Comments on the arts

Disclaimer: It has been brought to my attention that some people believe the article or opinion piece I speak of here  – and reproduced at the bottome of my comments below – was in fact written by me. It was not. Just to be clear, again, I did not write the anonymous opinion piece…I would have signed mine.

Preamble: the following are comments I made to a recent piece in The Record posted as ‘opinion’ (without attribution) involving the Waterloo Region Arts Fund board. I am presenting my comments (7) here in their entirety with the exception of one small edit. I was appalled at the posts from others and decided to wage a war against anti-arts critics; they were seldom addressing the article as you can see by my chosen words. I have included the article at the bottom of my commentary.

No one’s getting rich off the arts! The margins are thin, very thin. As someone who has worked in the arts I can assure you that few artists today make a decent living of their practice unless they have the support of unions and even then most artists I know work two and three jobs. What’s exceptional is that most give back – through teaching, through volunteering, and yes, through providing leadership to agencies like arts councils!

A life without the arts is a life spent in darkness. The argument against the arts is often utilitarian: There’s no value in the arts. It should be asked how one puts on clothes each day, or what channel one turns to view? On the radio, what is listened to over, & over, & over again? What make & colour of car (or bicycle?) From schools, to radio and television, to the clothes we wear, a tax subsidy to make work by an artist is garnered. Get over it!

Creative By Birth! Picasso said, “Art washes from the soul the very dust of everyday life.” We are born with creativity & passion, it’s how we apply them that shows results. The creative sector’s established – video games, pop music, & yes fashion, but it is higher art that feeds these practices that’s part of a system of relevance for all – it makes us feel human. Without it as I have said…darkness. You choose.

Art As Voice. Art provokes dialogue and this is healthy. It allows us to express emotions that may otherwise be left unresolved – concerns over taxation usually indicate problems with financial security, or worse, poverty and it’s inhibiting stranglehold. The arts raise our cultural intelligence, and debate is one of the many values we hold high as a society – like these comments here, it gives you a voice!

We need standards of accountability, though we are seeing the micro perspective of one writer. The work created by WRAF grants is diverse, strong, & representative of our cultural integrity. Even within the arts community though there are questions of process & I agree their needs to be more transparency & policy debate. This is a good thing.

Art is also for those less fortunate! Certainly artistic need doesn’t have to be about income level? Arts practice often involves relating stories in reach & integral to those living in marginal circumstances – if it wasn’t there wouldn’t be subsidies, PWYC or free festivals & programs. We are subsidizing social cohesion, community building & inclusion in a cost effective way, and the investment’s worthy given creativity’s importance.

Asked and answered! The arts feed our economy, provide vital services to youths, improve quality of life for people with disabilities or mental illness and others in the margins of society, inspire and enrich our business community and bring people together. The article states this costs 1.7 million over a decade to WRAF. I find it inexpensive. It’s how that is a question. It’s time to move on.

Overhaul arts funding group

The Record, Friday January 4, 2013 – Opinion/Editorial

In 2013, the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund will distribute more than a quarter of a million local tax dollars to artists and arts groups, and in principle this is money well spent.

Waterloo Region is a better place because of its diverse and vibrant arts community. Our musicians, actors, filmmakers and visual artists entertain us, challenge us, make us feel and make us think. But the arts community to which they belong could not possibly survive at its current level without significant and reliable public support. So let it flow.

In practice, however, the way this money is handed out is seriously flawed and badly needs to be changed. The reason? Under the current system, the people who decide how the arts fund is handed out are, in many cases, the very people who are either getting a grant or connected to a group that is.

Just last month, the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund announced it was giving out $128,300 in 25 different grants. Roughly $40,000 of this money, almost a third of the total awarded, went to Region of Waterloo Arts Fund board members or organizations with which board members are associated.

For instance, the arts fund board vice-chair is Isabella Stefanescu, who received a $7,500-grant for the interactive device and arts installation known as the Lineage Machine. Another $7,500 went to Neruda Productions for Arts, Culture and Community for K-W Latin Fest 2013. Arts fund board member Isabel Cisterna is the founder and guiding artistic light behind Neruda Productions.

We’re not suggesting any wrongdoing here. We do not doubt the commitment of arts fund board members to the arts. And we recognize that board members who apply for grants leave the room when their applications are discussed by fellow board members. But, frankly, that’s not good enough. The optics of it all are terrible.

It looks like a cosy club, where people with a shared passion — the arts — get together and get to know each other. It’s true that a board member requesting a grant doesn’t vote on that grant. But if a number of board members are all looking for money, hasn’t the current system of awarding grants created a situation where they can be mutually supportive? Isn’t there at least an incentive for one board member to approve another member’s grant in anticipation of having his or her application in turn OK’d? We think so.

To his credit, Martin De Groot, the chair of the arts fund, acknowledges that it might be time to re-examine how the grants are handed out. We would advocate a new and simple standard for members of the arts fund board. While someone is on the board, that individual cannot apply for a grant or be linked to a group that is doing so. De Groot might be right that this would make it harder to recruit members. But so be it.

We’re not talking about pin money. In the past decade the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund has dispersed more than $1.7 million from local taxpayers. People should not be serving on the arts fund board while they are looking to be served by it.

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