Thursday, June 24, 2010

Prairie Artsters: Open letter to Lindsay Blackett*

Dear Lindsay Blackett,

My name is Amy Fung and I'm a cultural worker based in Edmonton, Alberta. You should know that your recent comments regarding the quality of Canadian film and television as "shit" will not be forgotten anytime soon, because their repercussions will be a problem for years to come.

Like your other actions, such as silencing opposers like Karen Lynch, bringing forward backwards bills like 44 and patronizingly describing major fiscal cuts as "haircuts," this move further suggests that you hold no respect for those working in your portfolio, grandstanding this mess until you can leapfrog into a far better cabinet position.

And I'm sure you will, which just means another unqualified Minister of Culture and Community Spirit will take a go at it. Perhaps he/she will even take a page from you, creating even greater headaches with the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and going toe-to-toe with naysayers at public events.

The thing that disappoints me the most is that not only have you reaffirmed our provincial government's general disrespect for cultural producers on a national stage, but you have given fire to the general lack of respect Canadians hold for arts and culture. For someone in your position to say those things, you have made it just that much harder for producers to secure private funds and for distributors to take Canadian content seriously.

As a Minister of Culture, you surely understand how little respect your portfolio already receives, how little funding cultural producers already have to work with, and yet you felt you could kick them in the teeth, fueling this notion that Canadian content is a waste of tax payer's money and suggesting, in your own language, that cultural workers need to start spinning shit into gold or get cut off.

Mr Blackett, your comments seem to completely ignore the fact that you and those who came before you have failed in their jobs, and what you are calling shit is the direct result of decades of negligence from people just like you. Unable to apply a successful business model to the arts, combined with a general lack of value building, the majority of culture in this country has slipped to nothing more than a hand out, unable to sustain itself, and a joke on the world stage. Completely outdated models for tax credits, production incentives, content regulation and even ideas of what Canadian culture could look like, has forced the hand of cultural producers to survive, rather than compete.

Your definition of what "shit" actually is remains unclear. As a rookie politician with no background in the arts, I am curious as to how you judge artistic value and merit? I wonder if you can even name 10 Canadian filmmakers off the top of your head, with at least one from Alberta? You have publicly said that you have no time for television, but you do enjoy the American reality-TV series The Bachelorette ...

No one expects you to know the insides and out of every cultural medium, or even have good taste, but your words have simplified a deeply rooted and complex situation that is doing no favours for anyone. You can stand by your comment, as I do not think this is a matter of being right or wrong. But if a child was doing mediocre work in school, would you also call her stupid for not doing as well as her peers? And then bicker about whether you were right or not? There are deeper issues here, and it is a matter of attitude and action.

I understand you may not have the financial means to spare aid, but not every problem needs money thrown at it as a resolution. If you took the time to listen—and I mean really listen without feeling your authority is being challenged—that would be a positive gesture in acknowledging you want to work together with mutual respect.

You are the bridge between the industry and government. You are supposed to help; and if you can be honest enough to admit you don't know how to help, then that's the first positive step in this whole mess.

*First published in Vue Weekly


Anonymous said...

It seems people just want to complain without actually knowing the facts. Did you listen to the transcript of that event, or just take your cues from the media reporting? Minister Blackett's comments were taken out of context, but it seems that many of you are too busy looking for someone to complain about then actual doing a fact check.
And about Karen Lynch- trying doing some fact checking on that too- NPOs were upset to have 'change' but they didn't actually want to look at the good that came from it, they just didn't like someone being in charge. Minister Blackett has made lots of positive changes and from what I have seen he loves his portfolio and takes great pride in Alberta and the Arts. Maybe take a step back and get all the facts. Maybe sit down with him and request a meeting, instead of just complaining, which will get you nowhere.

not an AB artist for long said...

just because a train is moving, it doesn't mean it's headed in the right direction.

and I've read the transcripts, the guy before him was a comedian. literally. Blackett is the Minister. it's actually his comments afterwards when the heat came on that disturbing, saying that it's time we start to have a dialogue about this. really? like NOW's the time? yeah.

charlotte falk said...

Amy, you have clearly done your research. This piece states some very important points about the disparity that those in the arts and culture industry feel all the time. Thank you!