Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Preserving The Arts

Why Should We?
JN201 Fall 2008

‘A bunch of people at a rich gala’. This was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s description of those who objected to his proposed $30 million reduction in arts funding several weeks ago. While Canadians initially expressed their support for Mr. Harper’s plan, his vitriol against artists seemed to have been a step in the wrong direction. Opposition party leaders rushed to the scene with alternatives to ‘save’ the arts. Artists, already greatly perturbed over the planned cuts, criticised Mr. Harper for his singling them out as the ‘niche’ crowd. Paladins of the arts such as Margaret Atwood went so far as to publicly repudiate government funding as necessary to its survival.

Across the country there was a widespread shaking of heads regarding the Prime Minister’s narrow definition of the arts. Canadians, as it turns out, have a greater awareness towards art and its tautology to culture. Although Mr. Harper has since backtracked on his proposals, Canadians – artists and non-artists – are still riled up and making noise. So what is it about the arts that merit such concern?

Lorrie Gallant of the Woodlands Cultural Centre which received over $50,000 in government funding in 2007 thinks that art is a vital component of education. ‘Art goes hand-in-hand with education – it’s a total package that must come together,’ says Ms. Gallant. The centre, which focuses on First Nations art and education, relies heavily on the use of art in its classrooms. From her experience as an Education Expansion Officer at the centre, Ms. Gallant firmly believes that art in the classroom is indispensable. Says Ms. Gallant, ‘We absorb more in learning by engaging our sense of touch, our sense of smell, sense of taste – your food is an art. We absorb so much more than compared to just learning from a textbook.’

Dr. Lisa Wood, a professor of English and Contemporary Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, strongly agrees. She regularly uses popular media such as images and films in her class to stimulate discussion amongst her students. Compared to conventional lectures, she finds that they are more comfortable talking about abstract ideas when there was something palpable to refer to. ‘Ideas are ideas,’ she explains, ‘but if they [the students] are not able to relate to those ideas, they become irrelevant.’ Apart from education, Dr. Wood also believes that art plays a vital role in our culture. ‘It’s a sterile world if we don’t pay attention to aesthetics,’ she says.

The First Nations people, like many other cultures, rely on their artwork in defining their cultural identity. Motives in a beadwork, according to Ms. Gallant, can explain the history of the family that made it. She feels that, because the world is growing so fast, different cultures have begun to merge into one. That has made it even more important for First Nations people to hold on to their distinctly unique heritage through the preservation of their art.

For Brad Woods, veteran Storyteller and frontman for The Great Wooden Trio, art has the power to bring people together. He recently organized a ‘house concert’ where he invited his neighbours to a night of music and stories. ‘We drive by their houses in our car every morning and we hardly know them,’ he says. For Brad, the impromptu concert was an example of what his art of storytelling did for his community.

The impact of art in our culture and education varies significantly from one community to the next or even from one individual to another. However, there is no denying the importance of its preservation, as Brad Woods says, ‘There is no substitute for art. If there’s no art, there’s no culture, no community.’

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