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Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Friday, September 25, 2009

Loss of the grant for Specialized Sound Recording

Well it finally happened. And brace yourself folks it's going to keep happening. The heritage minister was on CBC's "The Q" talking to Jian Ghomeshi  about the cuts to the diversity fund which for small time independant musicians translates into the loss of the grant for specialized sound  recordings from the Canada Council. (click here to stream the interview) These decisions apparently were made based on recommendations from several arts organizations including Factor, Music Action, and various music producers and industry representatives in the country. And I don't have to tell you that the jazz community in Canada has been up in arms for the past month over this. Numerous petitions have been cirulating on the internet and letters by such musicians as Jane Bunnett and Christine Jensen have already been sent. Basically there has been a shit storm.  So now that the dust is settling and everyone is hunkering down for that one last grant application deadline (October 1st!) I'd like to weigh in with a few thoughts. Tell me if you agree with these.


The redistribution of canadian tax payers' money to fund arts grants is basically a form of socialization.  I have benefited from the grant system as much as anyone and maybe even a little more than most but I also understand the bad feeling people have when they are forced to subsidize art. This bad feeling that conservatives get when they give money to artitsts is actually shared by everyone to some extent. I mean is there anything more useless to you than an unwanted piece of art?  Its been my experience that musicians certainly don't support music that they don't like.  I put to you: why should the average tax payer be compelled to support art that they themselves do not choose? 

Thought #2

- What can we really do about the choices that are made en mass as a culture to document the kind of art and music that we like?  The art we document represents our aesthetics, our morals, and even our values as a people. Generations to come will judge us as we have judged the generations before us based on what we have chosen to document as a representation of who we are. Are the governmental arts agencies successfully combating society's choices with the grant system?

Thought #3

Musicians need to remember that if what they are saying doesn't resonate with society it doesn't make the value of their contributions any less. In fact it might make them worth more. How much did this factor into the development of a great artist like say Van Gogh or John Coltrane?  In a sense don't we want it both ways? We've chosen to pursue a career path that is on the "fringe" (and as musicians don't we sometimes milk the "fringe" image?)  But as Canadians we somehow feel entitled to reject the economic consequences of this career choice.  How does this affect our art and music as a culture? Could our grant system actually be subverting our creative processes because in order to get funding from the government we need to work our project ideas into a preexisting template on an application form?

Thought #4

Anyway does it really work to have a handful of people dole out the public's money and decide what is worth documenting? I can tell you it makes a lot of musicians unhappy and it certainly makes a lot of tax payers unhappy.  The next logical response to this statement is to point to the European model of governmental support for the arts. My response is to ask: Is the art funded by the government really better than the art that doesn't get funding?  Are the musicians who don't get their grant support one year all of a sudden making worse music?  If there is only so much money to go around that we have to draw the line in the sand somewhere WHO should decide? Considering the subjective and often very biased nature of art criticism, can we say that the art funding agencies operate a true meritocracy?

Don't get me wrong. I'm putting these questions out there for the very reason that they need to be addressed in light of our current economic reality in order for us to continue to legitimately ask our country for financial support.  Times are a changin' and we are beginning to witness some of the natural logical conclusions of capitalism.  The jazz community needs to stay current with these changes if we want to remain a vital and necessary component to our society's culture. 


  1. This a very complex issue and you have managed to explore, or raise, several key elements. I don't know how we avoid either bias or randomness in the grant system, but I know that support for artists is important. Since many artists are not actually appreciated in their own lifetime, it is unfair to our children and their children to neglect their potential contributions to the culture. To simply apply the principle of current "public support" will force artists to pander to the entertainment aspect of performance art or the decorative aspect of visual art. This essentially commercial approach would ultimately lead to little more than Muzak and pop-art.
    In the past, wealthy institutions supported artists because they felt a responsibility for the on-going health and development of their culture. The nobility felt a responsibility of their station to pay for things that the man-on-the-street could not. Their wealth was the political pre-cursor to the taxation systems we have today.
    The other wealthy institution was the Church that also lived on the donations of the many people. They took a much longer view of what "needs to be done". There would be no cathedrals if the people demanded that they be built within a single life time. The church also directly supported artists and musicians precisely because the "consumers" of the day were generally too poor to do so.
    The shift from aristocracy to elected government necessitated the creation of a system of taxation to pay for things from the "common wealth". We need to resist the temptation to call art, that does not have mass appeal, elitists and therefore not something we should spend general tax money on.
    Governors have a responsibility to support anything that contributes significantly to the general "health" of our culture, such as, parks and recreation and art. We need look no further than the failed communist states to see what Socrates's prediction of the "tyranny of the masses" might look like.

  2. I might be difficult to tell from my post that I am opposed to this cut in funding. In fact I think it was a sham marketing strategy for the conservative party to come off looking like they're taking a strong stand against arts funding. After all its only $1.3 million which is kind of a drop in the bucket. In the face of the "new" conservatives I just think its going to be important for artists to intelligently oppose the criticisms to government supported arts funding. I guess I see this as a sort of capital punishment type issue for the country.