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: