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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Go Your Own Way

There's been a lot of venom spit (and injected) over the recent Summerworks debacle.

A lot of angry artists (and politicians) on both sides of the fence.

And yet, it's a good thing that, despite all the fervor and snide comments about 'teat-sucking Canadians', the financial shortfall ended up being made up (well, almost) by the community itself.

This year.

All-in-all, it's actually quite heartening to see how quickly people answered the call to get out there and donate to the cause.  I, unfortunately, didn't have $1000 kicking around to give like one Mr. McGrath recently did... but I did manage to chip in $50.  Not a world-changing amount but it's something.

See here's the thing about that venom I was talking about earlier.

There's one set who are of a mind that if we don't get off 'the (government) teat' we'll never be able to stand on our own.

There's another set who are of a mind that arts funding, in Canada, and especially in our current economic climate, needs to be nurtured.

And the hardest thing of it all is that... well, I agree with both sides.

This was an issue that I watched from the shadows... I wasn't really sure what to say 'cause there were a lot of good points made but neither side really made me want to stamp my foot down and say 'Hell yeah!  Fuck that other guy!'

I kind of felt lost in the middle of it all.

Which I think that a lot of other people are starting to feel it as well.

I've had a few people mention over the last while that I don't get into politics that much anymore, that some of my 'fire' has gone away.  But the reality of the situation is that, as someone who tries incredibly hard to see things down the middle, I just found it too tiring to filter the messages.  Especially considering all the other stresses in my life.

It really is overwhelming to try and figure out the middle ground on every single point when so many end up being so overblown.  For a while there, it really felt like every issue coming out was the end of the 'artistic world as we know it'.

I remember a comment from a friend of mine who'd managed to find some work down in the US, about how refreshing it was to just write... to 'not have to be an activist' as well.

To be able to show up, do their work and go home.

Oddly enough, that ended up being a seminal moment for me.  I felt like a kid realizing, for the first time, that the dysfunctional, messed up way his family acts ISN'T NORMAL.

And, as any kid from a dysfunctional family knows: At some point, you have to decide what role they're going to play in your life.

For me, I've been lucky enough to have been distracted by a new family of my own, I haven't had to think about this as much as I used to.

But the reality of the situation is that there are injustices going on from our government, just as, certainly, there are folks on the artistic side who've found their own little ways to game the system.

And yet the more I watch, the more I learn... the more I realize that I can't just unwaveringly support a side.  I can't close my eyes when the facts don't jibe with my world view or how things 'should work'.

So, what does all this mean?

It means that I've found a way to make my peace with both sides.

As much as I'm a writer, I'm also a Consumer.  And I choose to -- not feel obligated to -- support my fellow Canadians where I can.  Sometimes it's donating some cash to the cause or seeing a Canadian film on opening night, sometimes it's designing a poster or editing some copy for free.

And yet I'm also an activist, in my own way.

I believe that, yes, we probably could do 'something' if left to our own devices.  A few things attached to well-known people would still trickle through if all government funding were to be cut off tomorrow.

But what would that do to OUR voice as a country?  Would we become as stale and market-driven as Hollywood?  Where the only good idea is the idea that makes money?  Where the only song or poem worth writing is the one that can be sung by the next Canadian heartthrob (who's found and mentored by an American, no doubt)?

Government funding allows, yes, for mediocrity to exist.  It allows for utter crap to exist.  But it also allows for the people writing that crap or mediocrity to cut their teeth, to learn and grow.  To find their voice.  Sure, some will learn the shortcuts, the 'very best way' to fill out the forms... but you don't chop of the thief's brother's hand.  You learn their tricks and tighten the reigns.

Look... I get it... or, well, I try to get it.

In the end we all have to make our peace with how far we're willing to go to help out our fellows.

As artists we have to decide whether or not to build the bridge that's strong enough to support itself without Government money or 'interests' gumming the works.

As a Government we have to decide whether or not our voices, even the ones that sing off key or faceplant on stage, have value.  Are we nurturers or are we gatekeepers?

But it is a choice on our part.

And in the same way the community came out to support Summerworks, we have to realize that we can do that and more.

It'll take work.

But what the hell is Art otherwise?


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