we’re just a material province in a material world

Look up from your computer. Now, don’t look back again. Instead, look at the person walking by wearing the nice hat. Sure looks like a normal, well-adjusted individual, hey? So nice they might even be volunteer coach for the local adolescent sports team. Don’t be fooled by this friendly exterior, because it might only be hiding something dark and sinister:

A hatred for the arts.

Who would have thought?

It’s a scientific fact. All around you in Alberta, there’s people who think those that choose to go into arts are less worthy of support, recognition, and respect than someone who excels in another field. Because they decided not to spend their life in the race to accumulate material goods, they should be looked down upon and marginalized by the rest of such a hard-working society.

And worst of all, these artsy folks might not even drive a big truck to go to the corner store.

Now, no one can argue Alberta isn’t a hard-working society. You have people working long hours each day to provide for their families, or to buy that big house, or to have enough money to join the country club. Some build bridges, some drill oil, and some move money around from one account to another. It’s what they do to have the life they want. Hopefully they even enjoy it.

These Albertans that, each day, work 18 hours deserve to get more than just another day older and deeper in debt. That’s where people directing their output towards enriching communities come in. You know, those artsy folks.

Sure, they don’t save the sick from a terminal disease. They can’t build a building higher than the Empire State. They can’t put the gas in the tanks that keep our economy moving. But they offer something else important:

Meaning.

Obviously, meaning isn’t only found in the arts. Take sports for example. Playing them or watching them, it creates community, and identity. If you’re good at a sport and really lucky, it can also be quite lucrative. But for every millionaire hockey player, there’s countless amateur athletes who live below the poverty line in order to excel in the sport they love. Tax dollars go to to development programs, and rightly so. They could probably even use more. But what you don’t hear is as much of a public outcry against this support.

What do sports offer that the arts don’t?

They are very similar in the upper echelons of the entertainment industry – whether it’s either sport icons or pop stars. But for every Justin Beiber, there’s countless youths playing music as an alternative to their lives of poverty, to give them an outlet from despair, to be happy. If you want a specific example of someone who got into music for these reasons, maybe you’ve heard of Jimi Hendrix?

But while new hockey arenas escape ridicule in the Alberta election campaign, the notion of a new museum for the province meets disdain, ESPECIALLY if tax dollars are going to support it. Sure, a new arena gives some a sense of community. But for others, the opportunities and advantages a new museum offers does the same thing. Why should one be so vital and the other dismissed as needless? The museum is attacked for being high-brow, when it’s accessible to everyone across the age and social spectrum. And they won’t just sit in a seat, they’ll participate. The social, cultural, and educational opportunities the museum offers more than just a $300 cheque you can spend on a round of Jägerbombs for your friends with new haircuts.

These same benefits extend to developing infrastructure which supports the arts and the people that engage in creativity. Supporting the arts is more than just buying a ticket to Michael Buble. This might not result in a tangible commodity that can be traded on Wall Street, but it just might make people’s lives better anyways. Why is that such a bad thing? And why shouldn’t it be something we aspire to? Do we look back in history and say “wow, really great slave trade they had in Ancient Rome,” or do we admire their creative accomplishments?  Do we place value on their gladiatorial entertainment industry, or on their collective creativity?

The community, identity, and meaning that the arts offers shouldn’t be attacked with such vehemence in Alberta, but it’s the result of this province’s prevalent attitude. Hard work has to be tangible, something which produces a commodity resulting in further monetary accumulation for those involved. Stepping outside this box meets a backlash because it’s not offering the same sort of “progress” this attitude is based upon. The arts are spun as the festering ground for the lazy, and those that don’t do any work and live off government hand-outs. But they can work just as much, and just as hard, as anyone else in this province, and what they do has VALUE.

Whether working in a mine all day is hard work or not isn’t subjective, it’s just hard work. But the results of an artist’s labor is much more subjective – if someone doesn’t find a piece of art appealing, they don’t care how much time the artist put into creating it, or what it means. The only thing that’s important is how much it cost. Why can’t we look beyond that?

Alberta should be a province that supports the entrepreneur with an idea, the athlete with the slapshot, and the musician with the song. And this doesn’t have to simply be monetary support – it can be with a change of attitude. Don’t dismiss artists out of hand, engage with their work. Make yourself think. Enjoy it. Even if you don’t believe that participation in the arts opens the door to a more meaningful life, or to more enriched communities, please just do me a favor:

The next time you finish your shift at work, don’t go home to count your dollars, go meet up with your friends and sing along to your favorite song together as loud as you can. Fist-punching the air is optional.

Then tell me again how the arts doesn’t have value.

*I wrote this after attending the Wrecking Ball Alberta event on April 16th in Edmonton. It showcased the value mixing together music and politics has in Alberta. This was also influenced by the malicious comments in a recent CBC article, and of course growing up in Alberta.

*** There’s a cultural theorist named David Hesmondhalgh who knows a lot of this sort of stuff, and writes about it. Any good ideas in here I learned from a lecture he gave.

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5 Comments on “we’re just a material province in a material world”

  1. Lime Says:

    So was there actually a plan for a new museum that has been disdained and abandoned, or is this just hypothetical?

    And if I buy tickets to Nickelback rather than Michael Buble, would that be sufficient support for the arts in Alberta?


    • There’s a plan to build a new museum on the table – and the feds have already thrown in over 90 million in support. Heck, all they have to do now is start building. Wildrose says they’ll cancel the plans to build if they get in, which means all that money from Ottawa will disappear.

      And I’m sorry but buying tickets to Nickelback isn’t sufficient support for the arts in Alberta. You’d need to buy a t-shirt too!

  2. David Attenborough Says:

    Don’t worry, we won’t have to read malicious comments on CBC articles for much longer as we’re almost done gutting the public broadcast completely. After all, who needs un-aligned reporting now that we have the Sun News Network. National identity is overrated.

    Seems about in line with the current narrative…

  3. Lime Says:

    @David
    Oh, if only any of that were true!

    @Mr. Past Imperfect
    What kind of museum?


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