Saturday, October 18, 2008

Continuing advocacy for arts and culture after the election

I was at the Mayor's Arts Awards Luncheon yesterday and Mayor David Miller, without being partisan, managed to say what a crappy thing cutting arts and culture funding is, and spoke about how proud he was to stand among other mayors across the country to oppose the culture cuts. There's something to be learned from him.

And then there's Jim Fleck who gives millions to the arts but is a staunch supporter of the conservative party, who has recently cut arts and culture funding at an alarming proportion and probably will try to cut more now that Stephen Harper has been reelected.

We shouldn't be afraid to stand up for what we believe in, regardless of our place in the political spectrum, or in the cultural landscape. As Jean Chretien said to the US when they were looking for support to invade Iraq, sometimes being a good friend means telling your friends when you think they are wrong. And the beauty of democracy is that politically you can do this!

As artists, arts and culture workers or organizations we should be advocating for culture. It used to be we had to advocate for funding increases proportionate to other sectors and to the costs and standards of living increase, but now we have to advocate just to stay at the same level as always. This should be frightening to us, regardless of what party we believe in on other issues, and regardless of what party is threatening our livelihood. And we shouldn't just be advocating for increases in funding. We should be highlighting how vital culture is to any society. There is no society without it. Culture is not something "normal people" can't relate to; "normal people" are making culture all the time. Culture is how we interpret landscape, skylines, fashion; how we organize our gardens, our time. Dance is how fast we walk to work with our iPods. Music is the rhythm of the squirrels dodging cars on residential streets....Culture is simply how we perceive and make sense of the world we inhabit.

Our mayor here in Toronto, for his faults on other counts I'm sure, understands how culture is woven into the social, economic and political fabric of a community, not as a fringe benefit of living in a rich country --because arts and culture thrive in places where people have very little -- but as an inextricable part of human interaction, arts and culture as form to the voices we possess collectively and individually. If we don't have that chance to put our voices into form, we reduce our language to metaphoric grunts and snorts.

Come on, man, we're better than that.

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