Resources create jobs, resources build and sustain communities. It’s undeniable that the economy needs jobs in many sectors to be strong.
Arts is a resource that is often left out of the economic conversation. There is not a resource town anywhere that does not have a live music venue, at minimum, that provides a place for people who work in mines and forests and hospitals and stores and custom banjo shops to hang out together after work or on weekends.
Without a creative element wrapped around a region that might have mining or forestry at its core, there is no community.
Barkerville was built on gold mining, but even Barkerville had a theatre and a saloon; there was singing and dancing alongside the digging and drilling.
I spent the second weekend of October in Wells, BC, for the Northern Exposure conference, which gathered arts organizers, artists, and musicians for three days. It was educational and inspiring. But the spectre of last summer’s wildfires was with everyone too. As this conference was held in the northern part of the province just about everyone had a story about how the wildfires affected their operations or communities.
We gathered for our conversations in the Wells Community Hall, a large building that has seen hundreds of BC musicians perform over the past ten years of the ArtsWells festival. In the evenings the Sunset Theatre was the venue for musician showcases, and there, on Saturday, we experienced a live performance by Marcel Gagnon (The Drums Are Calling Me Home), which was also a vehicle for and instigator of conversations around reconciliation.
One third of the population of Canada came together to watch the final performance, televised, of a band on August 20, 2016, on screens in bars, arenas, community centres and theatres — and to sing together. It was to see an artist, a poet, a songwriter, a musician. When that artist/poet/songwriter/musician, died, on October 17, twice as many of us or more came together to cry, commiserate, commemorate; the collective loss was for a human that brought the millions of people together with his creative output. People called in to national radio programs, shared stories through newspapers and online, drank beer in bars together, blasted the same songs through car stereos — a country-wide wake. For an artist.
I don’t have to write the name of that artist here and yet anyone reading these words knows who I’m talking about.
This should give arts funders pause.
Those who facilitate the music, the theatre, dance, exhibitions, are in a constant loop of grant-writing and fundraising. Lurching between annual and sometimes monthly deadlines, with often complicated financial charts and reporting requirements, is never stable — and that critical stream can disappear if that funding body changes its rules, or that funding dries up, owing to politics.
And when the unforeseen happens, such as wildfire, that cancels or threatens festivals, the effect can be dire. Anticipated ticket sales revenue is the number one budget item. If the festival is cancelled — or attendance is down — the subsequent application shows, on paper only, a failed festival. That changes the scoring for that application, and can lead to cuts in future years, erasing years of hard-fought growth.
That continual fear of losing funding makes a mockery of the thing that glues communities together: the arts, which we should all regard as a resource worthy of supporting, through our tax dollars or otherwise.
None of us is under the spell that the drawers and hewers that form the backbone of Canada’s economy — and therefore our status as a leading player on the global stage — are here without plenty of put-in from Johnny and Jeanne Canuck.
The Wheat Kings, too, count Canada coin in their coffers as they get all their treasures buried.
Hey, hey, ho, ho, the sticky red tape has got to go.
~ LV Nash