complex that an app might be worth developing in order for us regular folk to keep tabs on who knew what, when they knew it and what is being done to rectify it.

Frankly, it doesn’t surprise me that there are nefarious things at work in our political upper classes. It can’t be easy to do the right thing all the time. In the case of this current pack it seems it isn’t even an option to do the right thing at the best of times. Like most people I am appalled but I am also not sure that outrage even works anymore. In any case I am far more troubled by the growing campaign touting the oil sands.

I watch TV. If you don’t then you have no idea about this however if you do, then you are also seeing many, many ads every evening during prime time touting the benefits of our petroleum producers. The ads are clever, bright and cheery with real people conveying a comfortable and casual style. Our resources are friendly, happy businesses that white people really enjoy and they make our economy, our lives and our souls better! the ads seem to say. The overall tone is folksy and sunny as if resource extraction consisted of making apple pies and iced lemonade on a hot day.

Are these ads trying to make us feel like fools? Environmental destruction can be caused by resource extraction and without regulations or protections, our water and air can be poisoned. This isn’t a belief, these are known facts. But the opposite is proclaimed. Oil producers are saving the earth from climate change you idiots! How would you couch potatoes know anyway? You all live in Toronto!

Marcus Kucey-Jones & Ryan Lotecki's fire hydrants in Hintonburg, Ottawa.
Marcus Kucey-Jones & Ryan Lotecki’s funny and sublime fire hydrants in Hintonburg, Ottawa.

This past weekend I was in Ottawa taking a personal tour of the many newish public sculptures when I continually stumbled upon bus shelters and the like that announced the magnificence of our future because of the oil sands. These ads remind me of something really sinister; they seem expensive, well placed and very well supported as they are sandwiched between the federal government’s action plan ads. The whole thing definitely has an Orwellian “double plus good” feel to them.

Because I am who I am I found that looking away from the ad that told me the oil sands would create 830,000 jobs in the next twenty years and toward art bathed me in relief. It seemed to me that the artist’s work was a real tactile thing, an interactive object lovingly created in order to stop a harried pedestrian for a moment and let them wander in thought. The oil sands ad was a hostile (and somewhat defensive) proclamation that told you how the future will be. The public square had room for both, it is up to us to choose which defines us more.

Kettle's on!  Noel Harding's teapot, Slater & Kent, Ottawa
Kettle’s on! Noel Harding’s teapot, Slater & Kent, Ottawa

I am very familiar with the necessity of resource use. My partner is a geologist and reminds me of where the substance comes from that makes the thing I am using a lot. And I live in the real world and know that we can’t just stop using fossil fuels suddenly and use wind. But, I do think that there is a big difference between educating us about the importance of our energy use and how we should be managing it and the message these petroleum producers are selling us. One makes you think about yourself, one gives you no choice but to believe.

Good art chooses the earlier route toward understanding. It can make you think about life in unexpected ways. Being told what is good for you is propaganda, plain and simple. I wish that art was given the same amount of money and support the energy community is given. Our contribution is no less important and really, way more sustainable. Though we do need energy to drive places, we need culture to make those places exist. Without culture, we might as well stay home and eat from our gardens – which isn’t such a bad idea now that I think about it.

Public art is a gift in our distracted and stressful lives. When I was younger and lived in Toronto I used to make plans with people by saying things like “I’ll be next to the Henry Moore” or “It’s where that big chair is…”. Come to think of it, my hubby arranged our first date by meeting near a bronze cow that once stood in Union Station. Yes, I met my destiny beside a piece of art, how great is that?

4 thoughts on “State of the Arts”

  1. Thank-you much, Victoria. The voice of yours and of young artists and writers like you may be the only protective barrier presently at work against the most destructive and malevolent plague of multi-national corporate propaganda ever witnessed.
    It is beyond understanding how people can see only for themselves and their present lifestyle without giving just one ounce of thought, one simple question, a choice as to the future of either a healthy, functioning planet – or an entirely cursed world their own children would likely inherit and of which there will be no alternative.

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