Saturday, January 28, 2012

Artists in Print

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Banking on the arts

The poetry of arts funding is that it doesn’t sit in vaults What do big banks and art have in common? They’re both too big to fail. They both need bailouts, or as the financial community likes to call them, liquidity injections.
The difference is, in the arts they’re known as grants. Even if an artist is lucky enough to get one of the biggest ones there are, it’s just enough for survival (average annual wage of a Canadian artist: $23,500), but not enough to breed public confidence in the art bubble. Whatever word you use, artists do with their stimulus money what the banks don’t: they spend it, usually locally and often immediately.
I write this as the city discusses proposals to cut its arts budget by 10 per cent, which would mean paring over $1 million from the Toronto Arts Council’s grant-giving capability. In 2010, the TAC gave $10.3 million to 703 individual artists and arts organizations. Seventy-five per cent of that support was for amounts less than $10,000.
It takes a lot of little grants and fees and subsidies from diverse sources to keep the creative wheels rolling for culture toilers like myself. I like graffiti, but you can’t produce culture over the long term without sustenance. I’m grateful for having received help from the TAC; many of my 15 books of poetry might not have come to fruition had they not had the support of the public purse.
In the banking sector, piles of money sits in vaults, uninvested. But I don’t hold onto my grant money or fees earned by my participation in the Ontario Arts Council’s Poetry In The Schools program. As soon as it hits my hand, it’s gone on to the next hand, spent on frivolous things like rent, food, paper, herbs and spices. This is poetry money rising up and tripling itself and then diving right back into the economy.
(If as a small side-beauty, poetry is transmitted directly by its creator to  some students who may have been waiting all their life for just such a charge to light them up forever – bonus.)
The TAC says arts and culture generate $9 billion every year in the local economy. I can almost see the currency sparkling in the air, going round and round. An arts grant can be very bubble-building.
Most of our Canadian musical stars have been bubble riders, in some cases through government agencies like the Ontario Arts Council’s popular music program, but much more frequently through FACTOR, a pool of money donated by media giants and the federal government to stimulate Canadian content for the media via loans with generous terms. Arcade Fire, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Alannah Myles (and that’s just the As) all made their way to international success with some assistance from this body.
In fact, the whole sizable impact of Canadian music on world culture might not have happened without this publicly funded investment. And for every loon paid by FACTOR, another $1 or $2 winds up being raised to complete the funding.
That’s how it is with a lot of grants. The TAC says every dollar Toronto invests in arts organizations attracts $17 more from private and public sources. And it points out that a cut of 10 per cent can spiral into a loss of even more funding if it prevents fundraising, reduces staff and financial capacity or means fewer programs and reduced sponsorship or government support.
People have such an absolute faith in art. “If it’s good, it will happen whether it gets funded or not.” Not true. I don’t imagine those artists who created the images in the prehistoric caves of Lascaux and Altamira were necessarily recipients of arts grants. But they were key to their communities. Shakespeare had a patron. Sometimes even the words of the prophets that are written on the subway walls are underwritten by arts grants.
So was some of our best-loved literature. Combined arts councils must’ve subsidized the writing of, oh, maybe 1,000 novels since the 60s. Some of them, works by authors like Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Alice Munro, have gone on to world renown. Perhaps you’ve read Leonard Cohen’s lovely first collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies, published in 1956. There you’ll see in the acknowledgments a thank-you to the Canada Council. Hallelujah.
Last May, city council voted to increase arts funding to $25 per capita – but, the TAC points out, the budget now being discussed reduces the arts investment to just $17, less than other major cities. “Great art and artists take years to achieve commercial success; today’s funding enables tomorrow’s art.”
My point exactly.
Robert Priest’s latest book is Reading The Bible Backwards (ECW Press, 2008).

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Study: Toronto Falls Far Behind large Canadian Cities in Municipal Arts Investment

Hill Strategies Research released a report today, Municipal Cultural Investment in Five Large Canadian Cities, comparing funding in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

Investment by Toronto City Council ranks lowest by a wide margin: per capita investment in each city is, from highest to lowest:
                Montreal: $55
                Vancouver: $47
                Calgary: $42
                Ottawa: $28
                Toronto: $19

“Throughout major international cultural centres, municipal arts funding is key to maintaining a thriving creative city, attractive to residents and tourists alike.  We are at the tipping point; this study clearly demonstrates that Toronto risks losing its position as Canada’s go-to city for arts and culture.” noted Claire Hopkinson, Executive Director of Toronto Arts Council.

The impact of cultural investment is felt throughout Toronto’s economy, much of which is dependent upon a vibrant arts sector.  The arts and culture industry contributes $9 billion to Toronto’s local economy and supports 130,000 jobs.

In May 2011, Toronto City Council affirmed the critical importance of arts and culture funding when it unanimously endorsed the Creative Capital Gains report.  The report recommends increasing Toronto’s arts funding to $25 per capita.

In contradiction of this unanimous decision, the 2012 City Operating Budget, approved by Budget Committee yesterday, recommends a reduction in Toronto’s arts and culture grants by $2 million and additional reductions to the city’s department of Economic Development and Culture.   Given that every dollar invested by the city in grants to arts organizations in Toronto leverages an additional $17 in funding from other sources this will have the direct effect of reducing investment in Toronto by $25 million.

“It is hard to exaggerate the impact of such a cut.  Of course artists and arts organizations will be affected, but so too will every Toronto resident who benefits from access to arts programming as well as Toronto’s tourism industry, its restaurants, hotels, taxis and retail sectors” said John McKellar, Chair of Toronto Arts Council.

Toronto’s Executive Committee, chaired by the Mayor, will review the Budget Committee’s recommended budget on Thursday, January 12, following which it will go to the full City Council on January 17 for final approval.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Little black book by Robert Glenn

My little black book
January 6, 2012

Dear Artist,

Like many artists, I've gone through periods of writing down fleeting thoughts in a little journal. Some of the entries are pretty personal--which I'll tell you about later.

Sara's Moleskines. They come in other colours beside black.
Sara's Moleskines. They come in other colours beside black.
Right now we have a worldwide viral epidemic of "gratitude journaling." This is where folks put down a few nice things that happened during the day. A lot of the good stuff takes place under the covers at bedtime, and is not meant to be shared. As my daughter Sara says, "It's not a journal, it's a brain exercise." Fact is, there's considerable evidence it makes us into better people, maybe better artists.

Sara just closed out last year's Moleskine and started this year's. The Italian company that makes these beautiful books with ribbon bookmarks, elastic closures and acid free paper follows a tradition started in Paris about 1850 by a small stationery company that allegedly supplied Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Henri Matisse. The celebrated Australian traveller and Songlines author Bruce Chatwin used the little books so voraciously that in 1986 he bought up all copies then available.

These books are more than journals. They're a way of life--key, says the Moleskine promo, to "culture, imagination, memory, travel and personal identity."

Understanding that we become what we think, advanced Moleskiners avoid three main negatives--nostalgic regret, adherence to outcome, and fearful anticipation. These sorts of thoughts, common to all humanity, are banned from the tiny pages. Proper Moleskiners stick to a positive, optimistic outlook.

I find mentioning things that no one else must know about, even if I have to erase it right after, to be particularly valuable. For example, last night I wrote, "Three square inches in the lower left centre of that 11" x 14" are rather excellent." But I wouldn't want this sort of flagrant boasting to get around. Keep it under your bonnet, eh? And even though I erased it right after, I wouldn't want my journal and all that positive erased info getting into the wrong hands.

Best regards,


PS: "To lose a passport was the least of one's worries: to lose a Moleskine notebook was a catastrophe." (Bruce Chatwin)

Esoterica: Painter Nicoletta Baumeister uses her journal for another purpose: "A poem, haiku or a small drawing at night has the effect of driving all other thoughts away. The narrowed focus and purity of intent creates a sense of calm after a day of supersaturated activity. It also affords feelings of satisfaction, job well done, if only in the tiniest work, so that I slip seamlessly into excellent sleep. Too many people out there have insomnia!" Baumeister does it again in the morning: "Gratefulness thoughts in the morning light are about the setting of the daily lens. What will we take in, what will we seek and what is today's sense of self? Feeling grateful puts my feet on solid ground, able to work out the next step; whereas, asking what I don't have sets my day on a frantic course."