State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Mercury, the messenger

This week I learned some things. First that I don’t handle computer problems very well, especially when taking a tower apart four times did not lead to fixing the problem. And I learned there is something called Mercury Retrograde which we are in right now. Apparently the planet Mercury slows down for several weeks four times a year. When this happens communications are interrupted and things like computers go on the fritz.

While I admit to being a total skeptic when it comes to astrology I still think it is kind of nifty when your life aligns with ancient mythic ideas. The upside to this Mercury Retrograde thing is that it is supposed to also be a time to reflect on your life, decisions you have made and the direction you are headed. So, it was great timing for the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) to send out a strategic planning survey to all us artists for input on what they should be focusing on in the next five years.

The survey is one of the better arts related surveys I have taken. I do a lot of surveys on art because I really do want my voice heard. Do they ever amount to anything? Perhaps. I do know that my partner used to always ask at the Tim Hortons for an egg salad sandwich knowing that they didn’t have one. He did this for two years. We drive a lot around Ontario and though I would prefer to stop at an independent place, it’s always Hortons that is open and has parking. I refuse to drink their god awful coffee but I am prone to grab a bagel there once in a while. So, he asked this question a lot. And then one day they started selling egg salad sandwiches. Coincidence?

Christy Haldane's glass and rock sculpture at the Proximity Fine Art Gallery
Christy Haldane’s glass and rock sculpture at the Proximity Fine Art Gallery

In this survey the OAC asked if they should focus on artists struggling during this recession. I was knocked flat. I’ve had many a conversation over the years with officers at the OAC who felt that taking people’s income into consideration wasn’t their job. Income has nothing to do with artistic merit was a kind of mantra. I’ve always thought this was crazy because every artist I know is obsessed with their income. Artists and 1%ers think about money and making it all the time. It was and still is the number one conversation I have with other artists.

There are millions of people protesting financial decision making all over the world. Every day I read about another uprising somewhere because people are fed up with their government’s handling of the recession. These protests are being transformed into questions about culture, the environment and even philosophy. I’m an anarchist-lite so part of me finds it all kind of exciting. Unrest has never been higher and it all began when our global, financial industries imploded sending us all over a cliff. Five years on we see the unraveling of our trust in our institutions and lives being changed on many different levels. I think that one’s income is kind of a priority these days.

Lucky Jackson's Wookie and friend at Gallery in the Attic
Lucky Jackson’s Wookie and friend at Gallery in the Attic

I’m hoping that the OAC’s decision to inquire as to whether they should be taking these past few years and people’s incomes into consideration is a thin edge of a wedge. I totally understand that a lot of people do not want to divulge their incomes to anyone, even an arm’s length government agency (or especially not an arm’s length government agency). And I get it that how much money you make isn’t always exactly related to what you do. And how much money you make isn’t anyone’s damn business. But I do think that people who don’t want to use their own money to make art shouldn’t get grants for their art projects. They should get loans perhaps or tax advantages or something that helps them in the long run. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be helped but they probably don’t need that $7500 desperately and it probably won’t make or break their careers. An artist who makes less than $20,000 a year however would find that $7500 will make a huge difference in how they make their work. The only way to know this is by making income a marker for funding.

But I am probably dreaming in technicolour over here. Artists may obsess about money but they usually don’t want anyone to know how they are doing financially. Some are helped a lot by their families, some by their partners and some engage in semi-illegal activities so, it is a hard sell. I get it.

Not engaging in discussions of income will only hurt the art world in the long run because making people think that what you create doesn’t need to be tied to an income reduces its value, not just monetarily but also spiritually. If you have ever been out of work for a long time or been very poor or struggled to earn a living you know what I mean; without a wage of some sort that helps you make your way in this world you begin to question your value as a person.

Want to be part of the solution? Head out to these ‘cottage country’ galleries this summer and buy something!

Gallery in the Attic

Proximity Fine Art Gallery

Rails End Gallery & Arts Centre

Agnes Jamieson Gallery

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