If you are in the arts, you’ve probably already seen this video clip from Sun Media, where Krista Erickson interviews Margie Gillis, a well-respected dancer, teacher and choreographer from Quebec.
Gillis does the best she can, but honestly, she flounders.
First of all, I just want to say that I’m pretty shocked that such a media outlet even exists in Canada. It’s our version of Fox News, and I honestly didn’t think Canadians would give something like this the time of day, because I see it as being news for the sake of riling people up, fear-mongering, and as an outlet for being judgmental, and I think, generally, that we Canadians are more liberal and open-minded than that. Rant over.
When I watched this, a couple things came up for me:
First of all, Gllis is from Quebec, which is the province to live in in Canada if you want to be an artist. They actually support the arts there, so to call her out as being representative of the amount of funding that the average artist in Canada receives is misleading.
Having said that, the issue at stake here is: do the arts deserve to be publicly funded?
It’s easier to say yes to organizations like Headlines Theatre, who go into communities and work with them towards healing issues that plague that community. What about Green Thumb? They take plays on the road to remote communities where children wouldn’t normally get exposed to theatre–and the shows they produce have meaning and generate discussion–they are not just for entertainment.
Those ones are easy. You can establish a direct link between the company and the good they do in the community.
But what about arts where that link is more tenuous? What about the more abstract arts?
I get that, as artists, our brains don’t do as well with the business side of our work. But I think, in order to survive, that we have to start to be able to speak the language of business. I’m not saying that Margie Gillis was not blindsided, and I’m certainly not saying that what Erickson did was right. But I am saying that Gillis could have been better prepared.
We all could be. What kind of benefits do your company or arts biz generate besides the joy and entertainment you bring to people’s lives? Are there spinoff benefits? When you put on a play, how many people do you employ? Do the folks that come to see your play patronize local restaurants and bars before and after the show? Are there other, long-term benefits to the neighborhood? Can you get stories and testimonials, can you generate reports that prove this?
These things are what business and government are looking for. Once we start to speak their language, we may be able to actually have a dialogue.