Letter to the Canada Council from Susan Gordon
In our series of posts expressing concern about the Canada Council's proposed policies, we share the letters, thoughts and opinions of our colleagues and supporters on this important issue.
20 November 2016
To the Members of the Canada Council:
I write to express concern over the new programs Canada Council has announced, specifically in regard to the lack of reference to community-engaged arts.
Phrases such as ‘”research etc to share with the public” and “to offer the public a range of artistic experiences” and “to inform public engagement responsibilities” that appear in the new program objectives do not reflect the essential egalitarian nature of community engagement. They set back the commitment many have made to encourage broader community expression, participation and direction.
Over the past 25 years Canada has demonstrated an impressive track record of projects and practices that exemplify artistic merit and the integrity of the contribution of many voices and many hands. In BC, the work of Terry Hunter and Savannah Walling with Vancouver Moving Theatre, Carmen Rosen with Still Moon Arts, Cathy Stubington with Runaway Moon, Richard Tetrault, Naomi Singer, Paula Jardine and many more has demonstrated the value of this practice over and over.
Community engagement … benefits all sectors of the arts in increasing an awareness of the relevance of the arts in our lives and doesn’t exclude those without the time, education, experience or funds to access the arts in “professional” settings.
Community engagement, which starts with collaboratively developed objectives among artists and community members, is not driven solely by an artist’s vision. It is a genuine exploration of the interests, aspirations and values of many. It takes traditional arts practice from an exclusive setting to the places where people live. It benefits all sectors of the arts in increasing an awareness of the relevance of the arts in our lives and doesn’t exclude those without the time, education, experience or funds to access the arts in “professional” settings. In the 1990’s, working as the Arts Co-ordinator for the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation and with the guidance of artists and community members across Vancouver we developed a policy that took us in the direction of community cultural development. This field was new for us and proved to be hugely successful in both the endeavours of increasing the artists’ role in the community and in nourishing stronger and more connected neighbourhoods. Projects increased awareness of the role that artists play and established respect for their work. Many projects left lasting legacies as communities recognize that creativity lies within and is not external to them.
If increasing audience and generating enthusiasm for the Arts is a goal of Canada Council, I can’t help but feel that your new program is retrograde. No amount of promotion will generate the same degree of enthusiasm as participation in that art form. We all feel that artists are critical to the health of society and that all disciplines need to be encouraged. Please consider reinstating Community-engaged arts as one of the artistic fields of practice.
Former coordinator of Vancouver Parks and Recreation