By John McLachlan: This is a response to the idea of Cultural Democracy. discussed in the previous post on this site.
I wonder, do we really want cultural democracy? What would it look like?
I am conflicted on this issue.
We can talk in abstract terms but there comes a time when we have to narrow this down to actual examples of how the arts funding scene would change if a different model were developed.
Let’s look at a real example and how changing from this curatorial model could work. I co-ordinate the Community Presenters Assistance which is a program of the BC Arts Council and administered by the BC Touring Council.
The program provides funding to community presenters throughout the province who book touring artists as part of a season in their community. It includes both volunteer and professional presenters.
Once per year these presenters apply for a grant to assist with fees they pay professional artists. Only performances of professional artists are able to be supported through the program.
There are two levels of “curatorial” work done here. One is at the grants level itself where a peer review committee looks at each application to ensure it meets the requirements of the program and makes recommendations on funding level. In my opinion, the primary purpose of this committee is to be oversight of public funds. There is very little “artistic” meddling which frankly, is a good thing.
The other level of curatorial work is done by the presenters themselves when they choose who to book to perform in their communities.
The benefits of the current system are that you have people in each community choosing who will come and perform. I highly favour this method. If you didn’t do it this way, you’d have organizations like the BC Arts Council deciding which artists would work and where. Or, heaven forbid, you’d have governments telling you what you’d be doing. In some ways, the Canada Council, in choosing which artists to support is also saying who will thrive/who will die. It is always done with the best intentions as in “your heart is in the right place but your head is up your @%%”
Is the program perfect? Does it address everyone’s needs? Is it truly democratic? No, but… if we were to remove the curatorial aspect of this, what would we be left with? The program I’ve just described would be gone. And with it, a whole lot of small concert series and a whole lot less work for emerging artists who wish to tour. Is that a good thing? I don’t think so.
Perhaps, if we want to be democratic about this, we should just remove all funding for professional artists, companies and organizations. Let’s just give all the money to the arts councils around the province to set up programs for people to do art. But wait, isn’t that curatorial?
Let’s get really democratic and just give each citizen a cheque to spend on arts as they see fit. Based on how much our government spends now per capita on arts funding, I could buy a new set of guitar strings and a paintbrush.
I guess my point is, I think we still need both types of support.
We often talk of democracy as if it’s the height of a civilized world but since when is democracy perfect? We have elections now where fewer people voted for the party in power than didn’t. Is that democratic and fair? No, it’s messy.
I think we need the messy system we have but be open to making changes and adjustments.
What are your thoughts?