The call for proposals, the short list of five designs, and the eventual awarding of the new Edmonton art gallery project several months ago continue to grab headlines as costs have ballooned to 88 million dollars. The change in the province’s top political office to salt-of-the-earth Ed Stelmach has the arts and culture community wondering where his government’s priorities lie. Analyzing the implication of government policies, and all things political, was the Edmonton Journal’s regular political columnist Graham Thomson. With Thomson now on assignment in Afghanistan, Todd Babiak seems to have swapped the arts beat for the government gig. Column after column he continues to make the case for increased arts funding.
Babiak and others–dare I say worldly people with education, experience, and exposure–understand that all sophisticated, evolved societies require balance. An awareness of and appreciation for the finer things in life–art, literature, theatre, dance–enrich all of us. Alberta’s reputation as a redneck backwater notwithstanding, there is a hunger for some meaningful support for arts and culture.
Critics like to equate everything to how many homeless people could be housed and fed with X number of dollars. And of course it’s true. The 88 million dollars slated for the new art gallery could help the unfortunate. In a society as rich as ours it shouldn’t have to be a choice. There is enough wealth to do both, all. I don’t begrudge the support programs and resources for those less fortunate. In fact, my monthly donations go to the Salvation Army and the Stollery Children’s Hospital, not some arts organization.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Edmonton Citadel’s production of The Overcoat. It was breathtaking. A total of 22 actors playing 64 characters in 85 costumes danced and mimed their way through the play. Not a single word was spoken! The lighting, music, and choreographed movement of actors was a sight to behold. The two-storey, 20-tonne set added to the drama of the play. The production has been running for 10 years and has toured across Canada and in Europe, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.
Based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol, it chronicles the mind-numbing routine of a working man. A transformation in his life occurs with the acquisition of a custom-made overcoat. A surprise ending provokes thought. How much of our lives revolve around the pursuit of things? How much of our self-image is wrapped up in the externals of our life, like an overcoat (car, house, vacation, et cetera)? How often do we allow the perception of and treatment by others to define our image of ourselves?
The bottom line is that without arts funding to identify, nurture, and promote the creativity and artistry of our citizens, we all lose. We lose as individuals with talent. We lose as audience members. We lose as a culture.
A life without art, museums, dance, music, theatre, film, or festivals is a life devoid of colour and richness, from where I sit.