The image is a compelling one. A long line of people in ghostly attire drifting aimlessly down Albert St. Their purpose, to offer a silent protest against the decline in respect and support for arts and culture in our society.
Sarah Abott is one of the organizers of Ghosts of the Arts which goes Tuesday evening in Regina and several other cities across Canada. She’s an Associate Professor in the University of Regina’s Media Production & Studies Department. In September, she received the 2012 Lt.-Governor’s Award in Arts and Learning. In her acceptance speech, she lamented the loss of the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit and the negative impact it will have on her career and the provincial film industry as a whole.
Sports and entertainment, as industries, are thriving multi-billion dollar enterprises. Artists and arts organizations, meanwhile, are either coping with cutbacks to the already meagre amount of money they receive, or operating with pretty much static funding that might cover inflation but doesn’t offer much opportunity for growth.
This isn’t a new. It stretches back to the early 1990s when the poor state of provincial and federal finances forced governments to make some tough budget decisions. What is different these days is that some governments seem to delight in using the arts as a political football. In the process, they misrepresent the reality of what it’s like to live as an artist and insist on framing the modest support that’s provided as a “subsidy” in comparison to legit “investments” in industries like agriculture, mining and oil and gas.
This isn’t just a matter of artists and arts organizations sitting there with their hands out, either. From their perspective, the arts are a growing economic driver in our society and a huge contributor to quality of life. That makes them an important asset in the global competition to attract skilled workers and innovative companies to our community to ensure prosperity in the 21st century.
In our Sept. 20 Fall Arts Guide we spoke to three artists about their experiences in Saskatchewan. Here’s one observation that cartoonist Dakota McFadzean, who is living in Montreal while his wife attends graduate school, made:
Saskatchewan artists are in a place where they have to decide if they want to spend their time building a scene/industry/community, of if they want to move to a place where they can just spend their time making work.
If you’re working to build a truly vibrant scene, that’s exhilerating. But when you’re constantly working to defend what you’ve previously built against politically-motivated attacks, as seems to be the case these days, it’s exhausting and demoralizing. To bring this concern forward, Abbott and others have organized Ghosts of the Arts that will see people dress as ghosts and walk silently from City Hall to the Legislature.
When this protest was first proposed it raised concerns that the sight of white-robed people on the streets would be too reminiscent of past activities by the Ku Klux Klan, not to mention the current reality of racism in Saskatchewan. But ghosts, especially at Hallowe’en, are a familiar symbol too, and shouldn’t automatically inspire KKK comparisons. Still, protesters have the option of dressing in shawls or other white attire.
In Abbott’s words:
The concept for Ghosts of the Arts is that people be united in look as much as possible to show an absence of creativity. It came from wondering what an absence of art, culture and diversity would look and feel like in a society… eerie, vacant, depressing.
The march will begin at City Hall at 7 p.m. and proceed down Victoria Ave. to Albert St. and then on to the Legislature.