The Canadian Government and the Arts

Activity Being Procrastinated: Holland and Jaime book cover design
Music In My Head: Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
Tea: rose
Books Being Read: Lamb – Christopher Moore

I know this is going to get me in trouble. I’d like to pass the blame on to the friend who dared me to do it, but the fact is that I sometimes like playing Devil’s Advocate.

The devil, by the way, was only considered God’s adversary until John imbibed or ingested whatever it was that inspired The Book of Revelation; he wasn’t considered to be pure evil. Just think of me as a pre-Revelation challenger, not as something horrific.

(I know: Get on with it, Sheila.)


I don’t think the Canadian government should be contributing money to the arts.


Yeah. Really.

You see, much as I eat/sleep/breathe art – and believe there’s never enough to go around – I don’t think it’s something the government should be paying for. At least, not now. Here’s my reasoning: there are more important things for them to be doing with the money.

A government is defined as a group of people who politically lead another group of people. Human beings only require so much leading: we can handle a good deal of our lives without the interference of others. We require very little to live happily as we’re actually responsible for very little.  Have a look at Sheila’s Pyramid of Responsibility:

That’s all we need in a nutshell… or in a triangle. (What we want is an entirely different kettle of fish; put on some Rolling Stones and get over it.) And I think that’s what the government is responsible for: what we need. And the pyramid shows the hierarchy.

Food and shelter are the most important. Everyone needs these things. Not everyone in Canada has those things. This bothers me. Yeah, I’d like it if everyone would learn to read, but it’s not a requirement for existence. Food is. Shelter is. The first thing a government should do is make sure that everyone has the necessities of life. Even those dirty people who live under the bridge and smell like alcohol.

Especially those dirty people who live under the bridge and smell like alcohol. Damn it, has reason been entirely lost to the ether?

The second category is the arts and sciences which relate to the first requirement. They can pretty much be boiled down to health care and education. And I think the health care and education should be relevant to each society. In the GTA, we don’t really need to know how to hunt seals; in Quebec, they don’t need to study classical English literature (I’m gonna get it for that one, too, aren’t I?); in Resolute, they don’t need to study the effects of heatstroke. Some sensible people need to establish what is required for each community.

If the government has attended to these things and there is money left over, then it should be put towards entertainment. Yes, to some degree, entertainment is related to health care – particularly mental health – but not all of it. (You can read my spiel on health care here, by the way.) There’s always that fine line: a film or a meal; a book or a place to sleep at night.

While I hope – dream – that one day I’ll be able to write full-time, I don’t think I could do so if I knew that the government was paying me when there are so many people who hope for dinner and dream of a bed where they don’t have to stay awake to defend their few possessions. I couldn’t write a story if I knew that, somewhere, someone was being forced to sit through a church service they didn’t agree with just so they could get a few boxes of Kraft Dinner and an old sweater with a small hole in it.

It would also be difficult to write knowing – and I do know this, without question – that there are people who are learning (or not learning) irrelevant things in school just because the government budget can’t afford repairs for the gymnasium or another teacher to help with a difficult class.

When I get to the point where I think my writing is worthy of a Canada Council grant, I won’t be applying for one.

What I will be doing is looking for a patron. Just like in the classical periods, where rich people paid artists to create nice things for them. (I may think like a communist but I’m not going to pretend capitalism is going away.) I wouldn’t mind doing the odd commissioned work to support some of my independent projects. I wouldn’t mind changing a name or a setting in a story so that a patron could pretend it was about them. My artistic integrity tends to wobble a lot when it’s faced with the possibility of not having dinner every night.

Given that the GTA is sorely lacking in dukes and earls, I’ve been looking at other options: there are lots. There are even websites where you can submit your proposal and get a group of people to kick in the money for the project… and all you have to do is put their names in the credits and maybe have dinner with them. This seems, to me, to be the epitome of civilisation: the government can have my taxes to help provide the basic necessities for everyone, and like-minded entrepreneurs can have their names in the front of my books.

I’d send this to Stephen Harper, but I think he’s busy swimming in the G20 lake. So I’ll just take out my recycling and start looking for people wearing expensive clothing.

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