Airlines, Artists and the Canada Council

Tomorrow, The Canada Council is going to share more details on the new model they’re developing. Sign up for the webinar. I’ve written about parts of it before, interrupted other people’s party conversation to assuage rumour and fear, and dedicated an episode of the Urgy Podcast to it HERE.

There’s a few of things I had in draft mode or have been kicking around in my head to get out ahead of the announcements.

So we can play a little “was Jacob wrong” bingo.

First – I am optimistic. The old structure was a result of very different times, thinking and bureaucratic ideology. Times that both I envy and think ended a long ago and whose remnants have begun to harm, not help, art and society.

The new structure may be better for artists outside of the silos of 1970’s Canadian Art – those of us working differently, wanting to relate to the world, each other and art making in ways that need more dynamic processes and open spaces.

There are questions yet to be answered, like these from the Independent Media Arts Alliance that take, for me, an over adversarial and conservative tone and position - and are also great questions.

Second - To respond to the two biggest fears I hear, my understanding it: The amount of money per discipline is being maintained and peer juries with appropriate disciplinary knowledge will be reviewing applications[1]. I get the angst about these issues and the reasons for the re-assuring position. I also hope there will be ongoing evaluation. Just because the status quo makes some artists happy [2] doesn’t mean it’s the right or permanent way.[3]

Now, to add one of my fears to the optimism and re-assurance,

I try quite consciously to avoid cynicism. It’s poison. I also think it’s important to find critical perspectives and to speak clearly about context and material conditions.[4]

The fear, to be glib and cynical, is the Canada Council for the Airlines.

The Canada Council for the Arts funds artists, not airlines.

Nobody is saying or even, I think, intending otherwise, but the travel and touring funding is more airline susbsidy than artist subsidy. Travel grants and touring grant often exclusively cover the cost of travel. No hotels, no per diems, no fee or wage.

I’ve benefitted from these types of grants – as an individual artist, as an Artistic Director, and with Small Wooden Shoe for Dedicated to the Revolutions (Calgary, Edmonton) and Antigone Dead People (Japan) – and they’ve been important. Travel is a big cost. Canada is big and the world is even bigger.

The cost of travel is a significant barrier to getting our work in front of different people. So there is a logic for funding support that.

At a time of rethinking, however, I want to encourage an understanding of the impact and reality of travel funding.

As it stands, artist folk go to[5] festivals or networking events by crashing on friends couches, saving from their day jobs for meals and the time at the hotel bar when the relationships that might actually lead to meaningful work will actually be forged.

Or a five figure grant for International Co-Production goes entirely to Air Canada to cover flights.

Obviously this is important and without it we don’t get to meet and collaborate with amazing artists, make a show, meet full audiences, or access the fee from the the presenter that let us pay the artists. I’m not saying this isn’t complicated.

Making up for Trade Routes

When the Harper government cut ProMarts and Trade Routes, two programs that paid artist travel costs in the name of cultural diplomacy the possibilities and ambition for touring were reduced too.[6] I imagine there was pressure on the Canada Council to fill the gap, and much in the first wave of announcements made it clear that there would be more focus on Arts Abroad.

What happens now that the Liberals promised to restore these programs, along with double the Councils budget?

First we wait to see the connection between action and promise. No matter what the government does though, as the new models rolls out and continues to be tweeked, I hope the focus on funding art making and the people doing it will remain, even as the pressure to pay for gas money mounts.

  1. The FAQ is here. If you have more anxiety, here’s an interview in Canadian Art and one in Quill and Quire, call the grants officer (who is almost always a very smart caring person in my experience) and ask some questions, please refrain from hysteria and rumour mongering at social events and on the internet. It turns out not to be helpful.  ↩

  2. ?! Parse that thought and weep for our times.  ↩

  3. I don’t know if I have the courage to write through my thoughts about “peer assessment” in theatre these days. Which reflects part of the problem: if everyone could be the next judge of my collaborators livelihood, than I need to watch what I’m saying. And thus generations stay quiet and try to fit in. Yay ART!!  ↩

  4. I am thinking a lot the days about historical materialism. And why it’s absent from most of the discussions hear in the arts, whether in making, the academy or the spaces in between. It’s a discussion of power that is, for me, required if better questions are to be found. The absence of historical materialism in policy is crippling but can’t be surprising anymore.  ↩

  5. When they can afford to go to. This is a prime example of the impact wealth disparity, family responsibilities and other social factors on who gets seen as “Professional Artists”. Again, in full disclosure, I have in the past and will again use these grants and find real meaning in these gatherings and especially in the people who become long time friends, colleagues and collaborators. Meeting the other weirdos who feel alienated is a great reason to go to conferences and festivals. I also acknowledge that I have a lot of social capital from family, education and experiences. Plus, as an occasionally articulate straight white cis-man with male pattern baldness and cool glasses, I fit right in. I pass.  ↩

  6. As Dedicated to the Revolutions was developed 2006–2009, Trade Routes and the economy of European touring that it supported was certainly an ambition, if not a business model. Once the program was cut, and the world economy went to shit from to rampant greed and moral corruption, the momentum and possibilities were further off and totally unreliable.  ↩