During election season, I wrote an open letter to Canada’s political leaders, asking that public monies for art be properly reinstated because art is a socially necessary political agent — an essential democratic constituent:
Historically, the arts have functioned as a means of … engaging with, questioning, and criticizing the state of society. Consider, for example, the many works of Leonard Cohen or Margaret Atwood. Consider Michel Tremblay’s play Les Belles-soeurs, Sky Gilbert’s Drag Queens on Trial, Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters, Hannah Moscovitch’s This is War, Brad Fraser’s Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love — the list goes on. These works have been instrumental in the social, moral, and democratic education of Canadians, allowing their readers and audiences to employ their intellects and imaginations independently, to construct and negotiate possible versions of the world, to explore, ponder, and deliberate. “The kind of problem that literature raises,” is crucial, because, as Northrop Frye points out, it “is not the kind that you ever solve.” (2) In other words, the arts comprise an essential component of Canadians’ intellectual and political self-determination.
My letter asked for responses from each of the four leaders, hoping to elicit specific information about the politicians’ future vision for art’s social, democratic role. Though the letter was widely circulated on social media — it received more than two thousand clicks and over 300 signatures — only one of the parties eventuall emailed me back: the Liberals.
And now we have a Liberal majority government, headed by a young, dashing man “so appealingly liberal he might as well be an IUD with a dick”, as Jezebel suggested. What’s more, Justin Trudeau is not only “a pro-choice, self-proclaimed feminist dedicated to ending tax breaks for the wealthy and legalizing marijuana”, but also a former drama teacher.
Yes, a former drama teacher. My little theatre maker heart jumped with joy at the prospect of a new prime minister with an appreciation for art, especially since he’d made the following promises during his election campaign:
- doubling investment in the Canada Council for the Arts to $360 million each year;
- increasing funding for Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board, with a new investment totalling $25 million each year;
- restoring the Promart and Trade Routes international cultural promotion programs cut by Stephen Harper, and increasing funding in these programs to $25 milllion each year.
Yes, you read that right; arts funding might soon rain down from the heavens of government. But also yes, governments aren’t automatically “heavenly”. So, to actually receive the funding that JT has promised us, we must fight for it. Now is not the time to rest. In fact, never is the time to rest.
“Who’s responsible for democracy in a democracy”, I recently asked on SpiderWebShow. The answer is WE ARE. We are responsible for our rights as artists in Canadian democracy. We must organize ourselves and communicate our priorities for how the funding should be distributed — to government and to the public. That’s how art and politics should interact. Always.
Read the Liberals’ response in full here: Liberal Party of Canada Response (Election 2015), Fannina Waubert de Puiseau