Change is often vague - 1 of X

Canada Council released some more information on the new funding structures they are designing for launch in 2016.

Vicki Stroich and I talked about the changes on The Urgy Podcast and I wanted to get into a little more detail here about specifics of the programs. This is going to be a multi-parter.


I am looking forward to the changes.

The current structure is overly burdensome to artists and is not very responsive to forms of practice outside the legacy mainstream of arts in Canada. Those of us working on a variety of projects, whose work doesn't fit so well in categories, who don't develop work in the common ways - we have been asking for a different route that might support the constantly shifting practices of art making.

Change is scary

One of the barriers to change in the ecology is that people who are successful in the current system often don't feel like they're successful. The arts, like many areas of contemporary life, are plagued with precarity and "success" is a barely a living wage. And so change might be scary. Because it would take so little to fall.

Fear is not only the mind killer but it's also the enemy working for a different future. Fear keeps us doing the same thing, since at least then we know the range of results.

And yet change, shared risk and shared benefit might be the only way that the precarious nature of art making can more equitably and dynamically distributed. And that better art and better connections can be made.

In writing and thinking about the substantial changes that might be required, I am aware that people's livelihoods (mine included) are wrapped up in these questions. And that change will mean some get less then they're used to and that probably means peoples jobs. As a citizen and a voter I desire and support basic income or mincome systems which guarantee a substance living to all Canadians. This system wouldn't solve all the employment problems, but might at least let us talk about it with the wolf of destitution at the door. Until that time however, I do want to be sensitive to peoples lives and work, but that can not mean inaction or supporting the status quo.

Fiona Highet, Laura Barrett, Matt Murphy and Bredan Gall rehearsing for Life of Galileo: for Tracy at Convocation Hall. (Erika Jacobs)

Big picture

Bigger buckets allow for more flexibility and are vague.

To design systems that allow for flexibility and change, we often need as little structure is necessary. Structure is needed but is not the goal. The goal might be, for example, more art of more types with more of the people, who might like that type of art, able to see it.

Building responsive systems means things will be vague. We need big empty rooms with good bones and lots of hanging positions - to use theatre jargon. The desire for bureaucratic-industrial clarity and specialization is what landed us with 146 programs and a systemic lack of change in the first place. Lots and lots of little rooms that trap people and isolate them from each other and the world.

Questions on Language

Speaking of jargon - all language is jargon and every field and sub-field uses it. Every rehearsal process I've been part of creates its own language which is incomprehensible to newcomers by the end of process. Jargon is the shorthand that lets collaborators work and think faster. Jargon that is unfamiliar or that is being used as a power play can be very alienating and create fear. As speakers and writers, we need to understand who our audience is and when we are trying to include the most people possible and when we are speaking only to people with refined knowledge.

There are many good reasons to exclude people from some discussions. If software engineers had to speak so I understood the words and wait until I "got it" before moving on, we'd all be in trouble.

Or processes where over-represtented groups are invited to listen and reflect, but not speak.

Alternatively, a conversation about climate change doesn't need to include delusional and/or partisan science deniers for fear of excluding some opinions.

But in all cases, when meeting someone from a different background or field, they will likely use some different words or define words differently than I do. To actually meet them, to actually have a chance at getting to know them, I have to listen with generosity and curiosity and a patience for my own reactions.

With all that said,
The language from the CCA isn't always the easiest to parse. They have an absurd number of people to please with any given sentence and so can't succeed.

I have no inside knowledge in writing these post except for years of applying for grants, conversations with grants officers (CALL THEM) and the session led by the Canada Council at the conference of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres.

In the next posts I'll annotate the program descriptions from the announcement.

Thoughts are welcome in the comments.