Friday, April 29, 2011

Artists Redraw the Canadian Political Landscape

The Canadian political landscape is due to be redrawn by artists.

ABC could stand for Art, Books, Culture, but for many people this April, ABC means, "Anyone But Conservative". 

For the past five years, we have been governed by a Conservative Party that won't even bother to spell out its policy on the arts. As a result, Canada's potential for achievements on the world stage has been severely curtailed, something that has been, unfortunately, par for the course over most of the nation's history.

Due largely to the dearth of leadership on this issue, Canada's weak support for the arts extends from the higher echelons of government and business, right through to ordinary people, who often fail to see much value in art of any description. Many thousands, if not millions, of Canadians have been conditioned to agree with Stephen Harper's assessment that the arts are frivolities, pastimes for the elite.

There was a local example a year or two ago. One of the municipal bureaucrats was defending the expense incurred installing modern artificial turf on one of the local soccer/football fields, as opposed to spending on any kind of art or culture. The reasoning is, that these sports fields get very high usage by the public, compared to many public galleries in other communities, which we notice are often sparsely attended.

The comparison is readily accepted by most people and almost appears valid. Until you really think it through. What we should compare the hundreds of kids playing soccer and football on the fields to, are the thousands of kids doing art, music and creative activities on a daily basis until they get pushed in other directions in their teens. To make matters worse, emphasis on arts and music has further decreased in many school districts in the past few years.

This federal election could mark a turning point for the arts in Canada.

The Conservatives are hopefully being sent a very strong message this coming Monday. Perhaps they will even be sent the ultimate message, which they so rightly deserve.

The difference this time, as opposed to the 40 other federal elections in Canadian history, is that, regardless of the exact result, the NDP will come out of this election with a huge new influence.

As satisfactory as the Liberal platform for the arts appears in this campaign, and it appears roughly as sincere and thorough as the NDP's platform, the fact remains that decades of Liberal rule have failed to raise Canada's international profile in the arts to where it could be, where it needs to be.

Make no mistake, the Conservative platform of stifling and breaking youngsters to conform to a particular indentured ideal, only to spend billions on prisons for the ones who go bad, is light years away from anything acceptable. And anything the Liberals do for culture, we hope, will be headed in the right direction.

But now, we have a new possibility - the possibility that a Canadian government could put a high priority on arts and culture. Investments in the arts now will reap many-fold benefits for the country down the road and open up multiple new opportunities for youth and economic diversity. This is unquestionably one area where a strong NDP influence on policy could be an economic boon for the country. Jack Layton is not going to get three or four cracks at muddling through, as Harper has done. Jack needs to go to work effectively for the country right away. If he is as smart as he appears, he will make arts a top priority.

It's as simple as ABC: Artists Build Canada. And it just may be spelled N-D-P! 

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