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?
- 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?
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?
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.