Friday, January 9, 2009

Prairie Artsters - Starting The Year Off Right*

Instead of looking back over the past year of failures and achievements, it’s that time of year when everything appears fresh again and endless possibilities and opportunities become fair game. Arbitrary or not, flipping over that last page of the calendar translates into starting anew—and it’s feeling that rare sense of openness that makes our new year attempts worthwhile.

When all of the “Best of ... ” and “Year in Reviews” are said and done, the most recent year past always seems marked as a year in transition, a year plagued with almost-coulds and probably-shoulds spilling forward with a momentum that is now this coming year’s responsibility to shoulder on and propagate.

Following this annual call to action, could 2009 live up to expectations? (For example, will people actually start putting their money where their mouth is?) A more prolific arts scene including better art making paired with better arts writing is one wish we can all collectively hope for, but instead of leaving it to fate, what can we do to make this a realization? It’s one thing to pick at what’s wrong, but it’s entirely another to address the problem through positive reinforcements. There are also some fundamental issues, if not myths, that need to be dealt with if there is any chance for us to move forward.

For one: producing good work does not equal success; connecting works to people who care is a better definition. Beyond just the issue of marketing and education, the level of disconnect within the arts remains dismal. From a void in audience development to the general community’s lack of interest or awareness in what’s going on concurrently within the city and in other similar centres continues to keep us thinking that better is simply elsewhere. Except that art, like here and everywhere, is mostly bad, hyped and disappointing. Bad art exists everywhere, and the major difference is that we appease our docility with an “A” for effort. Bad art, along with good art, needs to be witnessed, exhibited and mulled over. Contrary to popular belief, art does have a function: art challenges us to think and feel beyond our own perceptions. Art, lest we forget, is a fundamental necessity for the human-social condition.

Right now in our city, relational issues that plague the growth and production of culture include an entropic university program, an ill-informed art market, a limited number of exhibition venues for local artists, the goal of commercial representation being a high priority and the attitude towards arts funding as a subsidy rather than a necessity in maintaining a viable civic centre.

These are not discrete problems, but tangents arising from shared roots. Segregating the arts, or our limited perception of what is “art” and aesthetics from daily life is one culprit. Not informing ourselves, or expressing ourselves, is also a a major blockade. And although critical arts writing and curating are slowly becoming visible factors in producing an interesting art scene, I have to ask: when will there be a growth in critically conscious art making? I’m not talking about MFA thesis projects that force theory into practice; I’m talking about making art that goes beyond navel gazing banality and dreams beyond delusions of commercial stardom. By interesting, I do mean diversity and experimentation in the way we approach how we make, exhibit and understand the arts. Edmonton hasn’t been lacking in people or projects, but there has been a lack of focus in what artists and audiences could do. Maintaining a status quo never inspired anybody. If we want to see change happen, then collectively we are the ones who have to make it happen. There’s no one way about it, but through the clashing of ideals, we are at least moving towards a new direction.

*First published in Vue Weekly, January 8 - 15, 2009

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