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Art vs. recession

by Archives March 17, 2009

Every night, the evening news is filled with updates on which car companies are slashing jobs and who is receiving bailouts, but the news media remains woefully silent about the effects the recession is having on artists. Yet huge cuts to federal arts programs in September and the lack of support in this year’s federal budget can lead one to wonder what will happen to the arts.
“As the stereotype goes, artists tend to always struggle . . . I’m still poor. But happy,” said local artist Billy Foley about dealing with the recession’s repercussions. Foley, a.k.a Kreddible Trout, is a photographer, actor and writer and much of his artistic revenue comes from online business. He says “art is always relevant as it is the precursor to [social] change.”
Is change what is needed to keep the arts alive right now? Ian Ferrier thinks so. As a long-time core figure in the Montreal spoken-word community with the show Words and Music, he believes that arts collectives are the way to survive this economic crisis.
“It becomes critical because it allows you to understand that there is a group of people around you. A lot of art happen in isolation,” he said. “If you have six or seven people in the same situation, it becomes a lot more ‘this is our project.'”
Ferrier, however, remains hopeful he will remained virtually untouched by the economic crisis.
“We don’t charge much money and our audience doesn’t have much money to start off with.”
Dave Cool, program director of Centre St-Ambroise, a venue created by the McAuslan brewery to showcase local talent, also notes local bands with a solid fan base are not overly worried.
“They are not excited about a recession, but they feel they’re going to do well in fact because people are going to want to listen to music to make them feel good when they do go out,” he said. But he goes on to warn, “music and film are one thing, but other arts definitely are being effected probably disproportionately. Private companies and corporations who are doing okay, if not doing well, need to step up and support the arts more.”
And the McCauslan Brewery is leading by example.
“We haven’t cut back at all on what we’re doing in terms of our support of the arts. The Centre St-Ambroise is going to be even more active this year in the arts with the launch of a few interesting new projects.”
Larger organizations, like Cirque du Soleil, are feeling the crunch as well. Gilles Ste Croix, senior vice-president of Creative Content, says that such an international company feels the effects of the global economy directly.
“Since July, all of our touring shows have been very slow as far as attendance goes,” he said. “Our partners in other parts of the world have been delaying prospects of contracts, which delays the process.”
Ste Croix says that companies must now create something unique and think outside the box in order to succeed.
“If you present an entertainment of quality that is breaking new ground, that has an innovative aspect to it, people go to it. And I think artistic groups emerge of difficult times,” he said.
Perhaps Foley sums it up best: “Tough times don’t matter to an artist. Passion does. Provocation does. Beauty does. Housing crises and stock markets don’t.”

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