Tag Archives: artist

Get a job

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Years ago in Ontario we ushered in a new conservative provincial government who brought with them something called the “Common Sense” revolution. As I was young and lived a fairly unstable lifestyle I noticed this government’s action’s consequences over time – the most damaging of which have never been resolved. Almost half my friends in my art community quit or took teaching jobs. The rest of us struggled on. Some moved away from a city like I did. Some left the country.

In the years following many of us tried to figure out how best to live our lives under a new paradigm where we all had to become art-terpreneurs, use small business as a winning example of how to be an artist (“you make product don’t you?” I was told) and be shoved through the degrading vortex of Richard Florida’s “creative cluster” zeitgeist. We were held up as an example of how to gentrify our city’s neighbourhoods and told over and over and over how much money the arts contributed to the overall economy. We were an economic engine! Oh goody, I even used the phrase myself.

Our recent exhibition in Toronto. Here is where we engage with what I am going to start calling ‘defiant beauty’.

Meanwhile in my universe incomes plummeted. And lots of peers scrambled back into academia where the thought was that at least there would be steady income. Now the art world runs on academic fumes; art galleries have given over to DJs & nightclubs, and the contemporary work being made seems to be about tech or a sociological context in which talk, consensus, convergence, conversation, and more talk seems to loom larger than anything hanging on a wall or sitting in the middle of a gallery. Language and ideas reign in the new contemporary field. For the rest of us not welcome in this new world order – we just tried to hang onto our studios and hoped for the best.

What we should have all been doing is safeguarding our art worlds against the tyranny of ideologues. We should have been shoring up public support and public money (not grant and council money but actual private sector money in the form of people purchasing art). We should have spent our time not aggressively making our supporters test themselves against a changing world – we should have spent our time reassuring them about art and its importance. We should have spent our time creating more art supporters not more artists.

Ahh but I learned in therapy not to ‘should’ people. As a community the arts in Canada has always worked in an uneasy balance between socialized ideals and nurturing millionaire art stars. I think however things began to get a bit lopsided when the Chair of the Canada Council started calling themselves a CEO. Remember when being a CEO was cool and now it’s public enemy #1? That didn’t take long.

But where to go from here? In Ontario we are now on the verge of a new “common sense” revolution in the form of a new conservative government, although their motto now is “Poor? Get a job.” Their transparent love of hate seems to be a selling point. Yes, and that is where we are in civilization, being run to a certain extent by people who think compassion, justice, fairness is all part of some liberal conspiracy to make everyone gay. And there are Nazis again now too.

Art now for who or what? I guess most of us have just reconciled ourselves with the fact that we will not be saved. We must survive. What gives me hope is the fact that many of my peers who have just steadily continued to work at what they do have gotten very, very good. This may be an epoch of ‘defiant beauty’ – I can only speak for painting at this point. All this “the world is ending, the world is ending” isn’t really having a negative impact on the work. And it never did.

I think the artists who just enjoy their work, make it regularly and do their best to get it out there for people to see are real leaders in this cultural climate. The hope is in the art – it always has been, it always will be.

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this year’s model

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

The Canada Council for the Arts new funding model

I finally had a chance to read the new funding model for the Canada Council for the Arts. Oddly, I have it bookmarked along side articles about the 800 year anniversary of the Magna Carta. An FB friend’s post regarding this event pointed out that where it mentions the City of London, it does not mean the people of London but the corporation of London. So, this idea of corporations having rights and freedoms just like people has been with us a long, long time.

As for the Canada Council for the Arts, it is a very young organization. It was created in 1957 back in a Canada that no longer exists; frontier-esque, provincial, white and very conservative. By the 1970s we became a greater multicultural nation with two languages, used metric, known throughout the world as peace keepers and polite and usually described as a progressive politically. At least that is the Canada I grew up in.

Today, post Rob Ford and now known throughout the world as that place with the tar sands, we are sadly no longer the goovy place with the best Pride Parade on the planet. We might still have the best parade but our image is tarnished; we are not aging well. Most people blame our current Conservative government and its complete lack of interest in anything other than oil. This might be true. I can only speak of my experience growing up in the arts here but I think what also might be wrong is the fact that we drank the kool aid given to us in the form of thinking that corporations would pick up the slack when the government began the death to the arts by a thousand cuts.

The Magna Carta, in all it's gorgeous, crumpled glory.  From the http://www.magnacartacanada.ca/ website.
The Magna Carta, in all it’s gorgeous, crumpled glory. From the http://www.magnacartacanada.ca/ website.

I remember that moment when the Ontario Arts Council in the 1990s cut back operating funding as it will again next year, and suddenly every theatre company began running a bingo. Charitable status allowed non-profits to get into the gaming world. There was no discussion in the arts community about whether this was a good idea or not. Survival was at stake, so who could blame us. I believe it was the beginning of a kind of devolution in the arts, where money in any form was better than nothing. The private sector with its tech giants, banks, champagne and limos seemed way sexier than filling out a fifteen page grant application. Sadly however this dream never materialized. You could argue this but I bet you are thinking about things like Culture Days, Nuit Blanche and Luminato, events that have no sustained impact on the arts. In fact what they actually do is advertise banks and corporations in the guise of helping.

The arts have trundled on with very little or no new money in a sector that is growing exponentially. In fact the Canada Council for the Arts hasn’t seen a new dime in five years. They should be getting increases annually because the arts are generating new money every year. But they don’t. I have asked them why and my question remains unanswered. I would think this would be the most important issue to address as opposed to stream lining their funding model which is what they have chosen to do. As anyone who has ever filled out a Canada Council arts grant will tell you, the process makes you want to quit. It discourages you. I guess though when you get one, you forget all that. Having never received one of those juicy $20,000 project grants I would have no idea.

A mid career artist like myself knows my way around the applications that are there now. Changing all this will mean I will have to relearn how to do this. In fact I’ve had to adapt to numerous tweaking over the years which has caused havoc in an already stressed out life. Most artists, like myself are just not looking forward to this change because we know that arts councils are masters at obfuscation and shit’s gonna’ get confusing.

And then there is what they are planning to do. This new funding model is a curiosity for sure. The two pager they sent out is written in that feel good, up-with-community-engagement lingo. “This program supports arts organizations in the production and presentation of ongoing, sustainable, high-quality artistic activities that engage the diversity of citizens within their communities and beyond.” is one of the points in something called Engage and Sustain. The description doesn’t actually explain what engage and sustain means. In fact the descriptions are so vague even the Globe and Mail ran an article about the Council’s cryptic language.

On top of all this, they have cloaked themselves in a totally non-transparent process. They were created to do one thing, dole out money from the government to the arts community. In this 21st century all tech, all video, all start ups, all private wealth world we now live in perhaps doing this seems shabby. Now that the head of the council is a CEO and no longer a director anyway, the majority of artists like myself who have never felt particularly helped by them will once again bear the burden of making this redo work just as the minimum wage earner with no rights or protection helps a corporation maximize their profits. It’s a top down philosophy which is why for 800 years we have had revolution after revolution after revolution…