Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Culture czarism

An August 8th candidates forum at the London Fringe Festival saw almost all attending incumbents and hopefuls exhibiting a reflex assenting response to the Creative Cities stimulus-prod of the event's artistic community sponsors and committing themselves to the facile proposition that the taxpayers should do more to fund arts and culture in London whether they use them or not — in the course of a campaign, meaning that they are in effect committing themselves to a commitment to commit themselves, etc., to platitudinous politics and the endorsement of another special interest lobby group to co-junket with bureaucrats and politicians at city hall and exchange political support for funds. It's culture! Nothing sordid or self-serving here!

According to a correspondent of this blog who attended, Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco, Coun. Susan Eagle, and Controllers Gord Hume and Russ Monteith showed up about fifteen minutes before the event and "were rather surprised and upset that they were not represented at the front table. The show producer was rather annoyed since they had not RSVP'd the invitation, and were therefore not expected. A compromise was reached where they were allowed to sit in the audience but could only speak after the rest of the candidates." The mayor subsequently highlighted the proceedings with a typical mixture of corn-fed vagaries and contradictions:

"We can't be a city where bricks and mortar and roads and basic services are all we put our resources into," Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best said. "When it comes to arts and culture, we need to reach out across the community — individuals, groups and organizations in partnership. Government alone is not going to do it."
I shudder… not because I know what she is talking about but because it sounds expensive. Of course, people generally do not put all their resources into "bricks and mortar and roads and basic services" — the basket of services, commodities and luxuries to which they subscribe is otherwise known as the market. Let arts and culture "reach out across the community" without the politically-motivated mediation of a handful of politicians and bureaucrats — reciprocal interest will be met with proportionate support. Whatever "it" is, if government is not going to do "it" alone, it's going to do it with the same taxes that directly subtract from the individual citizen's opportunity to fund the arts and culture that add to his own enjoyment of civic life. As high-minded [sic] as DeCicco's ambitions for Londoners sound, her political ambition to acculturate Londoners is a costly mono-politico-lithic centralization of arts and culture to an elitist bureaucratized vision.

As Arthur Majoor, candidate for mayor in the upcoming November election, puts it:
While her Worship the Mayor was quick to differentiate between a “Bricks and Mortar” campaign and what she characterized as “Quality of Life”, she failed to address two important points. Bricks and Mortar are indeed the job of civic government, but quality of life is something which you, the reader and voter, achieve by your own efforts.

Quality of life is achieved by being able to make choices, and the ability to make choices comes from having access to your own resources. London’s arts community needs an audience with the resources to choose to patronise the arts in all its forms. Loss of that base not only hurts artists, but also the support industry that is built around the artistic community; distributors, art suppliers, galleries and venues. Channelling even more tax dollars into extravagant projects like a $70 million dollar performing arts centre hurts the London arts scene in several ways. A large performing arts centre will have to concentrate on blockbusters in order to take in enough revenue to be even partially self supporting. Imported acts and artists will drive out local talent. The constant flow of tax dollars to subsidize the cost of the performing arts centre will pull funding away from other artistic endeavours, and indeed draw funds away from other civic mandates. Finally, even though most Londoners will not be able to afford the extravagant ticket prices, they will be paying for the centre for years to come through their tax dollars, limiting opportunities to patronize other forms of artistic expression and narrowing the choices of what artistic expressions get supported.

The Creative Cities Task Force worked on a flawed premise. Cities which were artistic and cultural centres in the past became that way because they were first economic and political centers. The ahistorical view of the arts community adopted by the Creative Cities Task Force supports a view of art and culture which is disconnected form the underlying culture of the city, and in effect creates a “Disneyland” for the arts, not a creative and self supporting artistic community.
See also his response to a questionnaire from a selectively "interested voter" on the subject of the arts in London:
2. [W]ill you create a cultural staff position at City Hall?

A. No.


Bruce Gottfred said...

Wow. This Arthur Majoor guy sounds like a great candidate. As such, I'm sure he has no chance.

A couple of years ago, the Ottawa municipal government made a big show in threatening 'arts' handouts. Some dimwitted citizens responded to this with a sign campaign that demanded that taxes be raised!

I'm sure that the reason Canadian 'arts' are so lame is the fact that most 'artists' are addicted to government. Most works are created not with an audience in mind, but for another group of government-approved 'artists' that control the check book. A hive-mind is created that can only serve up PC mush. I've written more about the topic here.

Pietr said...

It all stems from the old cliche about the 'struggling artist'.
This specimen struggles because of the shit-thickness of the people around him, but the response of the chronically kind is to volunteer everybody's throats to be cut in order to fund arbitrary irresponsibility.
After all, it is better that 10,000 murderers receive grants than that 1 innocent man go free.

MapMaster said...

Great pieces, Bruce. I spent the last month-and-a-half in Vancouver where parks and walkways are littered with ruinously indifferent and meaningless works of abstract public "art." There is no benefit to anyone but the artist that collects a fee he's unlikely to get trying to sell the work, and the bureaucrat who, if he doesn't owe his office and salary entirely to cultural acquisitions and grants, must derive some gratification from such unproductive labour.

You're right about Arthur Majoor — he is a terrific candidate. Our current mayor, Anne Marie DeCicco, is a lot like London — vaguely pretty from a distance but disfiguredly parochial and corrupt up-close. Her only particular talent is appeasing and currying favour with the swell of special interest political groups that dominate the media in town and trot out the few remaining unapathetic voters — the various machinery that work London's election-winning companies.