Thursday, August 14, 2008

In Canada, we spell ENTITLEMENT as Arts Funding

I probably won't surprise anyone that I am generally against 'Arts' funding out of the public trough. Well, I suppose it might surprise someone if they didn't realize I was a Conservative, and then, confused the meaning of the word "libertine" with "liberal". That being said, the Canadian art community often fails to recognize the public purse is a finite source and not - an unlimited natural resource.

I have even lived and worked within the ‘arts’ community though I spent most of my professional artistic life in the United States; where the word “patronage” was the by-word of the day, and ‘patrons’ were ‘someones’ one actively sought, cultivated and nurtured outside the realm of the federal reserve for the most part. Returning to Canada I worked within the arts community in the 80’s and was shocked the attitude of entitlement Canadian artists held towards provincial and federal largess. If anyone was actively seeking out and cultivating a patron, I saw very little evidence of it.

The Conservative government has announced one of the federal gravy trains for promoting Canadian artists/art/culture abroad is about to dry out and all the usual suck-ups are mad as hell. Avi Lewis pens a column allegedly in defense of said funding in the Toronto Star and throws in his own experience:

Having worked outside Canada for almost two years, I was surprised that the Prime Minister's Office was still following my career. But there I was, singled out in a leaked memo, as a "general radical" undeserving of public funding, an "ideological activist" who should never have received money from the government to promote a Canadian documentary at foreign film festivals. Last week, the Stephen Harper government axed two programs – PromArt and Trade Routes – that helped promote Canadian culture abroad.
If you support public funding for the arts, which is a proven economic and cultural stimulus that the vast majority of Canadians embrace, then it's obvious that you should support those cultural products as they enter a crowded global market.
The government knows this, and knows that if its actions are reported honestly, there will be little support for the cuts. And so, in the middle of a summer when Canadians are having trouble paying for gas, they find a few examples that will enrage their Conservative base (hence the emphasis on Gwynne Dyer going to Cuba and my current work with Al Jazeera English) and use them as political cover. Now they've framed the story in terms of who deserves public funding, rather than who supports it – mission accomplished.

My actual experience of the PromArt program says a lot about why it is worth more than the cheap shots being lobbed its way. In 2005, I was invited to screen The Take, a documentary I directed, at a small film festival in Perth, Australia. It was actually the festival that told me about the program for promoting Canadian culture abroad. Thanks to the program, and the trip that it paid for, I found an Australian distributor.

The film had a successful commercial release on another continent due to a well-timed and modest injection of public funding. So in market terms, it was a no-brainer – the proceeds of the sale went straight to the National Film Board, defraying the public money that had helped to make the film in the first place.
So Lewis directed a film which was produced using public funds, then used public funds to find a distribution deal with a ‘foreign’ distributor so the National Film Board got some of their money back.

There is a deep irony here which Lewis misses entirely. His film, THE TAKE, documents the plight of a group of Argentinean workers and does nothing to promote Canadian culture abroad. Well, excuse me because I am tired of bending over and being everyone’s f*ck in the ‘arts’ community within this country. The programs were originally designed to promote Canadian culture abroad and not as a platform to promote the plight of Argentinean ‘workers’ or further a social agenda the rest of the country has yet to sign on to.

Maybe, today I am feeling a mite sensitive, and perhaps tomorrow I will fell differently – although I doubt it. You see, a dear friend just found out her 18 year old daughter needs to have a heart monitor implanted so the doctors can try to determine if her heart is causing her blackouts. There is only one problem. Funding is so tight that the waiting list for said device is backed up six months within the city of Toronto.


Dr.Dawg said...

His film, THE TAKE, documents the plight of a group of Argentinean workers and does nothing to promote Canadian culture abroad.

Good grief. The documentary was made by a Canadian--it exemplifies by its very existence an aspect of "Canadian culture" without going all self-conscious on us. It's a Canadian perspective, but obviously not the only one. When Hollywood does movies set in other countries, are these movies no longer "American culture?"

What a flimsy rationalization of the political commissar approach to Canadian cultural production. I'm disappointed, to be honest.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

I am sure that was the rationale used in the original grant application but I just don’t buy into that kind of doublespeak. Look I could always make a film on the plight of my people in the middle east but does that really make it a Canadian culture export?