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Art, artists, and money

Robin Poitras

Robin Poitras

A recent Globe and Mail article suggested artistic creativity was suffering under the burden of corporate language, currently favouring the commodification of the artistic and cultural product,  used by governments, funding agencies, and the (increasingly digital) marketplace.

I write from a position of privilege, (in a screened beachfront porch, with a view of Lake Winnipeg) a white boomer male in a stable country that does fund the arts, however difficult it is to get. I also write with some perspective having seen my three children survive very different life-threatening situations, and having spent (if only 2 weeks) in Kabul doing research (funded by the Manitoba and the Winnipeg Arts Council as a “special opportunity,” an example of who has the money and how to get it) for my new poetry collection Afghanistan Confessions,edited and published with the assistance of the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Arts Councils (published by Hagios Press in Regina where I lived during the Devine years). The poems are written in the uncompromising voices of Canadian soldiers, in plain language, if heightened by combat, though I`ve not been to war. So I try to remember `no lives will be lost` if I get or don`t a grant or sponsorship.

I’ve been writing grant and sponsorship proposals for 40 years, using whatever legitimate means, arguments, and language necessary to pry the money loose from wherever it was and whoever had it, with the singular goal of providing it to uncompromising artists. The need for changing tactics and language to get the money art making requires is hardly news. Artists have been trying to please patrons while doing whatever they want at least since the beginning of recorded history.

The assumption that artists are weak surrender monkeys being bullied by government and arms-length funding agencies to meet the fashions of the day underestimates their strength and  will to fulfill their artistic vision. I prefer arts advocates and administrators to find the resources necessary for art-making for artists, but know plenty of artists who, undaunted and unbowed, can also do it themselves.

The best example that comes immediately to mind is Robin Poitras and her Regina companies New Dance Horizons and In Temp Co, providing an incredibly rich contemporary dance environment in a community of less than 250,000, doing everything from wind dances at the Swift Current Kite Festival to intensely challenging and provocative work like Dido and Aeneas (there`s a long essay on my site and NDH`s about that work from the 80s) and more recent pieces about Sarah Riel and The Dresswriter (her current project.) She is 56, still dancing, choreographing, and as anyone who knows her would say, as uncompromising as ever.

Very few artists allow the language of their applications to suck out their creativity. And those that bow to the marketplace know the compromises they are making when they succumb to the enticements of popular culture. As a poet it`s not something I’ve ever had to worry about.

 

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