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Artist depreciation

Editorial by Bruce Wark

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I spun Mozart’s Greatest Hits recently as I perused a lengthy discussion paper on the development of the SuperCity’s new cultural policy. A Cultural Advisory Committee composed of two city councillors and an assortment of citizens, artists and kulturcrats released the paper in June. To the foreboding strains of Mozart’s famous mass for the dead I read: “Cultural identity translates organically into artistic and creative expression...It’s now accepted that culture is a key driver in economic and community development.” Culture a key driver in economic development? Well, yes I thought, as the music swelled. In the last 200 years, a multi-billion dollar industry has grown up around the Great Wolfie Amadeus.

I then eyeballed a section of the discussion paper shouting WHAT THE COMMUNITY HAS TOLD US. It informed me: “People value creative expression, energy and artistic talent. They value artists and cultural workers and their contribution to community vitality and quality of life.” Suddenly I noticed all hell was breaking loose on the Mozart CD. “Dies irae, dies illa,” a chorus of voices shouted in Latin, accompanied by the hullabalooing of trumpets. “Day of wrath and doom impending.” Holy shit! I remembered Mozart completed only part of his Requiem Mass before he croaked just short of his 36th birthday. My Scholes music book reports the “severest economy marked his funeral; few friends accompanied the coffin; the burial took place in the common grave allotted to paupers.” Yeah, we sure value artistic talent, I muttered as Mozart’s haunting trombone solo signified the “wondrous sound of the trumpet.”

I turned off the CD and started thinking about the plight of some local Mozarts known as the Bloomfield Artists Collective. Two months ago, the city padlocked the Commons Building at the Bloomfield Centre where the 22 visual artists worked. The artists say that for years, their city landlord failed to fix leaks in the Commons Building. Now, consultants had discovered toxic mould in the basement. The artists, along with the Citadel Amateur Boxing Club, were suddenly shit out of luck. Suzanne Swannie, an internationally respected weaver and textile designer who had been renting a large studio space from the city was especially hard hit. She earns her living as an artist and with her looms, yarns, books and other equipment under lock and key, her income disappeared overnight.

Oh yeah. The kulturcrats drafting the city’s cultural policy may think people value artistic talent, but apparently not the bureaucrats in the city’s Real Property and Asset Management division. They’ve told the artists to get their equipment out of the Commons Building. They’ve also refused to let the artists move to vacant space in the nearby Fielding Building. Meanwhile, city officials have organized meetings in the north end this month to assess people’s recreation needs. One of them is at the Bloomfield Centre. However, city spokesperson John O’Brien emphasizes the meeting is for the community at large and not the members of the Artists Collective who, he says, are running businesses. “It’s basically what the community would identify as the needs for a community, not as us subsidizing space for private businesses,” he adds.

The whole Bloomfield Centre is under official review. If city bureaucrats get their way, there will be no space in any of the buildings for the Bloomfield artists. And that flies in the face of that long discussion paper from the city’s Cultural Advisory Committee. It states: “A thriving arts and heritage community is considered to be a critical connection to social and economic well-being and community identity.” Yes, that multi-billion dollar Mozart industry wouldn’t exist if Wolfie had never written all that gorgeous music before being laid in his pauper’s grave. So, why is the city treating the Bloomfield artists as if they’re a big drain on the taxpayers? Do we value what artists contribute to community vitality and quality of life, or don’t we?

Does Halifax need artists? discuss at the public meetings about north end rec needs (evenings of Sep 21 at isleville centre, 3460 IslevillE Street, and Sep 28 at the bloomfield centre, 2786 Agricola Street, both 6:30 to 8:30pm) or by email: bwark@accesswave.ca. Or be reckless and visit my homepage: www.accesswave.ca/~bwark.

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