Friday, May 20, 2016

It's Easier to Support the Arts Than To Support Artists.

Full disclosure.  I'm angry at my local government.  I'm trying to let it go.  It's getting easier, but I'm not there yet.  I call it Building Code Occupancy Classification Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It's the most boring form of PTSD imaginable.  I'll be walking outside, enjoying the unparalleled beauty that is Lunenburg, enjoying all the wonderful people that live in this community, admiring the spring flowers, making a hat and then suddenly, I'm in my own private war zone.  My head becomes filled with dry facts.  Facts about Occupancy Classification, zoning bylaws and barrier free provisions. And then I start to talk about it with friends and family and I see their eyes glaze over and sometimes I go on for fifteen minutes before I realize that they are sleeping. Since the province came to the rescue with this building code amendment it is getting much better, but I'm still easily triggered.

Usually the trigger is some article that gets it all wrong or hearing comments from Lunenburg Council regarding their "concern" for the disabled not being able to access tiny little Home Based Businesses, but somehow they were never concerned enough to improve the general accessibility of the town.  But this article drove me to drink.

I want to be really careful here.  You see, every time I try to talk about my experience in Lunenburg, council sees it as an attack.  Some people see it as just negative and quickly cover it up with videos of kittens and there are some that feel that council and the community need to really talk this out.  I know that we are all human and I even believe that Mayor Bailey wishes to support the arts in Lunenburg and I am sure in some ways she does actually support the arts, but supporting the arts includes supporting the artists.

This problem goes beyond the boundaries of Lunenburg, but Lunenburg is where I live and it is the community I most care about.  Mayor Bailey says in the article, "It requires planting seeds and cultivating them by being champions of it as municipal leaders....."  But that was not my experience with my municipal leaders and it has not been the experience of many of my local artist friends. How can anyone understand how to champion artists, if they won't listen to what the artists need to survive here?

In order to champion artists, local governments need to take the time to meet the artists that have chosen their town, understand the financial realities of being an artist and understand their value to the community.  Local governments need to understand how  being told to make renovations to their homes or having to pay commercial property taxes on their residential properties can put artists out of business or force them to move elsewhere.  I'd like to say that most artists survive paycheck to paycheck, but there is no paycheck.  Money comes in sporadically, expenses come when there is no income and it's just bloody hard to make a go of it. We generally don't have things like life insurance or  dental insurance.  We don't have things like paid vacations.   Being an artist means living with financial insecurity.  So, do local governments understand what value artists have to their communities?   If our value is understood then it's the job of councils to create policies that support us.  Things like applying commercial taxes to home based businesses are not supportive.

I can hear it already, Our hands are tied.  Yes, I know this is a provincial policy and I will try to draw the provincial government's attention to how unsupportive this policy is to artists,  but what if my local government decided to champion this cause on our behalf.  Minister Churchill has heard nothing from the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities regarding tax rates.  So far, there is no municipal leader who is going to bat for their artists. If there was, I would be the first to call that strong leadership and being a champion of the arts.

Lunenburg has grown a strong arts community because of local artists and local businesses who are making it happen.  Being a governmental champion of the arts is different than being a cheer leader.  It means doing the hard work in the council chambers to change laws that might be burdensome to artists. It means being open to supportive interpretations of existing laws.   It means creating policies that protect artists.  It means ensuring we have affordable housing. It means being willing to hear criticism and not shut down dialogue.  It means acknowledging that just because you have not experienced a problem doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  When I see this happen, I will be the first to be a cheerleader of local government.

The photo is one of Mariko Paterson's beautiful ceramic pieces.  One of the many artists that was not championed by her local government.  She went to Halifax.

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