by Eric Anderson
A report in last week’s Globe and Mail highlighted the plight of Canadian artists.
According to the findings, most artists find their earnings hovering at the poverty level of $22,000. This is in comparison to the $36,000 the average Canadian worker earns in a calendar year. So if we are to believe that our nation is entering the economic abyss, what will become of Canada’s painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers?
Often times when governments try to count their pennies, the arts is first to feel the pinch. Festivals that appeared one summer are gone the next, and that new art gallery meant to house the works of a Canadian artists will suddenly lose its funding and no longer be built.
But at the same time, strangely enough, governments around the world are investing billions of taxpayers dollars to an array of worthy causes. Infrastructure, education, and health care seem to be getting a lot of attention – why not include arts and culture in that mix?
There are many traditional arguments for the funding of arts in Canada, raising much passion among supporters and detractors. One simply has to remember Stephen Harper’s faux pas last election; his dismissive comments about artists served as a catalyst for those who believe the arts deserve a place in Canadian society.
Promoting our national identity, employing thousands of Canadians in our small but robust entertainment sector and producing $40 billion dollars for our economy are three strong arguments for the continuation of arts and culture funding.
But the argument that was most relevant to me is based not on a literary or musical genius. Did you know that John Maynard Keynes, famous for his economic theories, was the first Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain?
Following World War II, Great Britain was in tough economic shape. The country was living off food rations until the mid-1950s, yet Keynes thought enough of the arts to ensure the ballet, symphony, and opera would be available to anyone who wanted a night out on the town. It was an opportunity for the people of Britain to escape the hard times they were experiencing, if only for a couple of hours.
This is why arts and culture deserve an increase in funding. People sometimes need to escape the monotony of their lives.
Some turn to drugs, others look towards a bottle, but I think that going to a great concert or losing yourself in an exhibit is a much healthier way to escape.
Those who have seen a band like The Arcade Fire in concert know that for those two hours the farthest thing from your mind is the car payment that is a month late or the thousands of dollars of student debt that will force you to wait tables years after you graduate with your international studies degree.
No, for those two hours the only thing in the world that matters is the glorious music that is blasting into your ears, played by musicians who truly love what they are doing.
I am already salivating at the thought of seeing The Weakerthans and Constantines in Regina and Saskatoon in April, and both of these bands would not be able to distribute their music if not for government issued grants.
Sure, once the concert is over people walk back out into the real world and the assortment of worries that come with it, but everyone needs a break from the daily grind of reality.
Culture can provide that to people – especially in Canada where we are spoiled with the number of quality artists who provide us a window of escapism every once in a while.
As we enter a period where the news that surrounds us is mostly dire and bleak, Canadians need the opportunity to escape and detach themselves from their daily routine.
To ensure this happens, our government must provide the economic support for artists of all genres.