News

Public art funding unlikely to deliver on its promise

Cosmo Marchand and Sofia Lampson enjoyed fun in the foam pit during the 2013 Duncan Summerfest. One of the difficulties with arts and culture funding, according to writer Paul Fletcher, is the difficulty in deciding exactly what qualifies.  - Andrew Leong/file
Cosmo Marchand and Sofia Lampson enjoyed fun in the foam pit during the 2013 Duncan Summerfest. One of the difficulties with arts and culture funding, according to writer Paul Fletcher, is the difficulty in deciding exactly what qualifies.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

I love art. I breathe art. My walls are crammed with art, all types of art, much of it local.

When I travel, every gallery is a reason to forget time.

I used to own a gallery in downtown Duncan. Despite its tin-sheet barn wood appearance, inside it was a beautiful white box with a grid of cobbled-together overhead lights illuminating each piece of art on the walls and floor.

I gathered my favourite local artists and we took risks showing controversial and contemporary art that generated opinion, not always positive.

We had installations, and large sculptures, and radical metal art and sometimes, all shared the same room if the theme fit.

There was music and dance too; a classical quartet graced centre room during our grand opening. A small stage was assembled and quickly became another original home of Longevity John Falkner’s musical treats. Once the Montreal Jazz ballet cavorted amongst the art to the delight of local young dancers.

I lament the loss of this space, not because it was my own, but because it was an important cultural space; a place where community gathered, shared, learned, experienced and had fun.

My gallery reincarnated a few years later when the Arts Council opened a gallery downtown.

It was a very cool space too. Small and many-roomed, it quickly attained a reputation for great art openings and art that challenged the artist in all of us.

This public art space was short lived and came to an abrupt halt when the Cowichan Valley Arts Council reeled it back to the Island Savings Centre- Cowichan’s old community centre, where it resides to this day.

Now the CVRD-driven arts council is calling all artists and artist groups to the table to seek support for a return to the public trough, this time for ongoing annual funding.

Supposedly triggered by the demise of L.J.’s Duncan Garage Showroom, an emergency arts meeting was held to talk about recent and ongoing Cowichan arts woes.

It was only minutes into the meeting that the idea of public funding for the arts was dropped into participant’s laps.

There were a lot of artists and other art aficionados in the audience, many talked about the importance of public money for their art of choice but rarely mentioned the importance that art had for the community.

Many others spoke passionately about art for art’s sake but their words often hung on supporting the idea of public money, to support their argument.

The Showroom’s demise was never mentioned.

Including all the arts under an ever-larger government umbrella would be a tight fit. Add the culture piece and we are now talking about everything we do in life, including shopping.

Finding, administering and sharing funding fairly amongst such a broad spectrum will likely be difficult, costly and probably not possible.

This is likely why many professional artists, who are the artistic backbone of the community, just do their own thing, independent of local arts organizations and government.

Some do very well and others struggle. How would we define each in the eyes of the funders?

Since most professional artists and artisans are really small businesses, a good argument could easily be made that they should not be recipients of public funding anyway.

Professional artists have enormous amounts of experience and need to be included in any discussions regarding the future of the arts in the valley.

It sounds like a beautiful thing, public money for arts, but my jaded eye sees more bureaucracy, more newsletters and more self-congratulations.

Once again, an idea short on planning but big on promised outcomes.

Paul Fletcher is former Duncan city councillor who writes monthly in the News Leader Pictorial.

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