The Arts and Artists Under Attack   5 comments

I am preparing for a performance this evening with Calgary Poet Laureate Chris Demeanor at the ironically named Oilman’s Review (volume 5). I mentioned this event in my last post. It’s taking place in the now defunct Indigo Store in Mount Royal Village which I wrote a post on about a month or so ago.

This promises to be a wonderful event, featuring local (one would be tempted to say “neighbourhood”) painters and songwriters and poets and other artists who have joined together in a celebration of the arts and art making in its various forms. I know that many of my friends and associates from elsewhere in Canada and further afield would be amazed at the activity that goes on and the support for it here.

I spent a number of years as playwright in residence at Alberta Theatre Projects, a company that must be responsible for birthing more new Canadian plays than any other in the entire country. Other companies such as One Yellow Rabbit, Lunchbox, Downstage, Sage, Ground Zero and others I’m forgetting (sorry) have all made a tremendous commitment and contribution to the development and production of new Canadian plays.

At the same time, there is great energy and vitality in terms of original creation in other art forms as well. Alberta Ballet, for example, is currently remounting its original work “Love Lies Bleeding,” a fortunate collaboration between artistic director Jean Grande Maitre and Sir Elton John. Earlier this season, Calgary Opera premiered a new opera, Moby Dick, the latest in a series of new operas created under the their inspired artistic director, Bob McPhee.

I became involved in the Spoken Word Movement here over the last few years, as my writing focus shifted somewhat from playwriting to poetry. There is a very strong core of Spoken Word and Poetry Slam artists at work here in Calgary. For anyone interested in this, I highly recommend The Spoken Word Workbook edited by Calgary’s own Sheri-D Wilson, published by the Banff Centre Press.

Having run a jazz night at a local bar for a few years, I can personally vouch for an amazing pool of talent in that field. But it’s not just jazz — blues, rhythm and blues, rock, folk, country, you name it, all are alive and vibrant in Calgary at a surprisingly high level.

And then there’s painting and sculpture and drawing and photography and all those other art forms that flourish here. it’s beyond the scope of this post to do them all justice.

Anyone who continues to think of this city as a prairie backwater filled with rednecks is really so out of touch as to be laughable. If you don’t believe me, hop on a plane and come on down. I’ll show you around myself.

But that’s not really why I am writing all this, at a time I should be reading over my poems and getting nervous about the reading I’m about to give. I am writing about some sad news from north in our province. the much beleaguered and maligned Fort McMurray, home of the famous or infamous oil sands, or as they might better be known as, by their old name, tar sands.

I read this bit of distressing news from artist and blogger Michelle Boyd today on her blog (As the Whorl Spins):

At 11:30 this morning, the faculty of the Visual and Performing Arts programs at our local college (Keyano College) were rounded up and given 15 minutes to clear their offices, then escorted from the premises by security.   They were not met with by the administration and gently informed that their programs and jobs had been cut.  They were not given pink slips.  They were not even notified by email that this was their last day at work.  They were escorted out.  By security.  Like common criminals.

These people had done nothing wrong.  The plain and simple truth is that the Board of Governors and the new president of the college crunched the numbers and the arts lost out to in-house training provided for the oilsands industry.  Plain and simple. Money talks, and the arts walk.  Every. Fucking. Time.

We artists in Alberta have a rather uneasy relationship with the oil and gas industry, I’m sure if  asked, most of us would admit to a great uneasiness about the entire industry, especially when we try to wrap our heads around the environmental carnage that goes on in the tar pits in the Fort McMurray area, where Keyano College is located.

And yet, many of these companies are at least in part responsible for the fact that we have such a vibrant arts scene in the province. They write the cheques, and many of the cheques have a lot of zeros on them.I myself have been the beneficiary of the corporate generosity that we see coming from the oil patch.

And then we read something like this, and the relationship becomes a little more uneasy. These days, it’s hard not to think that the arts are coming under attack, more and more. Those of us who work in the arts tend to feel vulnerable at the best of times, and events such as this one at Keyano College don’t help. Many of us supplement our incomes with teaching and every program like this that closes makes it all the more difficult.

So, where are we headed, exactly? You tell me. I honestly don’t know anymore . . .

Thanks for reading

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5 responses to “The Arts and Artists Under Attack

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  1. If oil is going to attack artist – should we not find a way to rally and attack back? But not as artists – we won’t win that argument with the average person. We saw that there was very little traction with the general public on the Playhouse protests. Let’s rally as people.

    • It’s true, we’re all people first. And the students who will be affected are probably the children of people in the oil patch. And yet I can’t help but feel as artists we must have some kind of platform to have our voices heard beyond what the “normal citizen” might have. And yet, I wrote about such situations in the Calgary Herald for 5 years, and the other day someone said to me, “Oh, you’re that guy who used to whine about arts funding in the paper all the time.” That’s how we’re perceived as a bunch of whiners, for the reason that by and large, despite the handouts, artists aren’t taken very seriously in our culture. I remember having a play done in Montreal once, in French, where I was treated like a god. But not here, by and large.

  2. It is such a disgrace to these wondeful artists who everyday have changed peoples lives. For the BETTER! I am afraid this is only the beginning. We must prepare ourselves for a Cultural Holocaust.

    • Yikes. You know, maybe it had to happen, maybe they had no choice. But the way it happened. Like you say, those teachers, all teachers, do change people’s lives. And to treat them like that?! Where is the compassion? Where is the humanity?

  3. I am afraid I am not surprised. The writing has been on the wall for sometime with each environmental disaster that is soon forgotten by corporate attempts to placate the public into thinking all has been rectified by scraping the surface of the damages. Corporate greed prevails in our society yet if a renowned artist, actor were involved where would we stand?

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