Last week I wrote an editorial exploring the role of the arts in creating healthy and prosperous countries. With the government of Canada making major shifts across the board last night, becoming a Conservative majority government (I refuse to call it the “Harper Government”) many artists and arts organizations are writhing at the thought of the potential for further arts cuts and the additional silencing of alternative voices.
With at least four years of a Conservative, social program slash-happy, government ahead of us, what is there for artists to do? Artists must be purposful in their practice and be tactful in their dialogue.
First of all, I suggest remembering that in the face of the extreme frustration that will likely come we cannot waste energy being hateful. We also cannot be quiet.
Where the government fails to fund the arts we must be open to alternative funding. This funding will frequently come from businesses. Often the same businesses who have demanded tax cuts will be cherry picking the arts organizations of their choices to fund (rather than allowing the funding to be distributed through the government system). Work to understand how the arts are beneficial to businesses, science, and communities in general, so that you can better persuade your business friends to develop a habit of supporting the arts and valuing the contribution it has to a healthy democracy and economy.
I am personally willing to argue that in a time when government funding is minimal, the energy we expend should be spent fighting for a government willing to change taxation practices and/or budgets in order to support social programs and the arts, rather than fighting a losing battle against corporations. The agenda of the corporation is capital profit, and until we’re buying differently (or not at all) little will change. At the very least, the government’s agenda should be to listen to the citizenship and respond.
Secondly, when you choose to take the time to create something, make sure it has a purpose. What do you need to say and what dialogue do you need to engage in? Is it going to be women’s rights? Health care? Gun control? The growing gap between the rich and the poor? Make art with a purpose. Don’t make lazy pictures to hang behind couches.
Finally, ensure that you approach all types of people with grace and tact, regardless of their political standing. Hold true to your values but do not steamroller anyone with them – you likely believe, after all, that this is a free country in which people are entitled to their opinions. Walking the walk with poise and conviction will win you more fans than gnashing your teeth at the profound idiocy of people who don’t think just like you (as irresistible as that may be). Do yourself a favour and take the time to think about what you believe and why, so that you can be effective in engaging in dialogue. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am walking the line of the old saying: you catch more flies with honey. Bright, very sticky honey, that’s all over everything.
Speak out, in whatever medium you speak best in. Voice your opinion with informed conviction and tact. Avoid complacency.