ARTISTS IN ALBERTA: WHO SHOULD YOU VOTE FOR? by Myrna Kostashreposted from: http://changealberta.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/artists-in-alberta-who-should-you-vote-for-by-myrna-kostash/
[Posted on March 29, 2012 by ChangeAlberta]
If you’re an artist in Alberta (read, self-employed with no taxable income), who should you vote for? For a lot of us that would be a no-brainer, in the sense that we just go on voting for whoever we supported the last time, no questions asked, or don’t bother voting at all: “I mean,” we say, “what’s the point?”
But in this coming election, there are actually a number of parties in play who weren’t there the last time we went to the polls. Are any of them worth your artist’s vote? Or the vote of any citizen who believes that artistic production contributes to a community’s sense of well-being?
Forget about Alison Redford’s Tories and the Wildrose: hobbled by an ideological commitment to no new taxes – that heinous scheme to snatch wealth out of the cold, dead hands of their benefactors – and barring a sudden gush of new wealth pried out of the hands of men and women at the slot machines, there will be no new money for the arts in Alberta. Given the foregone revenue of some $55 billion lost to “overly generous royalty cuts” in the oil and gas sector (quoting a Parkland Institute Report), the government can only deepen its addiction to those slots.
The Dippers, though, “get it”: they understand the symbiosis of “arts and culture” and “quality of life,” and the importance of funding the one so that the other may also thrive. They’ve noticed that the main organ for funding artists and arts organizations – the Alberta Foundation for the Arts – has never entrusted decision-making to an arm’s-length agency but kept it exclusively with a Board of patronage appointments. And that the ministry that oversees arts and culture policy carries a double-barreled label that includes “community spirit” in its mandate. This is a common dodge of governments everywhere (even during sainted NDP regimes in Saskatchewan), to hitch to the arts miscellaneous other “soft” responsibilities, from sports to provincial parks to human rights commissions, as though only lumped together are they worth a seat at the cabinet table.
So an NDP government would create a separate Ministry of Arts and Culture, introduce $30 million in new funding (from increased royalty revenues?), allocate 1% of all large capital projects for the commission of public art, and increase or reintroduce a fine arts curriculum into elementary schools. All good ideas. You could safely vote for a Dipper.
The Liberals devote pages to describing their commitment to arts and culture policies and initiatives (I detect the creative hand of Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman here) and it’s all exciting. “Great art,” they announce, “brings joy, hard questions, understanding and new challenges,” and call for an “Alberta Renaissance.” Re-naissance means re-birth, nicely giving the nod to the generations of preceding creative geniuses in our midst who have helped shape the contours of our self-image as Albertans even while starving in garrets from Medicine Hat to Grande Prairie. Liberals would legislate Status of the Artist provisions for collective bargaining rights for arts professionals, create an Alberta Film and Television tax credit, establish an Alberta Publishers’ Fund, and would “immediately double the budget” of the AFA “and triple funding within three years.” And I particularly like their proposal to set up a $500 million endowment fund for the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, “parallel to existing endowment funds for medicine, engineering and the sciences.” (In the current intellectual environment, which treats the arts and humanities with contempt, this is refreshing thinking.) However, it is not clear where a Liberal government would look for funds to fuel all this. We can always dream along with them.
The Evergreens seem not to have any arts policy whatever; and the Alberta Party buries their boiler plate policy – “the Alberta Party will work to increase the role of the arts in the economic and social fabric of rural communities” – within their “priority #3, rural communities.” Urban centres, I guess, can take care of themselves.
But here’s the thing: in what I read from these parties, I did not read a single reference to the radical restructuring of our arts “industries,” mainly a result of the new technologies applied to the production and distribution of artistic work. Already we experience the shift from books in bookstores to books from on-line retailers, from gallery exhibits to digital and collaborative visual artworks, from cinema screenings to downloads from the internet, heck, even from traditional film shoots to cellphone movies, and from publishing houses to interactive on-line self-publishing sites. Nary a word about the new copyright legislation that is a direct threat to “creators’” income in favour of “users’” rights. Nor a word of protest against this new cultural ecology that requires artists to be self-promoting hucksters and clowns in a discount marketplace, their own agents and producers and editors, and trying to make a living in a society whose citizens now feel entitled to free stuff anywhere, any time and anyhow.
I don’t expect individual candidates for political office to have global solutions. But perhaps a “package” of left-of-Tory candidates could come up with original ideas for at least the current decade, brain-storming with artists (something we will never get with right wing parties). Check them out at ChangeAlberta.ca.
Myrna Kostash is a fulltime writer based in Edmonton, author of award-winning Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium. Her website is:www.myrnakostash.com