Friday, October 3, 2008

To Be Creative Is Canadian

I read this article by Margaret Atwood about Stephen Harper's recent, ridiculous attack on the arts and just had to re-post it here:

To Be Creative Is, In Fact, Canadian
Mr. Harper is wrong: There's more to the arts than a bunch of
rich people at galas whining about their grants

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

What sort of country do we want to live in? What sort of country do we already live in? What do we like? Who are we?

At present, we are a very creative country. For decades, we've been punching above our weight on the world stage - in writing, in popular music and in many other fields. Canada was once a cultural void on the world map, now it's a force. In addition, the arts are a large segment of our economy: The Conference Board estimates Canada's cultural sector generated $46-billion, or 3.8 per cent of Canada's GDP, in 2007. And, according to the Canada Council, in 2003-2004, the sector accounted for an "estimated 600,000 jobs (roughly the same as agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas and utilities combined)."

But we've just been sent a signal by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he gives not a toss for these facts. Tuesday, he told us that some group called "ordinary people" didn't care about something called "the arts." His idea of "the arts" is a bunch of rich people gathering at galas whining about their grants. Well, I can count the number of moderately rich writers who live in Canada on the fingers of one hand: I'm one of them, and I'm no Warren Buffett. I don't whine about my grants because I don't get any grants. I whine about other grants - grants for young people, that may help them to turn into me, and thus pay to the federal and provincial governments the kinds of taxes I pay, and cover off the salaries of such as Mr. Harper. In fact, less than 10 per cent of writers actually make a living by their writing, however modest that living may be. They have other jobs. But people write, and want to write, and pack into creative writing classes, because they love this activity - not because they think they'll be millionaires.

Every single one of those people is an "ordinary person." Mr. Harper's idea of an ordinary person is that of an envious hater without a scrap of artistic talent or creativity or curiosity, and no appreciation for anything that's attractive or beautiful. My idea of an ordinary person is quite different. Human beings are creative by nature. For millenniums we have been putting our creativity into our cultures - cultures with unique languages, architecture, religious ceremonies, dances, music, furnishings, textiles, clothing and special cuisines. "Ordinary people" pack into the cheap seats at concerts and fill theatres where operas are brought to them live. The total attendance for "the arts" in Canada in fact exceeds that for sports events. "The arts" are not a "niche interest." They are part of being human.

Moreover, "ordinary people" are participants. They form book clubs and join classes of all kinds - painting, dancing, drawing, pottery, photography - for the sheer joy of it. They sing in choirs, church and other, and play in marching bands. Kids start garage bands and make their own videos and web art, and put their music on the Net, and draw their own graphic novels. "Ordinary people" have other outlets for their creativity, as well: Knitting and quilting have made comebacks; gardening is taken very seriously; the home woodworking shop is active. Add origami, costume design, egg decorating, flower arranging, and on and on ... Canadians, it seems, like making things, and they like appreciating things that are made.

They show their appreciation by contributing. Canadians of all ages volunteer in vast numbers for local and city museums, for their art galleries and for countless cultural festivals - I think immediately of the Chinese New Year and the Caribana festival in Toronto, but there are so many others. Literary festivals have sprung up all over the country - volunteers set them up and provide the food, and "ordinary people" will drag their lawn chairs into a field - as in Nova Scotia's Read by the Sea - in order to listen to writers both local and national read and discuss their work. Mr. Harper has signalled that as far as he is concerned, those millions of hours of volunteer activity are a waste of time. He holds them in contempt.

I suggest that considering the huge amount of energy we spend on creative activity, to be creative is "ordinary." It is an age-long and normal human characteristic: All children are born creative. It's the lack of any appreciation of these activities that is not ordinary. Mr. Harper has demonstrated that he has no knowledge of, or respect for, the capacities and interests of "ordinary people." He's the "niche interest." Not us.

It's been suggested that Mr. Harper's disdain for the arts is not merely a result of ignorance or a tin ear - that it is "ideologically motivated." Now, I wonder what could be meant by that? Mr. Harper has said quite rightly that people understand we ought to keep within a budget. But his own contribution to that budget has been to heave the Liberal-generated surplus overboard so we have nothing left for a rainy day, and now, in addition, he wants to jeopardize those 600,000 arts jobs and those billions of dollars they generate for Canadians. What's the idea here? That arts jobs should not exist because artists are naughty and might not vote for Mr. Harper? That Canadians ought not to make money from the wicked arts, but only from virtuous oil? That artists don't all live in one constituency, so who cares? Or is it that the majority of those arts jobs are located in Ontario and Quebec, and Mr. Harper is peeved at those provinces, and wants to increase his ongoing gutting of Ontario - $20-billion a year of Ontario taxpayers' money going out, a dribble grudgingly allowed back in - and spank Quebec for being so disobedient as not to appreciate his magnificence? He likes punishing, so maybe the arts-squashing is part of that: Whack the Heartland.

Or is it even worse? Every budding dictatorship begins by muzzling the artists, because they're a mouthy lot and they don't line up and salute very easily. Of course, you can always get some tame artists to design the uniforms and flags and the documentary about you, and so forth - the only kind of art you might need - but individual voices must be silenced, because there shall be only One Voice: Our Master's Voice. Maybe that's why Mr. Harper began by shutting down funding for our artists abroad. He didn't like the competition for media space.

The Conservative caucus has already learned that lesson. Rumour has it that Mr. Harper's idea of what sort of art you should hang on your wall was signalled by his removal of all pictures of previous Conservative prime ministers from their lobby room - including John A. and Dief the Chief - and their replacement by pictures of none other than Mr. Harper himself. History, it seems, is to begin with him. In communist countries, this used to be called the Cult of Personality. Mr. Harper is a guy who - rumour has it, again - tried to disband the student union in high school and then tried the same thing in college. Destiny is calling him, the way it called Qin Shi Huang, the Chinese emperor who burnt all records of the rulers before himself. It's an impulse that's been repeated many times since, the list is very long. Tear it down and level it flat, is the common motto. Then build a big statue of yourself. Now that would be Art!
Adapted from the 2008 Hurtig Lecture, delivered in Edmonton on Oct. 1

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Writer's Are Back!

I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning; I want to skip about singing: "The writers are back! The writers are back!" (In my head it sounds not dissimilar to "The British are coming!" but obviously a happy, upbeat version of that particular refrain.)

Yep... Jon Stewart, I luv ya but, as I was watching last night's show, I found myself soooo happy that your writers are back. It's kinda nice to have movie references to films made after "The Breakfast Club" ;-)

I haven't had the chance to check out the terms of the agreement, so I don't know whether the writers got everything that I think they deserve, but for now I'm just relieved and overjoyed that the strike is over.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007


I've already made my stand on the writer's strike clear (see my Writer's Strike post) but now I've put my money where my mouth is. I just found out about Pencils2MediaMoguls, where you can send a box of pencils to the six media moguls who run the six corporate conglomerates that control almost everything you see on TV or in the movies. (Don't worry, the pencils are made from sustainably harvested wood, so no deforesting will result from your ideological stand.) I've even put their handy widget in my sidebar for your convenience.

There are also certain shows that are offering incentives to their fans to support the strike. I personally put my name in to go watch a hockey game with the guy who plays the Chief on Battlestar Galactica. Many of these incentives are listed on the Pencils2MediaMoguls site, but also check with your favourite TV show because they might be offering incentives that aren't listed yet.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Writer's Strike

Do I support the writer's strike? Yes. Even though it means reruns and reality shows. Even though it's going to affect Battlestar Galactica (gulp). Why? Watch this video:

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Biography of an Elusive Man

I came across this interesting review of Ralph Ellison: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad. Considered by some to be major literary figure of the last century and by others to be a one-hit wonder with Invisible Man, Ellison is definitely a controversial figure. I, for one, think this book will be an intriguing read.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Harlem Writer

I'm always on the lookout for interesting blogs about writing or language or literature. The Harlem Writer is such a blog that recently came to my attention. The author is the founder, moderator and a participant of the Morningside Writers Group in Manhattan, a very interesting looking writers group that makes me wish I lived in New York City. (Mind you, a lot of things make me wish I lived in NYC!)

But back to the blog. It's a combination of posts about writing, writing events and writing groups mixed in with personal musings written in a literary way and a way-too-funny Family Guy clip. If you haven't checked it out yet, I recommend taking a peek.

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Monday, June 4, 2007

Writing for TV

I've made a number of posts related to screenwriting, since that's my main focus at the moment. But I thought I would take an opportunity to branch out a bit here and talk about writing for television... a very different animal.

Two of my favourite TV shows of all time are "Buffy" and the new "Battlestar Galactica." One writer that has worked on both shows is Jane Espenson. And she has a blog. And she dispenses writing advice on her blog: Jane in Progress.

Her advice is doled out in bite size tidbits which are easily digestible. It's not like reading some great big tome with chapters of advice. This is where you go to unblock that pesky writer's block or jump start yourself out of that rut. (Plus you can find out what she had for lunch. )

It's fun and informative. And even though she's a TV writer, her advice often applies to writing in general. What more could you ask for?

P.S. Anyone know if Aaron Sorkin has a blog? Because that's another TV writer that I'd love to get tips from.

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Film Screenings

Coda in G Minor

July 22, 2009
CSIF presents ImagineNATIVE
The Plaza Theatre
1133 Kensington Rd. NW
7:00 p.m.
Calgary, AB

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Calgary, Canada

1 part shy intellectual, 1 part edgy chick, 1 part sophisticated woman, 1 part mental patient (after all, sanity is a type of conformity)... what's your mix?