State of the Arts – are we ready for a fight?

Victoria Ward

Corporatocracy, a word to describe a government run by corporations, or a word that will label you a lefty nut job? Discuss

This blog is about how we are now engaged in a culture war of sorts and how the arts is sheepish to intervene.

When you live in a log cabin in the forest you can get kinda’ paranoid about the world. Especially if you subscribe to waaay too many sites and publications which continually outline how your comfy, middle class world is being taken apart all around you. I have until now been immune to believing things I read – scepticism being one of my fairer attributes.

I say until now not because I am now swimming in a stew of fantastic imaginings but because I had a strange epiphany the other day. It suddenly occurred to me in a very real way that I am no longer living in the society I grew up in. You know, the progressive one with rights, environmental priorities, compassion, and alternative thinking.

The federal budget came out last week and as per usual with this current regime, it was nothing more than a chance to create buzz around this government’s relentless pursuit of ideological determinism. No new arts funding, or new anything for the arts regardless of the massive amount of innovative creativity on display throughout the world and nary a mention that the arts is a major economic engine. Nope not us, we’re all in the energy business here.

There is of course the seemingly sinister move by the feds to crack down on charities and their political intentions through new layers of scrutiny which will probably become an administrating hell (while removing red tape from industry’s accountability I might add), and a tightening of art and donating benefits. These footnotes, their non-highlighted status alone shows that we are truly engaged in a time of dangerous cultural fisticuffs.

“A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion

I could list a lot of scary stuff like how the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has launched a huge media campaign, signing deals with Postmmedia to effectively create a hybrid of journalism and advertising that favours their products like pipelines. And that they are now throwing money around like a drunken sailor at various cultural institutions in order to “not interfere with programming” just as pure support because they’re a bunch of good corporate citizens. Their advertising campaign runs to almost the same hysteric proportion as the current Olympics. I especially like the Gateway ad on TV with the fish in it – as in fish are somehow a priority to a bunch of people who regularly pollute rivers.

This is on the website of, the url representing exactly what their problem is - visual, emotional, cultural
This is on the website of, the url representing exactly what their problem is – visual, emotional, cultural

No one wants their funding cut so an uncomfortable silence is the reaction in the art world. I’m not here to challenge that thinking, funding means jobs and fees to people like me. But isn’t freedom to make the work we need to more important? Perhaps most artists are like me and just waiting to see if we will get rounded up and sent to those huge prisons the government is building. I guess we can’t believe that we are truly relinquishing many of the values we grew up with because we aren’t all wearing Maoist clothing and making widgets in our backyards yet.

Am I being dramatic? I would suggest try reading Allan Gregg’s Assault on Reason lecture from two years ago. In it he details a dismantling of many legislative acts that have kept us from drinking poisoned water, safe guarded artist’s freedoms and kept a social safety net in tact.

I became an artist because of the lucky spin of a wheel that made me white, privileged and North American. It hasn’t been easy, my parents went broke while I was growing up and I experienced first hand the struggle of impoverished circumstances. But I had a solid understanding of how I could express myself without serious repercussions. I always felt it would be a great honour to become an artist, something my mother thought was noble and enlightened.  I have other skills but frankly nothing comes close to the way I feel when I am creative – it is a well of joy and strength that cannot be described. And it’s worth fighting for.

Are we in a culture war? If you have an opinion I would love to hear it.

Visit and see for yourself how creativity in a marketing department can be used for deeply cynical manoeuvres.

Is Canadian TV journo/cultural icon Rex Murphy shilling for the oil sands during a news broadcast?


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