by carl wilson

Guest Post: Opportunities
(Let's Make Lots of Money)

Zoilus assistant Chris Randle weighs in on some topics growing out of last week's uTOpia 2: State of the Arts launch and discussions. (The opinions below are his; not all of them are mine.) I'll be back later this afternoon with posts on various and sundry - CW.

I was also at the uTOpia launch on Sunday, though I sadly missed most of Carl's panel. The scope and excitement of the discussions were obvious, though, and one running theme that particularly struck me was the dilemma of arts funding. Standing outside, I jokingly floated a dating service to pair starving artists up with rich would-be bohemians; put Harper's income-splitting plan to good use! As Carl already noted and expanded upon, moderator Misha made fine points about how we could act as patrons instead of a mere audience. A consistent undercurrent in uTOpia II is the flowering of participatory culture, where everyone is neither consumer nor owner but stakeholder. That can take as ambitious a form as Blocks or the simple above-and-beyond support of a beloved artist. I don't exactly have the expertise to sketch it out on a blog-post napkin, but surely it'd be possible to start a network to match up artists (or musicians, writers, filmmakers ...) with those willing to help them? A band member could leave her kid with a fan working from home; a director could film on a location provided by a sympathetic landowner. Or do Craigslist and Stillepost already allow that, piecemeal? That kind of grassroots support makes far more sense and seems far more helpful to local culture than government tax breaks for Hollywood movies or miserly grants that can't even pay a gallery's rent (for an elegantly low-key solution to that, read Natalie de Vito's uTOpia essay); but then, I think a lot of official aid for the arts has certain fundamental flaws.

The CRTC leaps to mind like an especially bloated toad. Have all those Canadian-content requirements on the airwaves done any good since CDs were a novelty? Most mainstream radio stations simply play what the biggest record companies offer up, like mold filling a crack in the wall, stuff EMI's and Universal's Canadian affiliates could shove onto the air anyway. It ain't Cadence Weapon who profits from that ossified environment; it's Massari and his exquisitely-sculpted facial hair. Before that vitriol pegs me as a card-carrying Conservative, let me explain. I was captivated by Kate Carraway's brilliant, mordant essay "The Secret Capitalist" in the new uTOpia, where she dissected the (for lack of a better tag) indie impulse towards lefty poverty and confessed her own weakness for sensible day jobs and bourgeois comfort even while yawning from last night's show at the office. I have a lot of sympathy for that. My ideal is to work not just as a writer but as a comics writer, and you might as well try and get rich with a dowsing rod, so the identification is more philosophical than one of lifestyle. I might not aspire to blast The Blow from my corner office, but I sure do have an interest in unconventionally individualist thinkers/economists like Robert Anton Wilson or Friedrich von Hayek.

One of the latter's central tenets seems germane to this discussion: that government regulation, control, etc. tends to be less efficient and more arbitrary than the invisible skeins of collective private organization. The Four Seasons Centre just went up, with the help of many millions of dollars in public funds. From where I'm sitting, the ballet and opera it's hosting are barely less niche than poetry or video art; but the former have the good fortune of rich and influential fans, not to mention the political benefit of being performed amidst grand architecture, and so get tons of cash as opposed to pennies. But why couldn't there be a central space for poetry in Toronto? Why couldn't a fraction of the $100-million-plus in Four Seasons funding have paid the mortgage on that? Or, hell, why not even give it all back so a guy has an extra ten bucks to buy some band's T-shirt at the next Wavelength? All these seem more attractive to me than the current approach of content regulations and rusted, sporadically gushing spigots.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, December 04 at 1:29 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)



hey, i found your kind words when I was on my monthly "cease and desist" Google hunt. this is nicer. thank you!

Posted by kate carraway on December 6, 2006 3:47 PM



The spending of public funds on an opera house in Toronto isn't really that arbitrary when you consider that, as Canada's largest city, for the longest time we didn't have an appropriate venue to house the opera. The "grand architecture" you find so insultingly opulent is pretty much imperative for the performance of opera because, without the proper acoustics, it's tough to hear an aria being sung five stories below you. And if you've yet to step inside the Four Seasons, it might put your mind at ease to discover that the seats are not upholstered in purple velvet, but rather resemble the chairs in a lecture hall.

At the same time, I'm not sure how niche you can call the opera when the Four Seasons is selling out and poetry readings in this city (which can be staged in any bar or lecture hall or basement in the city as long as there's a microphone) continue to be painfully under attended.

I'm not saying a healthy debate about where public funds should go isn't in order. Ultimately, whatever you decide to do with public money there will be someone who disagrees with you (your essay here is evidence of that). Why can't collective private organization work in conjunction with public funding? Why do we bother sitting around and attacking a building that a) has already been built and b) is clearly providing a cultural service (not just to old ladies smothered with diamonds, but to students like me paying a mere $20 a ticket to see something new)? I get the feeling from your argument here that you believe the pleasure you take in seeing a band play Wavelength is more culturally relevant than my desire to finally see the opera performed on stage. And that's fine--it's perfect evidence of why public funding for the arts is a slippery slope. But is the solution to remove that funding entirely and just give us each back our 10 tax dollars? I'm not sure I understand what it is you're trying to say about government funding. That it's ultimately pointless?

(And, as an aside, the CRTC is beginning to make concessions. If you've been following some of the recent satellite radio stuff, things may be changing in the near future.)

Posted by Kate on December 4, 2006 10:39 PM




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