05 February 2007

Q: Does time + space = arts ceation?

To continue the train of thought from my previous post . . .

Our culture, our cultural activities, the creations of our artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, dancers, craftspeople, and storytellers are central to the records and muniments of what has made Canada the nation this it is today. Galleries, museums, literary publishers, performing venues, equipment, theatres, libraries, schools and more are necessary to the sharing of these creations.

Excellence and success in the arts and culture cannot be measured only in terms of marketplace sales or financial viability. Many or most of Canada's artists and craft's people live below the poverty line. If you turn the economic equations around it becomes a little more obvious why that is so.
For example, take a poet. Say that the poet is single and living in a Canadian city of less that 50,000 people. Say that the poet needs a $20,000 income to be at or just above the poverty line (this without calculating additional income needed to cover expenses such as accounting, travel, books, computer & printer, etc.) and the poverty line is higher in larger population centres, higher again when the poet is a single parent, and so on . . . The poet writes, does readings to audiences from their work, works to get books accepted and published by book publishers. Most poetry books in Canada are published in a "first edition" print run of 500 copies. Most poetry books, unless they win a major book award, do not see a second printing, Even some that "win" awards or author recognition do not get reprinted. If that poetry book is priced to sell sell for $20 (most are not, most are priced lower) then the poet should be positioned to earn 10% of that price, $2, in royalties on each copy of the book that has truly sold (gross sales – returns = net sales). This would mean, for the poet to earn/receive $20,000 in royalties income, that there would need to be net sales of 10,000 copies of their book. When you start with a print run of 500 copies (including marketing and promotional copies) that's rather impossible. Even more impossible is the prospect of the poet publishing 20 or more new books every year that sold 500 copies each.
How much pottery must a potter make and sell, or how much must a weaver make and sell to net $20,000 in income for living?

Creating is only part of what an artist must do to sustain themselves as an artist. They must have some level or amount of self-employed business management, no matter how professional or improv that may be, and sometimes that is impossible. Most artists in this country cannot afford to devote the best part of their energies to their arts practice. Many work other jobs, often full time simply for income, and raise families before they can squeeze out any time or space for themselves to create.

Many artists apply for grants from national provincial of municipal governments or arms-length agencies (if available) but grants are little better than a lottery. Agencies such as the Canada Council often have award ratios of 1 in 7 or 1 in 10. Better odds than 6/49 loto tickets but definitely not something to depend on. Canada Council encourages artists to make a maximum of one grant application per year. One! Doesn't matter if the artist is a cellist and filmmaker, or a potter and writer, or a painter, sculptor and electro-acoustic soundscape composer . . . they're allowed to make only one application per year, if they chose to do so at all. Some provincial grant competitions have two applications periods per year and/or no expressed restriction on the number of applications or simultaneous applications to multiple programs or arts disciplines. Grant levels, for the most part, are so small that they only provide subsistence for a few months, if that.

The more time, effort and resources (including money) spent on non-arts creation simply to survive or keep a roof overhead or food on the table the less the artist has for their art: for research and experimentation, exploration; for rehearsal practice; for creating; for pushing themselves and their art to new levels or places; for mentoring new artists or for peer support and collaborating. Time and space are essential but they not enough to enable artists to create.

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