Note: This is the first post in a conversation on this blog about public engagement in the arts. See also a more recent post: Illusion and reality.
Art has entered our homes and taken to the streets – no longer is it confined to places specifically designed for its expression or exhibition. It no longer stands on ceremony – it pops up in our computers, we carry it around on our smart phones. Slam poetry in my headphones on my way to the ballet? A new art installation in a storefront window that I can snap a photo of and share with friends? No sooner seen than done! In the digital age, cultural citizenship means instant access, diversity and mobility. It also means a quest for meaning and the desire to participate, to be truly included. Art continues to hold sway, but it’s no longer enough to offer more and more possibilities: we now have to help people discover, appreciate and assimilate its amazing powers. The Canada Council for the Arts wants to do more and better on this front, knowing all the while that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for doing so.
A priority, a choice and a right
It is not a question of funding everything – but it is also not a matter of ignoring the fact that everything around us is changing. The demographics of our country are radically different from what they were in 1957 when the Canada Council was founded. Technology changes the way we think and create. It challenges the basic premises of cultural participation. Supply no longer seems to be the magic key that opens the door to art.
This is a paradox of our times: the incessant flood of content does not erase the threat that weighs on the diversity of cultural expressions. The exponential growth and democratization of the means of creation and dissemination do not guarantee the depth, quality and range of all that humans are capable of creating as they try to understand the world and our existence in it. In appearance, art is everywhere; in reality, you still have to seek it out.
Public engagement in the arts appears to us to be a priority we need to reaffirm – a societal choice we need to reconfirm, a universal right we need to reassert. For citizens of all ages and from all walks of life, this engagement is a possibility and something of value, for it makes the world a more wondrous place, enriching individual and community life.
We support professional artistic practice because it allows for the creation of high quality artistic content and experiences that we aspire to as a democratic society.
Leaving the past, looking to the future
The days of tallying numbers of spectators, tickets or publications are now making way for an era of focusing on the relationship between artists, cultural institutions and citizens.
The Canada Council’s programs are key to capturing the value of the content and experiences proposed by artists, and for encouraging citizens to explore creation and interact with exceptional ideas and works of art. The Council has made public engagement in the arts one of its priorities.
As a unifying force, the Council is approaching this priority in the form of a dialogue with numerous stakeholders, artists and arts organizations, all committed to full participation in artistic life.
It’s everyone’s turn to speak
During the Canada Council’s annual general meeting, I spoke about public engagement in the arts and extended an invitation to all to take part in the discussion. This is an issue that concerns us all, and you are all invited to join the conversation. To help nourish the debate, the Council has posted a discussion paper on its web site.
What kind of cultural citizenship do you want to see? How do you see the current relationship between artists and the public? What will it look like tomorrow? How do you envision the arts organizations of the future? What actions and initiatives should we take a fresh look at?
Follow Simon Brault on Twitter: @simon_brault