Tag Archives: White House

Spaces

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Space is the new objective in our present day, North American culture. As Toronto fills up with millionaires and pushes working people asunder throughout the area around Lake Ontario, some brave enough to come as far as Peterborough, space has become the subject of discussion throughout many different communities. In my community space has always been a topic of fraught discussion. Money seems to only flow to bricks and mortar instead of people. That may be because construction and development have been the way urban centers pay for their growth. It’s an old model but the structures that give these businesses the access and power to rule have grown into almost monarch style fixtures on our financial landscape, so much so that one of their own occupies the White House.

Space however has become conceptual to many as their lives can exist through their laptop meaning that a coffee shop or a park can be a place for a business transaction. It can also be a studio or collaborative as more and more platforms allow creative people to interact online as well as in person. Many artists have turned to film and sound and music and photography or they film or record their art as a way to expand how they share what they are making – almost all can be done on a device of some sort.

But everyone who makes things needs a place to work. You need a place for your tools, a place to leave your unfinished thing so that you can sleep on how it’s going overnight, and a place you don’t need to tidy up because in fact the messy-ness can help you through a rough patch of configuring. If you write for a living you know you need quiet for great lengths of time. If you make noise you know you need to be a part from people who will complain. If you collaborate you need a place to meet. We can’t all take to the streets to figure our work out – we actually need professional places that can serve the things we are doing.

My studio last spring. I have some pride in the fact that a developer will never kick me out.

Business figured this out a long time ago and hence we have always had offices. Studios or work spaces are just as important. But buildings are not built for people, they are generally built because of investment money and the long chain of companies and individuals (who all have their own spaces) who stand to make a profit once that place is built. So, it’s never about a community or whether we need the building or not. It’s just a very pure financial transaction that only helps about ten people really. Sure there are lots of jobs and electricians and all sorts of working class heroics involved but really, at the end of the day ten people make enough money to retire, or buy a yacht or a space in some other exotic locale.

Of course there are many architects and developers who actually care and try their best to create places for people. However the ratio of them to those who don’t care is pretty lopsided. So, how do you change this? Laws. Laws that demand development take into account the nature of the community they are building in, laws that make spaces for all sorts of income levels and laws that protect creativity. “But laws will hinder investment and scare the money off!”  Yes it will because we should only want the best kind of developments and the best kind of spaces. We shouldn’t compromise on our space.

People talk a lot about how we have to decolonize our culture and begin thinking differently about this and that. What we should also do is begin thinking about spaces and how they must resist the pursuit of maximized profit. Space is an area between each other – how we share it and use it helps us develop how we work with each other and eventually defines who we are and who we will become.

digital bubbles

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

#digicancon is the hashtag used for the public consultation process that Canadian Heritage embarked on this fall. I like hashtags usually because they can let you follow a discussion that many times falls outside your digital bubble.   Most times people would prefer to stay in their bubble. We want the best of us mirrored back to us, to continue our projection of ourselves; we want myth but are stuck with reality.  These bubbles, once the realm of trending fabulousness are now considered suspect.

It is easy to see why. We have now seen how dangerous ignorance the digital bubble influence can have; the US election might have been a direct result of people not truly understanding what they were reading, looking at or even engaging in online. Television, print and radio also had a hand in spreading ideas that had no truth or no intelligent rigour which I think is just as bad. In fact you could make a case that this truthiness in our culture was created a long time ago in original media sources. I am reminded of a David Brinkley’s quote, “news is what I say it is.”

But unfortunately the entire digital medium was ripe for most of the blame. It is a runaway industry for sure; start ups are able to leverage gazillions of dollars in investment and then the next thing you know taxi drivers all over the world are out of work.  What do you do about that?

I followed the #digicancon stream of thoughts and suggestions regarding how policy regarding Canadian content should be shaped with a big emphasis on digital and it seemed to seesaw between ‘Canadian content is the best!’ to ‘we are doomed and will all be working for Google if we aren’t careful’. The Canadian Heritage ministry retweeting only upbeat, ‘helpful’ tweets. Twitter’s 140 characters is not a great place for in depth consultation but I have hope. I have to and as my American friends put it, “you guys are debating your culture and where to put money while we just elected a climate change denier to the White House, sorry but no whining allowed.”

Yes, perspective is everything. What I see now is an enormous opportunity. Most of the #digicancon centred on content and protecting it and paying for it. For me this is a great relief that everyone seems to be onside in our cultural industries. But, there was far too much emphasis on television and film, those industries like music seem to be continually caught off guard by digital’s innovations. Popular they are, leaders in this new age they are not.

Say what you want about art galleries and their so called 19th century-ness, you can’t replace the experience of standing in front of a work of art.

Sutherland's painting of Churchill. Truth hurts.
Sutherland’s painting of Churchill. Truth hurts.

Speaking of art (the word tended to get lost in Canadian Heritage’s consultation shuffle) while I was following and contributing to the #digicancon debate online I also watched The Crown. The Crown is an original Netflix serial (and an example of how this medium is changing, hello CBC!) about the current Queen Elizabeth. One episode in particular stands out; and it discusses art and its potency so relevantly that I had to watch it twice.  In real life artist Graham Sutherland was commissioned by parliament to do a portrait of the very aged Winston Churchill. Churchill hated it and it disappeared into history. Considered a lost masterpiece it has been the subject of many books and stories.

In The Crown, Churchill, a painting hobbyist, challenges Sutherland and is generally hostile to the process. However there is a wonderful scene where the two men come closer together through an emotional discussion about art. But ultimately Sutherland does what artists do and paints what he wants and this hurts Churchill deeply.

Sutherland defends his work by stating that aging is cruel, not his painting. That we are blind to who we really are and art can help us get past the blindness.  Art sits in this nexus of feelings, external reality and truth. Even someone as brilliant as Churchill couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make the distinction between his myth, England’s myth and reality.  My guess is that this program The Crown is challenging the notion of myth versus reality – which is better and for whom?

The #digicancon conversation could have used this kind of deep reflection on what it is we are actually working toward, we are discussing cultural policy right? I never completely got the impression that Canadian Heritage was truly engaged in the realities of the discussion, things like copyright, royalties, trade agreements that eschew cultural protections and finding a way to make huge platforms like Netflix help pay for Canadian content. Their own comments seemed almost naive compared to the vast amount of savvy digital media types who aggressively pushed their own agendas. But then a government always has to decide where to put its energies; a shiny myth that inspires or a dull reality that does the job.  Finding that balance has been the trick all along, digital disruptions notwithstanding.

Image fm Wikipedia