Fear and Loathing on the Granting Trail: Canadian Art versus Canadian Bureaucracy

Article excerpt

This essay is an exploration of the effect of arts and culture grants from various levels of the Canadian granting bureaucracy on the creative id of the Canadian artist. The article posits that the Canadian artist suffers from Arts Bureaucracy Angst, and chronicles the following evidence for this thesis: the infrequent but noticeable onset of sly artworks dealing directly with the granting bureaucracy; the general climate in which the press and government habitually attack grants as wasteful; direct testimony from artists who give evidence as to the extent to which granting ideology/issues have affected their mental and creative processes.

Cet article explore de facon concise l'effet, sur le < ca * creatif de l'artiste canadien, des subventions accordees aux arts et a la culture par les divers niveaux de la bureaucratie canadienne subventionnaire. L'auteur avance que l'artiste canadien souffre de l'angoisse de la bureaucratie artistique, et iU appuie son argumentation sur les elements suivants: Yapparition peu frequente mais visible d'oeuvres astucieuses traitant directement de la bureaucratie subventionnaire; le climat general dans lequel la presse et le gouvernement denoncent habituellement les subventions comme etant du gaspillage; et des temoignages de la bouche meme des artistes qui demontrent jusqu'oi l'ideologie et les questions boursieres ont influence leurs processus mentaux et createurs.

There's this guy who calls me every now and then, an employee of some division of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

He asks me tantalizing questions like, "Which of the new wave of independent book publishers in Canada are doing important work?" He takes note of my answers, tells me how committed the department is to supporting younger initiatives, describes his excitement at being able to help the new generation of publishers and writers. Then he goes away for three or six or ten months, resurfacing once in a while to ask me similar questions and to "update me" on the "progress"; progress that never seems to be closer or further away from the ultimate goal of "supporting" this "new" generation, many members of whom have come and gone since I first heard from "Heritage Guy," publishers who went broke or burnt out before they could fulfil the stringent requirements imposed by provincial and federal arts councils to qualify for funding.

Months after a conversation with Heritage Guy, I find myself occasionally thinking about him and the elaborate web of Canadian arts bureaucracies he emerges from. I wonder, for instance, if what I told him of the struggle endemic to independent creation in this country made any impression at all. Would I, perhaps, affect government policy? Change the way things are? Be partly responsible for some micro-publishing unit run out of a Kensington Market basement apartment getting a cheque for two or three or, hey, dare to dream, $10,000? For a moment, I become flattered that I am the one Heritage Guy occasionally calls on when in need of advice concerning the seething undercurrents and flash floods of indie Canadian culture. I imagine a board (bored?) room in Ottawa, flow charts, spread sheets and an official report that contains, among other things, my impressive plea on behalf of the new micro-publishers of Canada, that handful of 20- and 30-something visionaries who, for better or worse, are willing to publish the books and voices no one else will.

Then I remind myself that it has been more than two years since I first heard from Heritage Guy, and nothing has been done. There have, apparently, been reports, studies, more consultations, more drafts of possible reports. This leads me to another set of speculations: that nothing will ever be done, that, consciously or not, it's all about just going through the motions, preserving the status quo, providing an image of action in the form of an endless series of consultations that will never be applied to a concerted plan for action. …