art for the nations sake

Canada’s “new government” knows how to criminalize teens. It knows how to buy weapons.

Canada’s “new government” knows how to criminalize teens.

It knows how to buy weapons.

But it clearly doesn’t know how to build a nation.

It’s not about guns and police. It’s about art and culture.

And here the federal Conservative government is clueless.

Look at the US. Hollywood has done more to extend US power than the soldiers mired in Iraq.

Heck, consider the local example.

Look at the enduring influence of Jack London’s 104-year-old The Call of the Wild on local tourism and culture. And the 101-year-old White Fang.

Or consider Robert Service’s 100-year-old The Songs of a Sourdough, which included The Cremation of Sam McGee.

The works of Pierre Berton and Dick North, popularized the territory’s colourful history and brought it to Canada and the world.

And, more recently, the paintings of Ted Harrison, the photographs of Richard Hartmeier and Marten Berkman, the sculptures of Bela Simo and countless other artists, craftspeople and professionals who chronicle the region and its people and, through their work, dress the territory up and romanticize and publicize the place.

Consider the influence of original art in all its forms.

It’s important.

It’s important to Canada.

It builds a sense of place and common purpose. And helps build identity, regionally, nationally and internationally.

But only if people can see it.

Which is why Ottawa’s decision to stop its Exhibition Transportation System is so troubling.

It’s a small-minded decision with a big impact.

The federal program allowed oft-fragile art exhibitions to be shipped across the country. It funded the special temperature controlled trucks, equipment and the specialized staff required to ship the art across the country.

Now Ottawa’s getting out of the business.

Private business might pick up the task, but art transport is a tricky business that requires specific equipment and training.

And private firms need profit, so the new model will be very expensive.

Not only that, now galleries will be responsible for funding those transportation costs, and most can’t afford it.

Grants have been cut, and galleries without permanent collections can’t qualify.

That probably means shows like the Inuit and Sami exhibit In the Shadow of the Midnight Sun, which debuts at the Yukon Arts Centre Gallery in the new year, will no longer be available to smaller towns, like Whitehorse. You’ll have to travel to Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal to see them.

It’s going to make it harder to see sculptures, paintings and other art from the different regions of Canada.

The Group of Seven, Emily Carr, Bill Reid, Ted Harrison — they created regional art that helped define national character.

Now that art will travel to fewer places.

Ottawa has demonstrated it knows how to buy armaments and bolster police and national security.

But art, in all its forms, is perhaps more important in nation building, and extending a culture’s influence throughout the world.

Ottawa would do well to remember this. (RM)