In case you missed it, we are in the middle of “Culture Days” here in the Great White North. A time when we are all supposed to immerse ourselves in the diversity of our people and oooh and aaahh over the resulting products. Turn off Wheel of Fortune! Get off your duff Canada and show how proud you are to own a soap stone carving or be the first to suggest Margaret Atwood should be bronzed.
These are the times of political lip service. Politicians of all stripes will be falling over themselves to prove how much they value Canadian culture and all that it brings to the country. Problem is, they don’t believe their own words. Must of us don’t either. Shame. Trying to get politicians to wake up and take notice of what is going on around them is a fight that I have been involved in for twenty years. As president of a cultural federation I , along with my executive director, was constantly lobbying government for support. They would meet you in their office, smile, nod and promise that their department would look into it. Unfortunately, significant support was never “in the budget”. At the same time, millions of dollars would be thrown at some large manufacturer to set up shop.
The fact that I could never get them to see that 300 employees in a factory were the same as 300 people working in various cultural industries across the land, is a reflection of my ability as an negotiator. The facts remain that dollar for dollar the cultural industries in this country give a bigger bang to the economy than anything else. The reason is simple. Workers in the cultural industries no how to produce a product with nothing. How many times have you heard of a small film maker financing a film out of his or her pocket? What about an artisan working in rural Canada using make shift equipment to turn out stunning works? That is the nature of the beast. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of political capital getting your picture taken with a tattooed and pierced film maker. You want to be seen passing an oversized cheque to “suits” in front of hundreds of cheering people. I like the chrome shovels.
There is a bigger picture here. There always is. Culture builds a country’s brand. Industry doesn’t. Well, thats not really fair. I am looking at this from a tourism point of view. Germany is well known for its manufacturing and engineering skills. However, it is the image of music and large women with larger beer steins that makes people want to go there and drop large sums of cash. Look at New York City. How many people have wanted to go to the Empire State Building on Valentines? More than want to go visit the petro chemical industries. That’s the power of movies versus additives.
Culture builds mystique. It builds a sense of what a country and it people are. I do not want to visit China to watch 50,000 workers on a cutting floor, butcher hogs. I would go to see the headwaters of the Yangtzee or the Forbidden City.
Canada has a vibrant cultural community. Be it literature, theatre, comedy, art, or craft. (God how I hate that term. Craft does not do justice to the works that our artisans produce.) The sooner we wake up and understand that if we only invested in it, it would grow beyond our wildest dreams.
In another life, I was involved in developing a new strategy for one of Canada’s fading industrial towns. I wanted them to see that they had an opportunity in becoming a choice location for retirees. Nobody wanted to be known as an “old town”. Where would the tax base come from? Where would our people work? I explained that it would be all of the support services that would spring up to support this population, that would provide them with the growth and stability they needed. Retirees have money and time. They want to be able to spend it on nice things. Culture. The jobs come from the theatre, the sports teams, the gallerys, the clubs and golf courses, and the health care. It took seventeen years, but I think they are finally buying into it.
Seventeen years is not that bad. Canada has been turning a blind eye to culture for much longer.
Until then, I remain,
A Sour Kraut.