Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Artists: The PR problem

To expand a bit on what I talked about in the previous post, I'd like to talk about artists' huge PR problem.

Over the last few weeks, I was following various articles on the funding cuts on the various newspaper websites. Every article had an option to add comments. Looking at the comments, I saw a ton of misinformation in terms of how we're supported, what our revenue sources are, what we actually contribute to communities, and about our characters in general. For example:
As it used to be, the government was pretty much just handing out cash, without discretion.

Rembrandt didn’t get government funding.

I applaud the Prime Minister for making cuts to the arts to tell you the truth.....am I against culture entertainment whatever and showcasing it ? No but for the most part, the money is always awarded to the extreme morally and politically correct left wing segment of society and just have someone make a request for a grant for someone who doesn't match their particular ideology and good luck getting anything.

The "Arts community" is going to find that very few people want to see their tax dollars spent on programs like this. Perhaps they would get more support if the so-called arts community had more respect for the cultural activities of average Canadians. Things like fishing and hunting, or watching Don Cherry rant and rave during intermission on HNIC. Until the elites learn to respect the people who pay the bills they shouldn’t be looking for what is little more than glorified welfare.

Canada's subsidization of the arts has been costly and questionable.

In Canada the art forms that most people care about, music, novels and tv, are largely funded from private sources and are doing well.

Harper should make the arts community pay back every dime they've taken from Canadian citizens. They are welfare state leeches.

Culture Exports??? Why should I have to pay for a bunch of actors to go overseas to show Canadian plays when I can't even afford to see Europe myself? How come there is so many countries that have amazing culture but don't have any funding? Artists should do it for the love and not for the money. After all is it not called a starving artist, I just think too many artists want to get paid for their hobbies. Go get a real job, pay some taxes, and then do the theatre in your spare time. I know of some actors who just rehearse a few hours a day and consider that their full time job.

If an individuals art is not self sustaining then the artist should look to another career. Why should the government pick up the tab for the support of artists whose work has no market? Art and culture should look to the private sector for funding.

Buck it up artists and earn a living instead of living off the state.

I should also point out that there are artists who feel strongly against funding as well. Here's one example:
I am a crafter in NS. On principle, I have never applied for nor accepted as much as a thin dime from any government agency. As such, I think I am qualified to say that a significant percentage of the province's 'artisans' should be making their livings spilling coffee on a customer's lap in a Timmy's. Only thing, there is no market pressure pushing them towards their true calling due to being subsidized. The market is not allowed to work as it is supposed to. Subsidies 'accomplish' only the following: they prop up the inefficient, be it an individual or a large business.

One thing I did notice about those artists: they were all working in small towns and they were generally crafters, musicians, or visual artists.

On a different note, I love this comment. It seems to sum it all up.
The one domestic industry that can't be outsourced and Harper is killing it.

I'm assuming if you're reading this blog you're seeing the errors of these arguments so I'm not going to delve into that here. But it seems obvious to me that there needs to be a some sort of plan to correct the misinformation. I tried to do that when I could, but the problem I ran into was finding these articles after a 100 or so comments had passed. My comments would end up near the bottom, with no guarantee of the person who's argument I was rebutting reading it.

No matter what happens right now, if we don't want to keep fighting this battle every few years, we have to start correcting errors where we see them. Thanks to the internet, we now have these interactive discussions on news items. This gives us an opportunity. The challenge is being able to be responsive as it happens.

How do we do that? Maybe a group of us gets together and we're each assigned a paper and a day. For that day, we check the news items every 15 minutes or so with an eye to comment on anything that needs clarification. Or we create a network of people as a first-response team so when a story hits the wire, an alert is sent out and we mobilize to the different news sites to comment. We could probably use Facebook as the tool, since the administrators check in on it quite frequently and could be the first line of defense. I'm certainly open to suggestions.


I also feel that we should be trying to ally ourselves with amateur athletes because they're facing the same battle we are in this way. In recent discussions on elite athlete funding that happened during the Olympics, I saw comments like these:
I'm just tired of hearing these athletes complain about funding.

Setting a personal best at the Olympics means nothing.

What irks most people when watching Canada underperform is seeing our best athletes fail when the chips are down then say, "I had a great time and a great experience". Sorry, but that "great time" amounts to nothing more than a paid vacation funded by the taxpayer. Argue all you want about how much funding they should get, but the point is that we are paying them for this and we are paying them to win, not just to "be there" and set personal bests. That can be accomplished without a plane ticket to Beijing. We have a right to question where our money goes, no matter how much or little it is.

The problem is that as a working Canadian I am being forced to support you playing your games. It's fine if the Olympics are a value to you. However, it is not right to force me to support your values. The skills or abilities of the athletes is irrelevant.

A 'nationally funded' sports program is a waste of tax dollars. Sure, there are other areas that are wastefully spending the public dollar to be concerned about. I would rather not add another.

Maybe we could save money by tying funds for athletes to performance--say set a minimum medal intake to get further funding.


Some of that sounded pretty familiar to me. And here's a scary tale from one of the athletes:
Kyaker David Ford said after placing 6th in his event yesterday, his funding was cut off completely with no warning, and it was because of his age. He could have done way better given he had been able to attend the training camp at the Olympic course.

So they too can get cut without warning. In terms of funding, they don't do much better than us. The number I've seen is $18,000, which has to cover all training costs, travel to events, and equipment. It averages out to $5 per taxpayer. I haven't seen our numbers, but I'm guessing total cultural funding is pretty close. The performance at the recent summer Olympics has been driving a conversation about the nature of sports funding and what can be done to encourage participation in sport from the grass-roots up.

To get this grass-roots funding, they've been talking about the value of having facilities that make it possible for children to more actively participate, leading to physical fitness and learning the value of working with a team. Isn't the current discussion around reinstating arts programs in schools taking a similar approach?

There's a lot of distrust on both sides that will have to be overcome. Too many artists have childhood memories of being dismissed (or worse) by jocks, and a lot of athletes (although not the elite ones) look at artists as being weak because they aren't at the same physical level.

But wouldn't society be better off if children were involved in either sports or art growing up rather than being isolated and being at risk? And wouldn't it be beneficial for both camps to have those same children grow up to support sports and/or art?

We are two sides of the same coin. Our value to society can not be fully measured by dollars and cents. I've written in the past about how an athlete (Roy Halladay) has served as a measure of inspiration to me. (And Adam van Koeverden's handling of his Olympic adversity blew me away, but that's another post.) I'm sure there are athletes who see artists as inspirations for what they do. I believe it's time to break the stereotypes and get to know each other.

What does this have to do with funding? Elite amateur athletes will be getting a higher profile in the next couple of years with the Olympics coming to Vancouver in 2010. With this discussion around government funding, our profile should be higher as well. Our collective voices will be much stronger for reaching the general public.

To tie it back to the PR problem, if someone's favourite athlete talks about the value of the arts, won't that make that person stop and think? This is another opportunity I think we need to take advantage of.

We need to be aggressive. We need to do massive outreach. The more we're out there, the less likely we can be dismissed as outsiders, as non-productive members of society. And what's happening shows me that it's crucial to act now.

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