BLIND NO MORE - PUTTING HARD TIMES BEHIND US

On the occasion of the recent revisions to existing programs at the Canada Council for the Arts, Gaëtan Gosselin, President of the RAIQ and General Manager at Productions Recto-verso, addresses the artistic community to remind us of the extraordinary vitality of interdisciplinary practices, to share the deep concerns of the milieu, to emphasize the importance of the Canada Council's primary mandate, and to express the urgency to mobilize in favor of arts and professional artists from Quebec and Canada.

Lise Gagnon, Director

BLIND NO MORE
PUTTING HARD TIMES BEHIND US
A message from the RAIQ to the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian arts community

Several months ago the Canada Council for the Arts launched an extensive review of its programs that has raised many concerns, notably in the inter- and multi- disciplinary arts fields.

In a document made public in October 2012, the Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts voiced his opinion that " (...) the operating grant model that was so groundbreaking in the 1960s and 1970s is proving to be unsustainable today (...)." [1] Without any real argumentation, nor any firsthand data to support this thesis - other than the Council's budgetary stagnation - the CCA authorities have decided to set a consultation process into motion, the conclusions of which are both foregone and disappointing.

Foregone in the sense that according to the Council's opinion, the operating grant model constitutes the main problem to be solved; disappointing in the sense that the Canada Council for the Arts seems unable to rally the entire Canadian community around the recognition of its contribution and the improvement of its funding.

It is customary for institutional consultations to focus on goals that will lead to the improvement of the services and support provided for the arts community. It appears that the Council's approach seeks to solve its strategic powerlessness by weakening the ecology of many artistic fields on the basis of hypotheses that are making times difficult for us: broad budget cuts, shrinking of operating grants, reduction of project grants, program deterioration, service reduction, watering down of artistic merit. Seriously, are we dreaming or is this really happening!

We have good reason to be concerned about the approach of these consultations. Besides sparse macroscopic figures gleaned here and there, no data is put forth with regards to the financial situation of artists and organizations that work in the Canadian interdisciplinary arts field. No diagnostic of this artistic field's ecosystem and ecology has been advanced to enhance our forthcoming reflections with the CCA. This is particularly a concern for the Inter-Arts Office, whose broad mandate is to "support creative diversity and excellence in integrated arts, contemporary circus arts and artist and community collaborative arts in these fields."

Regarding this field of action, we believe that a profile and serious diagnostic would have enabled us to better understand the real issues involved in the support and recognition of interdisciplinary practices in Canada. The fact of gathering the "integrated arts," circus arts and community collaborative arts under the umbrella of a single program should in itself be the object of serious reflection: is it not strange that the expression "interdisciplinary art" is missing from the CCA program? It is after all the interdisciplinary arts that are at the origin of the Inter-Arts Office, and do they not continue to play a prominent role in the Canadian cultural landscape by working at the same time to create new contents and forge links with the public, artists and organizations so as to redefine, vitalize and develop new forms of contemporary art?

It is no longer possible to associate Canadian interdisciplinary artists with art forms that are foreign to them, such as the circus arts, cultural mediation or recreational arts. It is imperative to create a sector and targeted programs for interdisciplinary arts within the Canada Council for the Arts. This is an essential request. Artists and organizations that work in the interdisciplinary arts field deserve support and recognition from the Canada Council for the Arts that correspond to their specificity, professionalism and merit.

The interdisciplinary arts are a truly vigorous artistic practice in Canada, and its foundations and forms of expression are both historical and very current. Artists, artist groups and organizations produce works that they disseminate, animate, spread and document throughout Canada. All this makes up a vital artistic reality and milieu that justifies and calls for a strong interdisciplinary presence and vision within the Canada Council for the Arts.

Interdisciplinary arts practice is primordially based on interactive experiences, alliances and encounters with artistic cultures, the processes and results of which give rise to new forms that are often unclassifiable, indeterminate or uncategorizable. The community of artists and organizations that work in the field has forged its identity through these productions and actions; it forms a sturdy, proud and distinctive community.

For example, in Quebec, artists such as Diane Landry, Alexandre Burton, Robert Faguy, Line Nault, Gilles Arteau, James Partaik, Claudie Gagnon, Sylvie Cotton, Guy Laramée, Alexis O'Hara, Victoria Stanton, Simon Drouin, Richard Gagnon, Laurence Brunelle Côté, Julien Maire, Carole Nadeau, Julie Andrée T., Dulcinée Langfelder, D. Kimm, Alain-Martin Richard, Nathalie Derome, Michel Lemieux, Émile Morin, Stéphane Gladyszewski, Daniel Danis, Christian Lapointe, Victor Pilon, Bruno Bouchard, Daniel Barrow, Isabelle Choinière, Pierre Allard, Éric Létourneau, Aaron Pollard, Jocelyn Robert, Annie Roy, Martin Messier, Caroline Ross, Doyon/Demers, and Françoise Sullivan ..., are part of the interdisciplinary arts peer community.

Of course, there are also many production companies and presenters who are active in the Quebecois interdisciplinary arts field: 2boys.tv, Lemieux Pilon 4D Art, Agence Topo, ATSA, DARE-DARE, Dulcinée Langfelder, Les Filles électriques, Kondition Pluriel, PME-ART, OFFTA, Des mots d'la dynamite, Folie/Culture, Productions Rhizome, Les Productions Recto-Verso, Studio 303, Théâtre La Chapelle, le Bureau de l'APA, L'Orchestre d'Hommes-orchestres, Mobile Home, 14 lieux and Audiotopie, to name but these.

In an historical and international perspective, artists such as Edgar Varèse, Pierre Henry, John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Merce Cunningham, David Tudor, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol, Robert Filiou, Jean Cocteau, Joseph Beuys, Iannis Xénakis, Muntadas, Rebecca Horn, Christian Marclay, Alain Flescher, Laurie Anderson, Marina Abramovic, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Brian Eno, Michael Snow and Robert Lepage are among the pioneers and propagators of the interdisciplinary arts.

It should be clear by now that the interdisciplinary arts are present and prolific on a global scale. Nowadays, it exerts considerable influence in several artistic fields the world over. Many states and arts funding organizations have grant and subsidy programs intended for interdisciplinary creation, dissemination and touring. University faculties and research chairs now include inter-arts education programs. In many Canadian regions, interdisciplinary organizations are mobilizing, organizing and acting to promote the development of their sector. It is in this context that the CCA's commitment to support the funding and boosting of resources for the interdisciplinary arts must be upheld and reasserted.

The interdisciplinary arts are an artistic practice in their own right, one that is distinguishable among all the others, and it is erroneous to confuse it with mediation and social transaction practices, which primarily seek to support the well-being of the community through cultural experiences. In this regard, the Canada Council for the Arts must remain heedful of its mission and commitment to professional artists and organizations in the arts fields by supporting artistic practices without any restrictions, regardless of whether they emanate from the cultural industries, the commercial market or political correctness.

To this end, one must recall that the fundamental values upheld by the Canada Council for the Arts concerning freedom of artistic expression and support of artistic excellence, are anchored in a " (...) focusing on professional artistic activity by individuals and organizations, respecting artistic excellence as the primary criterion in providing grants, and relying on peer assessment as the best method for determining comparative merit in a national context." [2]

We would like to underline the importance we grant to the unique and fundamental mandate of the Council, which is based on the promotion, recognition and support that the organization has exercised for over fifty years to sustain the arts and artists in Canada.

We are vigorously highlighting the CCA's stance in favour of the arts and professional artists, because a currently fashionable view of "citizen culture" has undermined it by reactivating outdated and confusing notions about art and culture. In our opinion "citizen culture" is nothing but an ambient "in vogue" utopia that is eroding the very foundations of the Canada Council for the Arts.

We are compelled to emphasize that art is not culture; that artists generally prefer not to be subjugated by the imperatives of a cultural attraction... This is, of course, an illustration, but one which serves to remind us that art is a "singular" production in the cultural field (Dumont, 1987) and that its roots are historical and that it is nowadays based on an interplay of knowledge, complex techniques and know-how, which can be likened to other forms of production-whether they be scientific, technological or industrial.

To claim that advancements in digital media are "[...]giving people the cultural power previously monopolized by institutions and professionals endowed with cultural knowledge, resources and expertise" [3], is an argument that misrepresents and diminishes the efforts and competencies that underpin professional artists' work. In this matter, the time has come for the Canada Council for the Arts to refocus its mandate by solidifying its links with the Canadian professional artists community.

In Canada, the practice of the interdisciplinary arts requires that the CCA view the field in a broad perspective, a vision that could act as the foundation for serious and structured programs, improved funding resources for research, creation, production, dissemination and the documentation of artworks, in addition to providing a basis for management and attribution modes that can meet the demands of professional artists and artistic organizations.

This means that the interdisciplinary arts milieu expects the Canada Council for the Arts to fully recognize its contribution: artists and organizations expect measures that will finally put an end to economic hardship and precariousness; artists and organizations expect that the operating and project support programs will be maintained and bolstered in a sustainable manner, by ensuring the carrying through of linkages between research-creation/production-dissemination-propagation; artists and organizations expect to be appreciated for their merit by peer committees who have a thorough knowledge of interdisciplinary practices; artists and organizations expect the Canada Council for the Arts to engage in a cohesive action plan to implement basic structural conditions for the interdisciplinary arts in collaboration with other arts support bodies within the regional territories and provinces. Additionally, artists and organizations expect that resources be allocated for the dissemination and spreading of works throughout Canada and internationally; that measures to facilitate the operation of venues, and logistical and technological environments - corresponding to the needs of various projects - will be put in place; and that a vision guided by the recognition and development of the interdisciplinary arts will stimulate and encourage emerging artists and practices, making it possible to reach the growing public.

That being said, we subscribe to the Canada Council for the Art's objective to stimulate Canadians' interest and involvement in and with the arts. Interdisciplinary artists and organizations have been carrying out concrete and praiseworthy actions to develop the interest and involvement of the Canadian public. They do this in view of promoting a better understanding of artists and their practices, in view of fostering a better comprehension of their status, and in view of inciting individuals to discover and partake in their artistic world.

As many NGOs, among which the CIDA, have emphasized, any public engagement strategy requires "a long-term engagement and sustained resources." [4] In this context, we believe that it is essential and urgent that the CCA provide the interdisciplinary community with stimulating, realistic and favourable public engagement conditions for the public to discover the interdisciplinary arts, without, however, making this the sole condition of their merit.

We believe and are convinced that the inaugural mission of the Canada Council for the Arts must be preserved and reinforced, notably with regards to the interdisciplinary arts, and this by supporting an artistic expression rooted in research, innovation and professional quality, in addition to shielding it from the one-dimensional tentacles of mass culture or community-based transactions.

In an era in which dissemination and propagation platforms are proliferating and diversifying, and in which competition in the cultural field is becoming at once flashy and globalized, we must consolidate and improve the leverage of public funding for artistic content on a multi-year basis, rather than throwing in the towel by formulating glib theses such as "support for operating costs is no longer viable!" Considering the public's significant interest for these innovative artistic practices, the offerings of Canadian interdisciplinary arts must be promoted and revitalized, which in no way goes against a public-engagement action plan - corresponding as it does to the terms articulated by the CCA's Director and CEO. [5]

To conclude, following this pan-Canadian review, interdisciplinary artists and organizations expect the CCA to put forth a vision for the future that will be attentive to:

- the specificity and identity of the interdisciplinary arts field;
- the current needs of the interdisciplinary arts community with regards to a responsible financial management of artistic risk;
- the high level of quality of artistic competencies that prevail throughout Canada in the inter-arts field;
- the difficulties that interdisciplinary artists and organizations face with regards to emerging artistic practices, dissemination on a regional, national and international scale, the management of specialized places and milieus, and promotion and documentation;
- the considerable potential of the inter-arts sector and pressing needs with regards to residency programs, far-reaching events, cutting edge technology, site management, unconventional environments and specialized equipment, documentation, commissioning of works, grant support for touring (regional and international), market development, and diversified funding and financing;
- the openness and generosity that is a characteristic trait of the interdisciplinary community in its relations with the social fabric and people's everyday lives.

The interdisciplinary artists and organizations community is confident. We have taken a stance before the Canada Council for the Arts, the values and mandate of which stand as one of the few institutional bastions shielding us from artistic uniformity.

In addressing the Council, we believe that the task incumbent upon us is to mobilize the entire Canadian artistic community with regards to the immense service that the Canada Council for the Arts provides for all Canadians.

President
Regroupement des arts interdisciplinaires du Québec
Gaëtan Gosselin
May 14, 2013

Translation by Bernard Schütze

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[1] Leading the Change Agenda, Remarks by Robert Sirman, Director and CEO, Canada Council for the Arts, Annual Public Meeting, October 16, 2012. (CCA website)
[2] The Canada Council's fundamental values, website, 2013.
[3] Simon Brault's Remarks, Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, May 4, 2013, CCA website.
[4] CIDA, "Public Engagement Strategy and Action Plan," November 16, 1999, p.3
[5] (Sirman, 2011) in Public Engagement in the Arts: Discussion paper 2012-10-16, p.4.

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