What’s In A Name? Ed Riche on Government’s “Culture” Department Name Debacle

Without more Art, the Newfoundland mind will close and finally die.

I was less bothered by the Government’s decision to drop the word “Culture” from the name of a Department than my friends and colleagues in the Newfoundland and Labrador arts community. Scratching the term “culture” acknowledged that no Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has ever taken our arts and culture seriously. 

Funding for the sector remains, as it always has been, far far below the Canadian average.  Compared to our new CETA pals across the pond or even Quebec at our border it’s beneath shame. We’re philistines here.

And there is confusion about what the word “culture” means.  Our culture isn’t, no matter how much we townie elites would like it to be, such cosmopolitan delights as pornographic puppet theatre or satiric villanelles.

Our culture was making fish, skinning seals, cutting wood, sailing the seas and the songs and stories about being underpaid for those perilous activities.  Our culture has become checking Facebook, going to Costco, driving the quad over a fragile wetland, and songs and stories about our relationship status.

The stuff that the Government sees as an adjunct to tourism is better identified as “arts and entertainment” and “arts and crafts,” those “cultural industries” specifically rooted in this place and its traditions.  At least that’s what I gleaned from the statements of Minister Mitchelmore.

Most novels are a diversion, most paintings decoration, and most music frivolous fun.  Good thing too, the best entertainment takes you out of yourself, let’s you forget your worries, lifts your spirits. The best crafts are a pleasure to behold and practical to use.

Entertainment and crafts are worthy activities, and bread and butter for most “artists” struggling to make a living here. In these sponsored-content times, the Government will need to pour buckets more money into them, lest their tourism dreams be shattered.  We’re talking real dough here: Ed Martin severance dollars. If they want to expand the short tourism season the Government has no option.

In the matter of the Government Department’s name, I sense some people are talking about “arts and entertainment“ and “arts and crafts,” while other are referencing “culture,” and still others mean that which is painfully labeled “fine” or “high” art.

From the traumas of the early 20th century on, Art became something that challenged the audience, which opened inquiry, which made you see and understand your world in a way you hadn’t. Its subject can be the past, but Art is about the future.

Art doesn’t affirm your beliefs; it leads you to question them.  Good Art can articulate for you what you cannot.  Great Art can articulate for you what you haven’t yet thought you had to say.

We have sufficient arts administration. We don’t need another building to maintain. Perversely we spend vastly more on the teaching of theatre, creative writing, music, and visual art than we do on those professional practices.

Without more Art, the Newfoundland mind will close and finally die. The Government needs to increase funding for our “arts and entertainment” and “arts and craft” sector if it wants keep visitors happy between the whale watching and sitting down for a scoff at the Bonavista Social Club or Mallard Cottage.

But it needs to even more steeply increase the funding for capital “A” Art if it wants to foster the new ideas without which, it seems increasingly clear, we won’t survive. Mindful of the Province’s dire fiscal situation they can peg their direct support to our artists to a mere one half of one percent of the budget. They can call the Department whatever they like but they can’t claim arts and culture are important to them if they don’t make the requisite investment.

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