Monday, September 15, 2008

Fight the Power!

In my previous post I said that protests against the arts cuts have not been merely futile, but are apt to prove self-defeating. Today, artists are taking some really meaningful action.


Michael Reynolds said...

I'm feeling a little tone deaf -- what are your thoughts on the funding cuts?

Zachariah Wells said...

Broadly: I don't think they're a good thing. I don't buy Harper's claim that he's just doing housekeeping. I think it's a sharp strategic move to win the sympathy of potential Conservative voters whilst alienating no one--because the people pissed off would never have voted for his party in the first place. Ergo, getting vocally pissed off only increases the effectiveness of Harper's strategy. I cringed when Karen Cain said, on national radio, that Harper's increases to arts spending--and overall funding HAS increased during his term in office--simply aren't enough. It makes those affected by these cuts seem like whiners with an over-developed sense of entitlement.

Rather than convening town halls and going "faceless for the arts," people would do much better to get involved in something like the internet vote-swapping scheme. Something strategic, in other words, that might defeat Harper, rather than try to "educate" him--a la Yann Martel--on the importance of art, stillness, etc. It's great that there's a lot of earnest belief in the importance of the arts, but in the present political arena, that earnestness is worse than useless. What's needed is tactics.

GM said...

The vote swapping scheme is in doubt and is being manipulated by Conservative strategists---with votes for GP and NDP being requested in ridings where there's no chance to win but where it might damage Lib hopes. I wouldn't trust that scheme so far as I could throw Harper (though I suspect I could chuck him a good distance, it's still not far enough).

Better to get involved by directly by presenting the case for culture to the non-arts-invested public around you; asking calm, logical arts and culture funding questions at candidate meetings; and talking to your family and friends about the dangers of a Harper majority, culturally, economically, and socially.

If we keep preaching to the choir, we'll end up like American Democrats 8 years ago.

Your bile is only warranted, Z, if the minor protests such as Faceless are the ONLY thing people do to fight this. Personally, I watched about 50 of my "non-arts" friends switch their FB pics to "Faceless" in solidarity with me and others. Were they informed by this? Will they change their vote? Who knows? But they were at least made aware of the importance of this to their "friends", and with minimal effort and no shouting.

I'm surprised to see you devaluing shouting, Z, though I do agree with you. I think this is a shrewd move and that's why I've been careful about how I approach it.

I use the following two analogies with non-cultural producers:

1) Three main ways humans interact are: biologically, economically, and culturally. Removing or handicapping any one of these three forums for interaction between peopls from the scope of human communication would create a scenario from a dystopian sci fi novel. It's cartoonishly stupid.

2) Culture is like water to a fish. Even if you think you don't produce/consume it, you do. And you might not miss it until it's gone, but when it is, you'll feel it.

These seem to have been relatively successful for me. Sure, they're so basic in nature that you are tempted to pick holes, but this groundwork for thinking, not a university course. The important thing is to get the Tim Hortons and SUV set to realize they are part of it. They consume and create culture, just as we do, and it's in their interest to see it sustained..

Zachariah Wells said...

George, I'd be incredibly surprised if any of your non-arts friends who went faceless aren't already ABC voters.

There are a helluva lot of very good reasons to fear a Harper majority. In my view, his arts policies (actual or potential) are way, way down the list. And at this point, arguments and protests about those policies are at best distractions and at worst they aid and abet Harper's campaign strategies, as outlined in the Valpy article I linked to. Virtually no one tempted to vote Conservative will be dissuaded by arguments from the arts sector. In terms of this election, it's wasted energy. Karen Cain looked foolish when Michael Enright--hardly a hostile figure--asked her about overall arts spending increases. She started off bemoaning cuts and ended up complaining that the funding INCREASES were insufficient. With friends like these, the arts don't need enemies.

The vote-swapping scheme is bound to have holes in it, but at least has some potential to turn a riding or two. What would be better by far would be cooperation on the part of the non-Conservative parties, having candidates drop out in tight ridings to avoid the vote-split. This too is a far from ideal scenario in a putative democracy, but under our antiquated first-past-the-post system, a party with 35% of the vote can rule the country. Given this, pragmatic, rather than idealistic, measures are needed. Argue about the value of the arts and lobby for more funding after the election. Even if it becomes a platform plank for one or more of the other parties--unlikely--it means nothing. We should all realize that most election promises are empty.

As for the Tim Horton's and SUV set, Alberta has arguably the most arts funding of any province, while having the most right-wing electorate. Frontenac House, for Pete's sake, is giving out $10K in advances for ten poetry books in 2010.

Ian LeTourneau said...

I would be surprised if Alberta had the most arts funding (what about BC, ONT and QC?). I'm not saying you're wrong, but I'd be curious to actually see the #s.

The action I plan to take is to gather what info I can of the various parties' Arts and Cultural policies. I'm on the board of the Writers Guild of Alberta and we're thinking of starting an advocacy committee. We meet next weekend and I'm going to ask that we present to our membership (1000+) the policies (in a non-partisan way) and urge them to vote. Most of them are probably ABC, but they have family, friends, etc.

Zachariah Wells said...

All of what follows is mostly hearsay, but BC's funding is notoriously lousy. I've heard Saskatchewan's is good. Ontario's is high, but consider also that 40% of the country's population lives there (vs. 10% in Alberta). Quebec's funding is, I think, far better if you're francophone, tho there's certainly trickle-down to Anglo artists. Given that province's mandate of linguistic/cultural preservation, this isn't surprising. But I've heard from more than one source that funding for the arts in Alberta is pretty damn good. Hell they just handed out 50 grand to a poet!