Thursday, October 29, 2009

Prairie Artsters: Art and the Recession*

"Recession" as a noun, or state of being, has been unavoidable. Be it in your bank account, on the front page news or even as a narrative hook in films and television shows, the idea of living the poor life is simply everywhere.

When the market began turning over a year ago, I remember having a conversation with a friend who shrugged off the dipping real estate prices and the rollercoaster stock exchange. As a full-time artist, she said something to the effect that as someone already living, working and surviving well below the poverty line, the onset of a recession wasn't going to harm her.

For the most part, this has been the case for the arts in general. Not many of the stereotypical "poor, starving artist" types I know have been hit very hard by their nonexistent or paltry investments. None of the independent artists, writers and dancers have lost their nest egg since they never had one to begin with. And while on the immediate level this seems fine by most everyone, as artists are used to working for next to nothing as purse strings are tightening across the board, I do find the continued lack of value, be it monetary or social, in the arts a disturbing fact.

The recent end-of-summer plans by British Columbia's Liberal government to drastically cut their arts funding by up to 90 percent has gotten the rest of the country's attention. With a provincial deficit in the $2 billion range, even BC, which boasts one of the highest quality of living stats in the country, is not prioritizing their arts and cultural legacy.

In looking at what's unfolding out west, everything from projected standard $20 ticket prices soaring into the hundreds of dollars just to break even to the devastating closure of many long-standing companies and organizations are becoming more than just looming threats. The reality is, arts and culture from production to dissemination has become so dependent on government funding that to cut even just a little bit will only further starve the malnourished.

Alberta during the Klein years completely drained away its Heritage Fund. With most arts funding coming from private endowments and allocated gaming revenue from lotteries and casinos, the value of arts and cultural production in this province continues to exist on a spiraling decline combined with pockets of instability. And while this may be the case for everyone, BC is proving that arts remains the first to go.

In pitting arts and culture against other aspects of our social needs like healthcare, education and infrastructure, lobbyists have successfully blinded the greater population into believing the arts can actually be segregated from our daily lives as something excessive to our quality of life as a human being. When in fact, it becomes preposterous to even think of our lives without concerning choices made in colour, design and esthetics. In always receiving the smallest slice of the pie, arts and artists have lost sight of their value and contribution to society as a whole. And as the overall pie shrinks, perhaps perceptions of values may be reset for future productivity.

*First published in Vue Weekly

1 comment:

Christel said...

"The reality is, arts and culture from production to dissemination has become so dependent on government funding that to cut even just a little bit will only further starve the malnourished."

- Amy, would you say this is the case everywhere, or just in Canada? Are their solutions/innovations in other jurisdictions that strengthen arts and culture beyond additional government funding?