June 5, 2008

Understanding Canada: Strings Attached for Funding

How subtle is the shift from writing to war? You'd think it would be a calamitous event, the kind to scar deep furrows into the earth. Not so. Attaching strings to funding cries all the necessary havoc. It appears those scholars and writers who publish and present their work abroad, can now only obtain crucial government funding if they culture their presentation(s) of Canada with "...Canadian foreign policy and priorities," as Jean Labrie (Foreign Affairs official in charge of the program) puts it.

Read the Article.

What does it mean when the funding of "academic freedom" is contingent upon following certain government suggested topics? Is that really academic freedom? What and who's version of Canada gets represented?

What say you?


Sam said...


No, it's a good question, but it also brings up the bigger question of what are we supporting art for? I mean, what do we, taxpaying citizens, expect to get out of paying for artists? Some amazing artwork? To alleviate guilt over our own paucity of artistic awareness? To push a multicultural agenda? I don't have the answer, but it bears thinking about.

The Bill Reid thing has really been interesting. He made 1500 sculptures, is widely renowned, and I look at his art and get nothing out of it. The fact that the government paid him to make gold statues is appalling to me--do you know how much Jack Daniel's you can buy with a pound of gold? But I digress.

I'm just wary of government funding in genral, although in Canada there's really no other option for filmmakers and other artists whose chosen form demands craploads of cash. Of course I've never got a council grant, don't know anyone who has (maybe Ross? I'm not sure) and aside from Atom Egoyan I don't really enjoy the kind of movies the CC sponsors.

I know that even Shakespeare was state-supported to an extent, and I do think funding should be available. But I sympathize with the plebs who see tax money (this was in the States, but still) go to pay for a crucifix in a bucket of piss. How can you justify that? Either art is useless (Like Wilde and kant say) or it's propaganda (as Trotsky and Upton Sinclair said), and either way it can't be treated like a commodity.

Harry Tournemille said...

I hear ya. It would seem with this amendment funded art becomes propaganda, which would make Tolstoy very happy, Plato too--though I think they (like Wilde and Kant) were more focused on the aesthetic experience associated with art than the creation of art itself. But I could be wrong. I don't mind parameters when it comes to funding. I just don't think it should be "subject" based. It's like saying you can only do wood sculptures if they have a beaver and a maple leaf on them.

What's really strange about the crucifix in the beaker of urine is that when you see a photo of the art piece (unaware of what it actually is) you may actually find it interesting. One of Kwantlen's art profs tried this, showing slides of the piece to her class without explanation. The general consensus was that it was beautiful. Of course, once they knew what it was, their sentimental attachments to religious symbols took over. Odd. Does it justify funding? I have no idea. Is it better to accept the occasional art piece done in poor taste for the sake of the rest? Maybe.

The only Bill Reid piece I've ever found interesting is the jade sculpture at YVR. So I'm with you on that. I may not know much about art...but I know what I like.

Lady Oracle said...

After reading Northrop Frye's, The Educated Imagination, I have come to appreciate the need for art--specifically for the printed word. We need authors. We need good authors. We need good authors with the freedom to capture the world around them in a way that helps the rest of us understand the kind of world we live vs. the kind of world we want to live in. For this, there must be freedom to write about whatever topic with which an author finds inspiring. Attaching strings to funding is a slippery slope towards censorship. Attaching strings to any agreement is one step away from disaster.

Harry Tournemille said...

Nicely said. Even if the "strings" in this case are trivial (I believe they're not), the very principal of their existence bastardizes the necessity of art and expression.

Sam said...

But there are always strings and there's ALWAYS an agenda. Even having no agenda is having an agenda, if you follow me. From what I've heard about the funding, it definitely helps if it's multicultural-based, because that is one of the metanarratives the government pushes. It's maybe not an official requirement, but that does shape who gets funding. So then, isn't it better if the gov't is up front about their prejudices?

Don Delillo said in an interview that an artist is automatically against the government. Does that mean the gov't is automatically against artists? if the artist's role is naturally Socratic, critical, then isn't all gov't-funded art automatically suspect?

Maybe I'm just bitter because they rejected funding for my epic twelve-part miniseries "Canada Sucks, Hope is A Lie, Tear Down Parliament and Elect Sam King."

Harry Tournemille said...

Yeah, there's merit to what you say. As soon as art object X caters to a certain gov't requirement for funding, or obtains funding from a governing body, it loses something...though there are varying degrees to what and how much. Does that constitute outright opposition, or just a thinning?

Perhaps the supposed outrage for this "prejudice" lies in its seeming malice for the freedom normally touted in Canadian artistic expression. It doesn't smack of censorship to me, at least not at the outset. But the reek of such things does linger on its clothing.

Of course, where does that leave the writer? Especially in Canada, where pretty much the only way to make a living is to suckle at the gov't teat.

Lady Oracle said...

Sadly, nothing in life (no job, no career, no chosen path of any sort nor any action one makes) is free of suspicion, or full of its own integrity. Life is a balancing act--using what we have with the opportunities offered to us, leaving others to judge for themselves where the authenticity lies. It's sketchy and difficult and easy to criticize. But that's life. If I were to get funding, then I slowly establish myself within those parameters and eventually, hopefully, one day I reach the point to put out the art that is in me, dying to get out.