Tag Archives: Minister of Heritage

the precarity epoch

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Recently I visited the House of Commons, the seat of our federal government. As a guest I was invited to sit in on question period. But while I was in line the Minister of Heritage, Melanie Joly came up right beside me and began a long conversation in French with a monsignor of the Catholic Church. It was a pretty chaotic moment and I desperately tried to scan my brain for something I could say to her that was both intelligent and had enough of an activist inclination as to make an impression. I also thought of giving her my “Has the artist been paid?” button from CARFAC (security made me take it off and it got passed around and then okay’d – I take this as quite the honour. If a CARFAC button gets a second look by security on Parliament Hill we are all doing some thing right.). But of course, being the intellectual turtle that I am and that I completely do not agree with ambushing people, once I thought of something she was already walking down the hall escorting the monsignor to whatever place they were meeting.

The thing is I wasn’t there as an artist, I was there representing CARC, the NGO I now work for. So… it did occur to me that perhaps I might jeopardize my associations with an unseemly introduction that the minister was not ready for. Opportunity lost perhaps, or perhaps opportunity understood; oddly the entire experience was a confidence booster. It’s like ‘I get it’ now. I also realized that politics will never be my thing however policy and how it helps and hurts society always will.

Being in our nation’s capital just before xmas with all its trim and bustle (it is crazy busy there these days as rockstar PM has made it a tourist destination as well) made me think about how people do have a natural urge to gather. It’s for an anthropologist to say but we seem to want to get together for all sorts of things, rituals, politics, protests, commemorations, revolutions, and of course art. Yet art continues to moan about its lack of interest from the public. I can’t think of another time in history more people experienced art – if you’ve ever gone to a major gallery in Europe and waited forever in line you know what I mean. And yet, contemporary art makers continue to have a numbers problem. People line up for a recognized work but stay away from the new. See this very interesting article from Canadian Arts Presenting Association .  People don’t want to attend art events out of lack of interest. It’s a fairly simple but kinda’ heart breaking conclusion.

Usually at this point I would go on endlessly about how contemporary art should shoulder a lot of the blame for this as most of the work shown in galleries speaks only to the MFA class and its tiny community, and with tons of money being auctioned on so-so works from the masters people are being turned off art as much as they are turned on by it. But I would rather consider that art was always a marginal pursuit with a reputation and fixture as the touchstone to our culture that has become outsized. And that art’s value is bounced around throughout our society as a volleyball for politics and economics, used and abused by everyone to artwash their event or stance or campaign. And now art’s meaning isn’t just a profound moment one has with an object of great significance, beauty and meaning but that it is now a conduit for all sorts of displays of activism, good and bad as well as crass means of making people feel belonging. To this there are many who feel it’s a reality whose time has come. Art now being the most targeted form of patriarchal oppression – all those museums with stuff by white guys, yeuch.

One of the many cheeky posters of the Precarious Festival

Art has become its own monster and is now devouring its children. This is the world I am an artist in. This is the reality, like it or not. Like many in my generation, we never got to that brass ring or made a fortune, most of us have just kept our heads down and made adaptation and survival our guides. We had to learn metric, French, video, the internet and devices in our lifetime as well as deal with the devolving of post war socialist ideals. We were given the gift of globalization just as we became adults and have made the realization in the last decade many of us will never own a home or a car for that matter. We are environmentally sophisticated and active, politically charged by listening to The Clash in high school and we legitimized science fiction, graphic novels, independent publishing, Queer and women’s studies and made irony a thing. We are also the inheritors of precarious work and have adapted in ways that should astonish any low tax neo-liberal.

This past month in Peterborough an extraordinary thing happened, a festival took place devoted to ideas of precarious work including art, art making, theatre, publishing, poetry, music, politics, discussions and articles. The Precarious Festival was the brain child of several people (too many to name really) but it was directed mainly by Kate Story and Ryan Kerr who run and operate The Theatre on King. Manifesting a critical economic conversation into art is not an easy thing to do. But Kate and Ryan and many others in Peterborough are part of my nimble and able generation so the festival was a raucous success in many ways, pivoting notions of art into activism.  A lot of the events were remarkable for their artistry as well as activism. The festival eschewed the numbers game and reached out to all sorts of ideas regarding art thereby vastly improving its interest for the general public – although that wasn’t the reason for the festival, the point was to gather people around an epoch; precarity is the new normal, a new adaptation, so now what? Now there’s an opening for a conversation with our Minister of Heritage. Dang.

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The Theatre on King

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A message to our new Minister of Canadian Heritage

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

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Ms. Joly we, Trout in Plaid and Victoria Ward would like you to consider these following ideas as you begin your new role as Minister of Heritage. We believe the arts; especially cultures in rural and smaller places have been neglected these last, long nine years. In that time both the Trout and I have written many, many blogs, read many, many articles and engaged in our communities regarding the arts extensively. We are not experts but we have listened and participated in culture and believe we have something to offer. The following are ten ideas that we believe need attention from the Federal government.

FUNDING

• Federal funding for the arts should broadly support artists and arts organizations rather than their product. The arts are an interconnected ecology and quality art evolves from diversity. Grant applications are excessively complex and reward those who follow standardized forms of education, exposure, career development, etc., but not necessarily innovation. Grants, by their short term nature, leave artists and arts organizations in a constant state of precarity. Conversely corporate sponsorships and partnerships run the risk of diluting and influencing the integrity of the work.

• We need to bring back the national exhibition transportation program. Take the burden of exhibiting across this enormous country off the galleries, the arts councils and artists and take up the responsibility for making art exhibitions national.

• Digital Content Investment or DCI charge on our ISP bills. We see the new digital world as a place where devices have become venues and sharing has become audience building. But, creative people who provide the imagery and writing (not unlike what we both do here) are never compensated properly given how much our work is shared and makes impact. What if there was a fund that came directly from people who used the internet to look at all the stuff that artists made? The fund would be administered through an existing body but distributed among services like CARFAC or other organizations that create and sustain the environment for making art as well as helping fund opportunities to pay creative people to make content.

• We need innovative funding models and new funding ideas. As a community we should be at the forefront in this thinking so why not set up a national round table on the issue of funding the arts specifically. We need to discuss alternative ideas like basic income. Why isn’t the meritocracy of the art world discussing basic income? Cover an artist’s studio, utilities and other essential costs and wham you’ve got a way more productive artist.

EDUCATION

• While the cost of a post secondary education has become prohibitive in all sectors, the cost of an arts education is punitive in a field where even successful practitioners live well below the poverty line. Art schools and institutions that emphasize entrepreneurship in the arts devalue an individual artist’s process and present the arts to the public through the limited lens of business and economics.

Tout in Plaid art blog's fierce independent thinking & creativity is exactly the right kind of tool for capacity building in an art community
The blog Trout in Plaid fills a very needy void. Smaller places deserve attention too.

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

• Arts and culture should be viewed as a cornerstone, a unique element of the economy that cannot be quantified, but which generates not only economic value but immense social value through education, public discourse and engagement, community building, neighbourhood enrichment, enhancement of mental health and creative thinking, representing and encouraging diversity, amplifying our global presence and status.

• We need an ongoing educational relationship with the public of all demographics about the value of diverse arts practices. Street art spectacles and festivals can help to engage the public, but are only a fraction of cultural practice. Use artists as a resource (with pay of course) in all aspects of governance! They are by nature problem-solving, outside the box thinkers.

• Let’s lay off on the festivals and one off art parties for a bit shall we? These are often largely focused in big cities, at the expense of smaller places. Long term sustainability of the arts should be the focus of the federal government. An environment that allows art making to thrive is a lot more complicated and a lot less sexy than a big, celebrity driven art event but… the goal isn’t next year, the goal is the next ten, twenty years. We should shift money to resources, individual artists, artist groups and organizations that are in the business of actually making art, and actually helping art being made, not making money from art related ideas.

END THE DISENFRANCHISEMENT OF CERTAIN CULTURAL COMMUNITIES

• Artists bring value to rural communities, not just large urban centres and should be encouraged. However, a rural art practice can have special challenges and costs – lack of access to education and professional development, higher material costs, additional transportation expenses or lack of access to affordable internet. It is important to work with provincial and municipal levels of government to level the playing field for rural artists.

• Engage older, veteran artists. Young people are great and all but when it comes to art you may be surprised that the biggest risk takers, biggest innovators and most dedicated people are well into their 50s and beyond. This is a group badly maligned by the media and yet, they are the generation who created the arts councils, CARFAC, many of the galleries we have now and loads of other things that you are too young to remember. These people are a fantastic resource, please don’t shuffle them off with a Governor General award – celebrate their contribution and ask them what they think.