Thursday, September 25, 2008


If Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives are "the killers of Culture" Calgary must be a thoroughly unwelcoming place where Artists and their Art die lonely, broke and unappreciated.

That would sort of make sense, wouldn't it? I mean, the town is Mordor Central to modern Canadian Conservatism and the righter-wing, even more scary Fundamentalist Evangelical Reform movement that fathered it. Big Oil lives here with all its tax perks and untouchable  government subsidies. Evil media Baron Jim Shaw is lurking close-by too, right in Steve's own completely safe, rather-die-than-vote-Liberal riding, for all I know.

Yeah, Calgary must be a place where Art better not show it's pretty little face if it knows what's good for it.

So what am I doing here shooting a documentary on not one but two gallery openings featuring Canadian artists that are attracting  critics and collectors from all over the world? And how come those events aren't even considered the local Cultural highlights of the week?

Which doesn't even include either the Flames pre-season games or the two week long film festival...

Have I been sadly misinformed about the impact of Arts cuts and Cultural funding or the Conservative malice toward us creative types that's apparently behind it all?

Well, yes and no.

No matter how the Prime Minister and his sidekicks spin an overall increase in the Budget of the Heritage Department, little of that money is going to Canadian Artists.

But then little of it ever has.

Having served on the Boards of a couple of theatre companies, I can tell you that much of the money that arrives from the Federal purse (and Provincial ones as well) comes with strings attached. Those strings might require improvements to infrastructure such as safer lighting grids or wheelchair access. Sometimes the money has to be spent streamlining the ticketing system or to pay consultants to study how audiences are changing.

And while all of those things are important to the day-to-day operation of a theatre, trust me when I say that a cheque from the Canada Council never arrives with a Post-it note attached saying "Do bigger shows with more actors".

Lately, a lot of Toronto companies have been getting by on subsidies they are granted for doing shows with an "educational" component; meaning that teacher-artists host workshops for school age audiences, or there's a production or two in the season that local school boards deem appropriate for their students to attend.

Not the kind of atmosphere that's likely to breed challenging or Adult work, however necessary to anyone hoping to mount a full season.

But that's how creative endeavours have traditionally been funded in Canada. The emphasis is less on the final product or what an Artist really wants to say than the social, regional or political gains that can be made in the process.

That's why casts and crews commute to Hamilton or anyplace "more than 150 clicks" from the CBC building in downtown Toronto to shoot in warehouses converted into studios instead of the state-of-the-art studios taxpayers have already paid for on Front Street.

Maybe it's also why nobody in Ottawa defends popular successes like "Trailer Park Boys". What politician wants a cameo opposite a shirtless drunk filmed in a location where he might also come face to face with his Birth mother?

So, I have to say that I was somewhat disheartened by seeing so many of our finest actors standing up at ACTRA yesterday and demanding that things stay as crappy as they already are for Canadian artists. It was like welfare recipients campaigning to continue subsisting on cold gruel instead of demanding a real opportunity to realize their talents.

The cut programs are justifiably dead (IMHO) and I'll wager that not one of those eloquent and passionate artists who spoke ever got a buck from any one of them nor would benefit in future if they were reinstated.

Brothers and Sisters, the enemy is not "without". It resides in the network and studio offices of those who, while profiting enormously from your talents, won't pay for them unless the lion's share of the cost comes from the CTF or Telefilm (ie: Public Funds).

Maybe somebody in charge of those budgets is finally realizing that the people who've managed our industry for the past couple of decades are the only ones living large while the Nation's story tellers and those wanting to hear their tales are starving both literally and metaphorically.

Isn't it interesting that the media they control can find lots of broadcast time for you when you're bashing the guys who are closing their door into the vault but have precious little available when you want to act, write, direct or practice whatever art you embrace?

No Canadian network has bought the documentary I'm shooting in Calgary yet, although an American and two European channels are on board.  And that's despite the fact that the artists involved are so well known two guys with little blue "Harper" buttons just asked if there was any way I could make some introductions so they could meet them.

You see, ordinary Canadians, including some on the Right it would appear, do appreciate the Arts. Maybe its up to us to find ways to eliminate those who have forever been getting between us and our audience and using our talents and the money earmarked for our use to further their own agendas.


deborah Nathan said...

Amen to that, Jim. Dead on post, as usual.

wcdixon said...

You're getting too serious, dude...where are some sexy pics of the 'Outriders'?