Tag Archives: richard florida

printing the future

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

My inability to make and sustain a living as an artist is questioned often by those who believe that to be a proper, functional adult is to be someone who recognizes that if something doesn’t work financially then the sensible thing to do is quit. If you read biographies on artists from the last thousand years you read stories about productive people who help their communities and in return are helped by patronage, friends and family or whatever governing structures they live under. This paradigm, that creativity is produced through a quid pro quo with a community for sustainable reasons has worked for millennia until about forty years ago when everyone thought that turning citizens into consumers was democracy’s destiny.

Funny, I now long for the era of the 80s and 90s when in fact I could get funding for individual driven art work not based on community engagement or some kind of moral reason since those things were considered a given in art making. Now, not so much. Artists are no longer to be trusted.

This fact becomes blazingly clear in two different cultural strategies released this past April by the federal Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario provincial government’s Ministry for Tourism, Culture and Sport. The focuses in both strategies are outcomes and how a community’s response is vital to a vibrant art scene. How these strategies become real policy or actual, tactile funding situations will still need to be tried and tested and perhaps these frameworks are vague enough to become flexible as the culture veers this way and that. There are some good things in these strategies, lots of things, but the individual artist’s benefit will remain to be seen as it isn’t apparent in either.

Digital in both strategies hovers above the pages as some kind of oracle or mythic riddle that is needed to be figured out – both tiers of government plan massive symposiums on this. Creative clustering a la virtual reality will arrive on cue and artists will be once again be pushed aside by consultants from ‘Silicon Valley’ this time and told to get their online acts in order. Money will flow into the coffers of online start ups and digital gurus as they become like Richard Florida once was, the artist’s leader into the future. I am really looking forward to hearing from American experts on social media and content strategies and how if we just used hashtags properly and cared more about our metrics we would be really successful. Superstar artists who use robots and computers will be given the golden key to these events as curators line up to see a 3D printer make “a group of sculptural works that aims at a void that signifies precisely the non-being of what it represents”.  And of course that everything has to be a video.

Luther-Bible-frontispiece-1541
Cranac’s woodblocks for Luther’s Bible. It was like an Instagram takeover of an Influencer account with thousands of followers.

Once again the partnerships with the private sector are held up as the only route toward sustainable funding. While this does seem to work for certain kinds of things such as festivals and large scale events, what it does for the day to day work of the average artist is questionable. Why we need to partner with the private sector now that the new Liberal government has promised lots and lots of money for the arts over the next five years is not addressed at all.

Sustainable funding for the arts is actually simple; it has to come from people either via taxes or by finding ways for them as individuals to be able to invest in art. But this is never addressed. Ever. What is mentioned is new programs and new models of working and new ways of doing things and new ideas and new this and new that. None of it is new. I mentioned in a recent arts grant application that the contemporary art world was in crisis and that what we are experiencing now is not dissimilar to the invention of the printing press and how that technology enabled people to experience art in mass quantities thus (supposedly) rendering individually made art work irrelevant.

“He who first shortened the labor of copyists by device of movable types was disbanding hired armies, and cashiering most kings and senates, and creating a whole new democratic world: he had invented the art of printing.”
(Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, 1833) fm History Guide website

Sound familiar? Even they thought the world was on its way to pure democracy and no war. The thing is we don’t need to get hung up on new or even the idea of originality. All we should really concentrate on is how to do things better, not new.

I am weirdly comforted by the fact that I live like so many artists have done before me. Little resources, little support except from the tiny community I have built around my art making keeps me going. It isn’t an easy life but it is mine. Artists after the invention of the printing press began to see the opportunities in this mass production. They came to work in tandem with an invention that gave them the world and them to the world. We will do this with the digital world too.

Our crisis isn’t about our work or our experience with the internet; it is unfortunately with the very less sexy problem of sustaining a life in the arts. And that means helping individual artists with the very real problems of paying their bills. These governments have an enormous opportunity here to help and be the biggest part of the solution and I hope that these strategies become just that. We shall see.

JUST ANNOUNCED:  Funding to celebrate 150 years of Canada
L
uther Bible image fm Google Images

State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Making plans

The Venice Biennale opens this month. This every two year extravaganza of art is called “the Olympics” of the art world by the mainstream press. If by that the media means it is a bloated, shady, bankrupting force that showcases activities which have nothing to do with the real world, then yes, I would agree. Although I am happy for the artists chosen to represent Canada since they get to work on a scale they probably never will again in their life; I hate this kind of fest because it doesn’t transcend the current state of affairs, it actually reinforces it. Artist should be like movie stars it seems to be promoting. Really? Thanks, I’ll pass on that one, I like my weight, face and life to be mine if you don’t mind.

But then again I’m a crank who doesn’t enjoy this vertical ascension in our culture where the only winners are those at the very top. I like people to have more access to more things, I like artists who work hard and love what they do with or without the recognition of an award or festival spotlight, and most importantly I believe that culture is local and you experience it every time you walk out your door.

I spent this past weekend in Toronto which is always a good thing (crack smoking low tax clowns aside). Toronto has become my stimulus balm; I often feel centered and edified by being there. While urbanites may come into my neck of the woods to find solace I reverse the experience and find the chaos and energy of the city a wonderful fix to my simple existence. While in Toronto I usually do similar things on each visit; go to an art gallery or two or more, eat food I can’t possibly make at home (this time it was Italian cookies at Forno Cultura and terrine at The Federal), visit with brilliant people doing brilliant things and shop for books and music.

I had the added bonus of doing research on cultural planning. Why I was doing this isn’t interesting but the research was. Cultural planning has come about after years of people like Richard Florida telling everyone at the TED talks or IdeaCity that creative people are the future of our economies. He isn’t alone, there are lots of these ‘culture gurus’ out there who are pushing this idea that supporting culture will save us and make our lives better. If you Google cultural planning you come up with loads of reports and talks that include “visioning statements about your community” and “convergence of arts, leisure and community”. Creative people are the new manufacturing and tourism is the new industrial revolution so to speak.

The Paris Commune 1871. Parisian workers & artists revolted over German occupation. Isn't corporate occupation the same thing?
The Paris Commune 1871. Parisian workers & artists revolted over forces trying to control their city. Isn’t corporate occupation the same thing?

While I agree with much of this sentiment and that culture does create both energy and money I can’t help but get kind of irked by the fact that people like Richard Florida have more brand recognition than the actual people he is talking about. I mean, who are all these creative people who are rejuvenating our towns and communities? I would think they should be people like Sky Gilbert (Google him, his CV is way too long to write in here and frankly more impressive than Richard Florida’s) who on a recent CBC panel slammed Florida by suggesting that gays aren’t all arts lovers. Some are plumbers. Apparently Florida uses gay culture widely as an example of a supportive arts community.

More distressing and less hilarious however is the fact that these ideas haven’t helped creative people at all. In fact most creative professions have seen a rapid decline of their income over the last decade. In this country the rise of artists vying for MFA status is testimony to the fact that you can’t make money as a creative person anymore, you have to teach or worm your way into some kind of academic structure for security. Writers have it even worse; not even newspapers or magazines pay decent fees anymore and they keep professionals at bay through offensive contracts and ownership rights. Cultural planning may be happening but it has strangely coincided with a demise of many creative pursuits.

During the 19th century the world’s economy switched very rapidly from agriculture and guilds (where crafts people created items we needed) to factories in order to make lots of things for the rise of the middle class; home owners who wanted all the mod cons. The result was a better standard of living and constant political turmoil. Protesters marred this transition. They thought that if there was going to be a new world order then working people, creative people and poor people needed to be involved. This is an enormously simple reading of history I know, but there are parallels today. If our economies are to be saved by creative thinking and innovation then why aren’t creative people at the table where decisions are being made? Why are cultural plans being written by marketers and not artists?

The sudden news of a Walmart wanting to open its doors in Kensington Market in Toronto is a perfect example of what I am referring to. The market is a thriving area due to the hard work of independently minded, creative people. A corporation has had nothing to do with its success. Therefore allowing one in to reap the rewards of decades of organic planning (yes, there was no cultural plan here) is immoral and downright offensive. Whether it happens or not is kind of beside the point. These decisions shouldn’t even get this far.

The cultural gurus who made a lot of money blabbing about the ‘creative economy’ over the last decade should be leading this fight and others. What will it finally take for these ‘thinkers’ to finally come out from under their comfortable and secure rocks?

Pic from ParisDigest.com