The way it is (part 1)

I’ve written several posts in the last year and a half of this blog’s life on the state of arts funding across North America. With the exception of our PM who seems reluctant to acknowledge the manner in which our country developed its rich cultural identity, the Canadian government seems generally in favour of the arts across Canada. That said, public (monetary) support of the arts has dwindled, nose-dived, and vanished without a trace.

For many — not just artists, but arts administrators, even truckers! — the public funding cuts of the last few years have resulted in some skinny years, left some bereft and a few destitute.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Vancouver artist Zoe Pawlak for coffee and chit-chat. (Incidentally, Zoe has agreed to do some guest blogging for impression/expression – I can’t wait to see what she gives us!) Vibrant doesn’t even begin to describe this artist, mother, and entrepreneur who attacks every project with the zeal of a fighting fish. She explained that she has been lucky enough to not feel the strain from arts cuts, but feels it has more to do with her personal business strategies that she hasn’t had to rely heavily on public funding previously.

But Ms Pawlak was able to offer other insight as well. Regarding the Gaming money that BC artists and arts groups have lost she asks “Why do we want this money?” Government money often comes with conditions — either via an application process before the cheque is written, a fulfillment process after the money is given, and often a combination of both. Whereas private donations or corporate sponsorship rarely comes with this restrictions. “It’s society that must support these artists” she says, rather than force them to rely on the government.

Reliance on public funding becomes a vicous cycle, especially when many Canadian artists are “working [day jobs] for near-poverty-level wages, with an average annual earnings in calendar year 2005 of just $22,731” (check out the Stop BC Arts Cuts blog for a more thorough summation of the report.) In fact, “according to the Hill study, the poorest-paid Canadian artist category is that of female visual artist, with average earnings in 2005 of $11,421”.

The ability to make art is directly related to the amount of time an artist can spend on creation, and affected by their ability to purchase supplies, pay rent and eat. In the ‘work’-‘life’ dichotomy where do we wedge ‘create’?

“This is the occassion,” asserts Zoe. Future success will be built on innovative pairing of artists with individuals and private businesses.

Want to find out more? Check back for Part 2!

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