Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Prairie Artsters in Vue Weeky Feb 7 - 13, 2008

Last week Alberta’s Conservative government at last thawed out their provincial arts funding. Frozen since the 1980s with no adjustment to price inflation, Alberta’s arts funding has since consistently ranked as one of the lowest in the country. Riding on our latest boom, the Conservatives plan on investing $12 million over the next year into Alberta culture, which under their new policy will also include arts and heritage along with sport and recreation. Most of that investment will be absorbed and dispersed by the Alberta Foundation of the Arts, but it is unclear as to how the government will be implementing its newfound appreciation for the arts.

A coordinating team will be created to ensure the new “Spirit of Alberta” policy is met, and there’s some positive statistics released about the interconnectedness of economic prosperity and social well-being, but it remains to be seen how a province so starved of proper arts infrastructure and appreciation will adjust to digesting the sudden importance of culture.

From the professional point of view, increasing funding is always welcome, but the mood at the Jubilee last week was undeniably affected with a hardened cynicism at being tossed a bone after years of neglect. Premier Stelmach’s acknowledgment that culture is essential to the legacy and future of Alberta has drawn nonplussed responses. The cold response may be due to the “we don’t need you” attitude that most organizations have assumed in order to survive, but reading through the cultural policy booklet, there are more reasons to be discerning.

For one, there is an emphasis on bringing the diversity of culture to Albertans to increase the quality of life throughout Alberta—which is a fine thing—but there is no plan to ensure or aid artists and creators just trying to live and work in an ever costly Alberta. That may be funneled through AFA funding, but the government should not have to wean the entire artistic population. Professional artists are still not recognized as professionals, even though their overall contribution is finally receiving due merit. This sentiment is reinforced with the simple lack of photo credits in the policy program, where the work of photographers, dancers and sculptors promote the idea of culture, but the creators themselves go unacknowledged (and in some cases, were not even consulted for use in the publication.)

With an election set to go for Mar 3, the Liberal caucus revealed their own arts policy shortly before the Conservatives big announcement. Although most of Kevin Taft’s speech only reinforced the Liberal’s consistent support for the arts with grand (but frivolous) plans like creating a provincial arts festival and conflating arts into tourism, there was at least mention of exploring the status of implementing an artist legislation to provide rights and benefits to full-time artists and cultural workers.

Both announcements came just days after UK-based cultural critic John Holden was in town lecturing on the matter of “Art & Politics.” Based in the cultural think tank, Demos, Holden identified there are three values to culture: the intrinsic, the unabashed art-for-art’s-sake quality; instrumental, the benefit to society and culture’s regenerative effect on economy and well being; and institutional, the covering the interaction and implementation of culture into communities. Like the principles of public, private and state-run corporations, no single value is greater than another; all three must work together to create a balanced and healthy cultural sector.

In the wake of a new cultural attitude, artists need to start generating viable sources of revenue with their work, because art is also a business, and ideally a government will be informed enough to create the network and support to make this happen.

*First Published in Vue Weekly, February 7 - 13, 2008

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