Who will support the arts?

We’ve said before that Roots Music Canada is an apolitical organization, and we’re sticking to it.

We’d be blind not to notice, though, how many how many of our friends and fans bitterly lamented the outcome of the federal election earlier this week.

Among other things, many are bewailing the supposedly inevitable decline of the arts that will now follow the Conservative victory.

Those who feel this way have our sympathy. We work in the arts, obviously, and we don’t want to see the arts decline in this country.

Yet the concern over the fate of the arts in Canada is based on a couple of key assumptions, and for the sake of taking a more positive approach, we’d like to examine them.

The first is the assumption that a Conservative majority government under Stephen Harper will fail to support, if not outright attack the arts. Better brains than ours will no doubt investigate this claim, and we’ll certainly have ample opportunity to see if this assumption is true. We hope it’s not.

We note Mr. Harper’s own musical taste and talent and we feel sure he doesn’t wish to live in a world devoid of culture. We hope fervently that accountable, responsible federal funding will continue to support those deserving arts programs that require such funding.

We don’t believe culture should be measured only in dollars, but we do believe the dollars should be counted, and we know that a healthy cultural sector has financial, as well as aesthetic benefits. We’re hopeful that Mr. Harper’s government will remain mindful of that too.

The second key assumption people seem to be making is that without government support, the arts in Canada are doomed. And it’s that assumption we wish to most vigorously question. We agree, of course, that government support is critical in supporting the Canadian cultural sector as an industry. But we don’t believe that industry, per se, is the heart of the arts.

Rather, we believe that aesthetic expression is a natural human activity. We sing, we dance, we sculpt, we paint, we decorate and design as a function of being human. Petroglyphs and standing stones and cave paintings prove that this has gone on since the dawn of history, and we trust the human artistic impulse will continue to well up from all of us, regardless of who holds political power.

When someone asks the rhetorical question, “Who will support the arts…” we answer, with full hearts and voices, WE WILL.

At Roots Music Canada, we have done so up till now without government financing. Many of the artists whose work we feature have created their work without government financing. Many of the venues, events, record labels and media entities whose audiences overlap with ours can say the same.

Of course the arts need support to thrive, to delight Canadians and to help us understand the world. We need help to create that vision of ourselves that every great nation deserves and requires — a vision that requires writing, drama, music and the like to be spoken, received, heard and understood. And that help must come, in many cases, from an arms-length agency administered and funded with public money, accountable to the public for work created for public consumption.

It’s a fact that a life in the arts is a tough grind in this thinly-populated country, and our form of democracy includes contributing, via taxes, to creating culture.

But the most basic kind of support the arts need is the investment of time, interest, energy and enthusiasm at the audience level. That’s where work is received, appreciated, and made a part of ordinary lives. That’s where theatre seats are filled, paintings are sold, CDs are signed. Movies are watched. Websites are browsed. Buskers are heard. Dancers are cheered.

At Roots Music Canada, we are in the business of bringing art to audiences, and again we say, WE WILL support the arts.

We won’t do it alone, of course. We’ll be asking our governments, arts service organizations, charities, foundations, communities, volunteers and funders for help — not necessarily for ourselves, but on behalf of the community, and for the collective good.

All of those partner organizations, though, will be asking for help too – from us, we hope, but most importantly, from YOU.

You are the audience for the arts. You are a fundamental to this whole equation. Without you the arts are a tree falling in the forest, with no one there to hear.

So when you ask, “Who will support the arts?”, under the new government or any other, we hope that you’ll answer exactly as we have:


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  1. avatar
    Carmel Mikol 4 May, 2011 at 18:47

    I couldn’t agree more! An audience built one on one at well-planned shows is irreplaceable. Music fans engaged by industrious independent artists invaluable. Here’s to working hard in the arts and never forgetting who we are really singing, writing, etc for…

  2. avatar
    Paula 4 May, 2011 at 19:31

    I love the timing on this, as I am about to launch a personal “campaign” (with the input of entertainment journalists, musicians, other “business” contacts) to deliver a message to the listening public – or, more specifically to the “un-listening” public – via facebook, twitter, other social media, the mainstream media (is it still mainstream?) and any other way I can. The message, as simply as I can deliver it here, is the tag-line I’ve been using for acousticroof.ca for the last year or so… “it’s your place.” In the context of house concerts, those three words were a paraphrase of “it’s your place to listen, it’s your place to play” our previous slogan, with the play on words for those hosts/audiences and musicians who got that… I realized that “it’s your place” worked on every level and your statement “WE WILL!” is what I want to hear on everyone’s lips! I want people to take responsibility at a grassroots level – to put their attention and money to work supporting/hosting/listening/watching/joining whatever small part of the arts community they are interested in. My dream is that people will use their cash, say $150.00, to support 10 house concerts, or 10 plays, or 10 memberships in arts organizations – instead of spending it on a one-time stadium show where the money goes into a big promoter’s pocket and out of the country. Now and then there is a once-in-a-lifetime show, I know… I’m not saying every penny has to go to the “indies” of the world. But what I would love the public to understand is that by supporting small venues, by going to hear a singer/songwriter they’ve never heard on pop radio… or going to a new play written by a local playwright… or supporting any number of other inexpensive arts activities, they are supporting small business, the arts, the service industry, etc. all at once. This – and only this – is what makes a world-class city, a strong community, one that can withstand any political decision, weather any stock market tumble, sustain a society. So yes, I heartily agree! WE WILL!
    “it’s your place”

  3. avatar
    Lenka Lichtenberg 4 May, 2011 at 21:58

    I really appreciate the positive attitude here, even though it is clear that so many of us are quite depressed about the election’s outcome. Like you said, art was always being created, simply because artists need to express themselves – they have no choice 🙂 – and that does not change if a government is or is not involved. Having grown up under a communist regime, I also appreciate the fact that the best protest songs are written when artists are dissatisfied; on the other hand, when there is limited public support for the creation and dissemination of new, free works, it is extremely hard for artists to survive. We are blessed in this land with a huge and diverse talent pool, and I hope your predictions hold true – that the new government will see the value artists bring to our beautiful country.

  4. avatar
    Jonathan Byrd 5 May, 2011 at 19:04

    Blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, flamenco, jazz manouche, and country music were all born and raised without government funding and, in fact, despite government efforts to displace, imprison, and destroy the people responsible for them. I’ve never received government funding. Corin Raymond has never received government funding. We’re on tour right now, paying the bills. A lack of government funding does not affect the value of art. It’s easy to lose sight of reality in an idealogical maelstrom. I don’t envy your leadership though. Welcome to my world.

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