Thursday, February 18, 2016
She Said What?
Okay. So, I can only write from personal experience and from the knowledge that I have obtained through research, studying, and not totally living under a rock, but I think it is time I weighed in on the whole ArtsNB thing, in a general sense (I am not going to make a bunch of links connecting you to the story. Just Google it if you don't already know what I am talking about). I have never obtained grant money as an artist, although I almost did, once. This instance was in regards to an exhibit I had in New York City. I applied for a travel grant, but I applied a little too late and there just wasn't enough time to process the funds and get me to the opening. So, I came close, but not close enough. They were very supportive of me and very helpful and I was actually impressed at how seriously they took me. Otherwise, I've applied for a creation grant years and years ago, but was turned down after making it through several stages of the process. My concept just wasn't clear enough, however, and nothing came of it. At that time, I was also impressed at the fact that they took me seriously enough to push my application through several stages of the juried process. Other than that, I have never successfully accessed government funding for personal use as an artist. That's okay because I've never been entirely sure I even believe in that whole dynamic. I am not sure that "arms length" is far enough of a gap between myself and the people who are funding the art I choose to make. I enjoy my autonomy immensely.
To make that particular point more clear, the ArtsNB operates at "arms length" which, I assume, means they give grants to artists and then artists are free to use that money in any way they see fit. Only one or maybe two progress reports are required after that. It's a pretty loose system and I have had many doubts over the years as to whether or not this money gets used wisely or even, perhaps, fairly. But, I am extremely cynical by nature so take it as you will.
I know many artists who have gotten grants. The grant distribution list is published once a year or so, via the ArtsNB board and it clearly states who received what and in what area of the province they live in. I know several artists from the same "clique" of artists (for lack of a better word) who have all gotten thousands of dollars in grant money at one point or another, which raised a red flag for me because there sometimes seemed like a bit of nepotism going on (if you consider your friends your family). It's not my day to say for sure, so I won't. It is what it is. Some of these artists are wildly talented and I admire them immensely. They are so talented, in fact, that if I were a millionaire, I would very happily give them money so they could carry on in their artistic pursuits. They are true gems and the province is richer for having supported them. Sadly, one of the artists I am referring to no longer lives in NB. Oh well. Moving on.
Then there are others who I have kept tabs on over the years who seem to have received a great deal of money from the ArtsNB board, and are in fact heralded as something of a going concern in the province--ad nauseam. I have watched these guys start and stop and rebuild and tear down and put up websites and take websites down and open online shops and then shut them down and so on and so on and so on. I can't help but notice these sorts of things. There is a story here worth telling, and the reporter in me can't seem to resist this. I have to watch and wait and see. I have done so and I always end up feeling like something is not quite right. I am not sure tax-payers are getting the best bang for their buck and I really hate the excuse that lack of professionalism can be attributed to the fact that--so and so is an artist... so, of course they're fuck-ups to some degree. I adamantly disagree with that because I know a lot of artists who work hard as hell to get where they are (myself included, if I may say so) and there is no real truth to the adage that it is okay to be a fuck-up because you are an artist. That doesn't fly with me. But, I am not here to judge, necessarily. I just have an opinion I'd like to share.
So, the issue is that the government is pairing back funding to the administration sector of ArtsNB and therein lies the problem. These administrators will soon become government employees and the board will lose that whole "arms length" thing. What will this mean for artists? I have read several articles so far on artists protesting this, but I have yet to have someone tell me exactly what they are afraid of, in the end. As I understand it, the amount of money that is going to the artists will either stay the same or increase somewhat. I may be wrong, but if--IF--that is true, then why are artists up in arms about it?
My knee-jerk assumption is that there will be a stricter level of accountability. And maybe a little less "cliquishness" to boot? I have to wonder. I know I am not the only one who has these kinds of concerns, but people like me don't seem to be able to get our opinions across in such illustrious newspapers as the Telegraph Journal, for example. And this is where this shit gets personal for me. The whole story is gaining momentum via the Telegraph Journal, but the Telegraph Journal is owned and operated by Irving (Oil) and therefore, it appears as though there is some kind of mutual exploitation going on here. The paper uses the artists to get at a story they can actually publish while the artists use the paper to get their story told. But, if integrity is the issue, then how can you justify the telling of it through such channels? Something is rotten in Denmark (New Brunswick) and I am not going to waste my time trying to suss out exactly why this doesn't sit well with me, but I will leave that point here for you to consider and you can make up your own mind about it.
As for government cutbacks? It's scary stuff when your lively hood gets ripped out from under you. I know this from personal experience, of course. I know the story is getting old by now and nobody wants to discuss it at all anymore, but the reason why I, and many of my colleagues, found ourselves out of work many years ago now, is due to that self-same company who owns and publishes the Telegraph Journal. So, what I really want to say is this: cry me a fucking river.
I don't need the government to tell me I am an artist. I don't need government grant money to fund my art projects. Sure, it'd be awesome, and maybe it might mean I actually get some gallery representation and considered for a show now and then, but I don't have that as part of my professional portfolio just yet, and if I never do, well, so be it. I will be an artist anyway. I will just keep doing what I have always done. I will float my own boat and I will put in my own money and my own time and I will just get over it. Maybe, just maybe, once the government has a little more control over this issue I will be get a better crack at the system. Maybe not. Who knows?
New Brunswick is absolutely filled to the brim with talented artists. There is currently a new publication floating around titled CreatedHere (Google it!) operated by a very amiable young mother of three. It features artists from all over the province. I recently purchased two issues of this magazine and I was totally blown away. The talent was absolutely wonderful. I don't know if all, none, or some of these artists rely on government grants to create or not. I didn't recognize some of them, and of course, others I have seen absolutely everywhere time and time again. It's fine. That's what you get when you live in such a small place. But, my favourite artists are the ones who truly love it here. I can't stand someone who constantly berates our province out of one side of their mouth, while all the while, lapping up the benefits (such as cashing in on government grants for artists). I hate that stuff much! Did you know? Ha! So, overall, I AM seeing a form of corruption here, but it has nothing to do with the government. Not yet, anyway. I voted Liberal, I whole-heartedly support Justin Trudeau and his choices so far. I want to see what he is capable of delivering as our country's leader and I trust that the leaders we now have on a provincial level will take care of us in a better way than the former government did. In order to see this come to fruition, though, we have to give them time and we have to give it all a chance. We have to wait and see. We won't know for sure if this move to cut ArtsNB will harm us or help us. We won't know that for sure for several years, although we CAN speculate. I, as an informed voter, am not entirely prepared to throw our leader under the bus so soon, however. I want to see what might come of all of this.
I would love to see people come together to protest the issue of concentration of ownership in our media in New Brunswick. I would also like to see issues of poverty be addressed, or clean water and decent housing for our Indigenous communities, or help for single mothers, for starters. These are the issues that truly matter to me. I am not saying that I don't care about the arts because of course I do. I'd like to see things shaken up, though. I am not going to win any popularity votes over this issue, but that's how I feel, and I don't really care who "likes" me and who doesn't. I know who I am. I know what I stand for. There are much bigger and badder issues effecting our province, but who cares about that? Hashtag--who knows?
Overall, however, I am just waiting for pot to be legalized, so you can't really take my word for anything. My priorities are truly and genuinely messed up.