Tinker, Tailor, Soldier. Why?

Q: Many countries have ministries of culture. Does America need a Secretary of Culture or Secretary of the Arts? Why or why not?

This question gets us into an area we haven’t specifically dealt with yet in the contest, namely politics. The broader issue here revolves around government funding of the arts, which is a good question, but not one that I find particularly interesting. Why not? Because the responses to the question “Should the Government fund the Arts?” are completely predictable: if you’re a conservative, you’re dead set against public funding of the arts and we know the reasons; if you’re a liberal, you’re strongly in favor of public funding of the arts, and we know those reasons too. If you’re somewhere in the middle, then you’re a combination of the two. What’s to talk about? These topics have been discussed at length for decades. Every rationale, every possible angle, every possible position has been thoroughly argued, and the problem is that argument doesn’t work in regards to this question. It’s like trying to get someone to switch religions–at some point early on, values and cultural leanings become so much a part of a person’s identity and personality, that any attempt to change someone’s position based on rational argument is highly unlikely to succeed in anything other than making an enemy out of a friend.

While the government funding issue is then perhaps well-trodden ground, the question of whether America needs a cabinet-level Arts/Culture Secretary opens other avenues of inquiry. To begin the discussion, let me start by asking all of the readers a single question as a prompt: Name the three most important and/or popular contributions to the Arts from Canada in the last 50 years that first come to mind.

Why Canada? Whenever I’ve discussed arts and government funding, the prevailing opinion in the arts community is that Europe and our neighbor to the north are the enlightened ones who we should be emulating, and, as a former Canadian (I became a naturalized US citizen in 2007), I know the Canadian system quite well.

Before we get to the responses, let’s look at the Canadian system. In Canada, they have a cabinet level “Minister of Canadian Heritage” whose department creates policies and provides funding for “arts, culture, media, communications networks, official languages, status of women, sports, and multiculturalism.”  (Well, I am very pleased to see that the poor, beleaguered, long-suffering sports community is finally getting some attention and hopefully some funding from the government–how else would hockey, baseball, and football survive otherwise?). The current Deputy Minister is Daniel Jean. His background for this position? He holds an MBA from SUNY-Buffalo and has a BA in Political Science and Economics from the University of Ottawa. Additionally, he “has a vast experience in government….was consul and Immigration Program Manager in Haiti during the coup that ousted elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.” Coup in Haiti? Cool! Tinker, Tailor, Soldier . . . Arts Minister.

Daniel Jean, Deputy Minister

Here’s the list of what is funded in the Arts & Culture category (I’m going to apologize for including a couple of long lists in this post, but they’re necessary, so please bear with me!):

  • Aboriginal Friendship Centres
  • Aboriginal Languages Initiative
  • Aboriginal Languages Initiative Innovation Fund
  • Aboriginal Post-Secondary Scholarship Program
  • Aboriginal Women’s Programming
  • Action Canada
  • Building Communities through Arts and Heritage
  • Canada Arts Presentation Fund (formerly Arts Presentation Canada)
  • Canada Arts Training Fund (formerly National Arts Training Contribution Program)
  • Canada Book Fund (formerly Book Publishing Industry Development Program)
  • Canada Cultural Investment Fund (formerly Canadian Arts and Heritage Sustainability Program)
  • Canada Cultural Spaces Fund (formerly Cultural Spaces Canada)
  • Canada Interactive Fund
  • Canada Media Fund
  • Canada Music Fund
  • Canada Periodical Fund (formerly Publications Assistance Program/Canada Magazine Fund)
  • Canada Traveling Exhibitions Indemnification Program
  • Canada/Territorial Co-operation Agreements for Aboriginal Language
  • Canadian Arts and Heritage Sustainability Program (now Canada Cultural Investment Fund)
  • Canadian Conservation Institute Internships
  • Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit
  • Canadian Studies Program
  • Celebrate Canada! Funding
  • Cultural Capitals of Canada
  • Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth (formerly Urban Multipurpose Aboriginal Youth Centre Initiative)
  • Cultural Development Fund
  • Development of Official-Language Communities Program
  • Destination Clic: French Enrichment Bursary Program
  • Enhancement of Official Languages Program
  • Exchanges Canada Program
  • Explore: Second Language Summer Program
  • Hosting Program
  • Katimavik
  • Languages at Work
  • Movable Cultural Property Grants Program
  • Museums Assistance Program
  • National Aboriginal Day
  • Northern Aboriginal Broadcasting and Distribution Projects
  • Odyssey: Full-Time Language Assistant Program
  • Sport Support Program
  • Virtual Museum of Canada Investment Programs
  • Young Canada Works
  • Youth Take Charge

(Apparently arts bureaucrats like to change the names of their programs regularly. I suppose it makes it look like you’re “doing something” as opposed to “just standing there.”)

Here’s the Department’s organizational structure:

  • DEPUTY MINISTER
  • ASSOCIATE DEPUTY MINISTER
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, HUMAN RESOURCES AND WORKPLACE MANAGEMENT
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, COMMUNICATIONS
  • CORPORATE SECRETARY
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PORTFOLIO AFFAIRS
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND GENERAL COUNSEL – LEGAL SERVICES
  • CHIEF AUDIT AND EVALUATION EXECUTIVE
  • CHIEF OF STAFF TO THE DEPUTY MINISTER
  • OMBUDSMAN, OFFICE OF VALUES AND ETHICS
  • ASSISTANT DEPUTY MINISTER, CULTURAL AFFAIRS
  • DIRECTOR, CULTURAL SECTOR INVESTMENT REVIEW
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, COPYRIGHT POLICY INCLUDING CULTURAL RIGHTS
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, ARTS POLICY
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, STRATEGIC POLICY AND MANAGEMENT
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, BROADCASTING AND DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, CULTURAL INDUSTRIES
  • ASSISTANT DEPUTY MINISTER, CITIZENSHIP AND HERITAGE
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, OFFICIAL LANGUAGES SUPPORT PROGRAMS
  • SENIOR DIRECTOR, OFFICIAL LANGUAGES SECRETARIAT
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, CITIZEN PARTICIPATION
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT AND HUMAN RIGHTS
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HERITAGE
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL AND CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, CANADIAN CONSERVATION INSTITUTE
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, OFFICIAL LANGUAGES SECRETARIAT
  • ASSISTANT DEPUTY MINISTER, SPORT, MAJOR EVENTS AND REGIONS
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PUBLIC AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, SECTOR MANAGEMENT AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PRAIRIES AND NORTHERN REGION
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ATLANTIC REGION
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, QUEBEC REGION
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WESTERN REGION
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ONTARIO REGION
  • SENIOR DIRECTOR, SPECIAL PROJECTS
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, SPORT CANADA
  • ASSISTANT DEPUTY MINISTER, STRATEGIC POLICY, PLANNING AND CORPORATE AFFAIRS
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, STRATEGIC POLICY, PLANNING AND RESEARCH
  • CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER
  • DIRECTOR GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL AND INTERGOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS

If that’s not enough, here’s a link to the chart of their organizational hierarchy. (It was too big to include in this post.)

What I’ve listed so far does not include the many additional programs available at the provincial level. Ontario, for example, has its own Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. (For the syntax and grammar people who are reading this: the title is taken from their website, and there is no comma after the word “Culture” as one would expect in a list–it’s “Tourism, Culture and Sport,” not” Tourism, Culture, and Sport.”) The current minister is Michael Chan. His background for this position? He “owned and operated a successful insurance brokerage firm.”

Michael Chan, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport

There is also the Canada Council for the Arts which provides grants for visual arts, media arts, dance, music, theatre, and writing and publishing. It is similar to the National Endowment for the Arts that we have here in the USA. And that’s not all of it–there are others too, like the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) with its main office in Toronto and four regional offices. The CMC works to “ …stimulate[s] the awareness, appreciation and performance of Canadian new music…” [Full disclosure: I’m an “Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre” but my dues have lapsed and, as you’ll read below, I’m not sure if I qualify as “Canadian” anymore…]

Through the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada maintains strong “ Canadian content laws” that require radio and television stations, as a condition of licensing, to program a certain amount of programming that is racially pure, um, I mean “Canadian.” Currently, that amount is 40% for radio and a whopping 60% for television. How do they define “Canadian”? Why, they use the Music, Artist, Performance, and Lyrics (MAPL) system (Get it?  MAPL=Maple=Maple Leaf=Canada!!) and it works like this:

How does the MAPL system work?

To qualify as Canadian content, a musical selection must generally fulfill at least two of the following conditions:

M (music): the music is composed entirely by a Canadian

A (artist): the music is, or the lyrics are, performed principally by a Canadian

P (performance): the musical selection consists of a live performance that is recorded wholly in      Canada, or performed wholly in Canada and broadcast live in Canada

L (lyrics): the lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian

There are four special cases where a musical selection may also qualify as Canadian content:

  • it was recorded before January 1972 and meets one of the above conditions
  • it is an instrumental performance of a musical composition written or composed by a Canadian
  • it is a performance of a musical composition that a Canadian has composed for instruments only
  • it was performed live or recorded after September 1, 1991 and, in addition to meeting the criterion for either artist or production, a Canadian who has collaborated with a non-Canadian receives at least half of the credit for both music and lyrics – according to the records of a recognized performing rights society, such as SOCAN (Canada) or Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and SESAC (United States)

Who qualifies as Canadian in the MAPL system?

For the purposes of the MAPL system, the CRTC’s Radio Regulations define a Canadian as being one of the following:

  • a Canadian citizen
  • a permanent resident as defined by the Immigration Act, 1976
  • a person whose ordinary place of residence was Canada for the six months immediately preceding their contribution to a musical composition, performance or concert
  • a licensee, i.e. a person licensed to operate a radio station

(Without any recognition of the irony, they tell us on their website that “while it stimulates all components of the Canadian music industry, the MAPL system is also very simple for the industry to implement and regulate.”  See?  It’s easy to use. And they just told us so, so it must be true.)

I think this is an excellent example of what happens when government gets seriously involved in the arts business the way it has in Canada. The bureaucracy soon becomes a Kafka-esque entanglement of countless programs run by a swarm of sinecure political appointees who may have no background in the arts, and yet hold the power to anoint certain works and to reject others. If you think this would be a politically neutral evaluation system, think again. Artists are forced into “marketing” their work to these mid-level policy wonks using the bland, passive, politically correct language of the bureaucrat. That process eventually becomes a prime motivator in the development of the artwork itself. The snake now feeds on its own tail as the formerly independent artist marches to the tune of the bureaucrat de jour. Artists who advocate for more government involvement also assume that their work will be funded and acknowledged (of course it will, how could it not?), but that is not how it plays out. With this level of political involvement at the cabinet level, it becomes a game of who knows who, and who can get more for this endorsement than that vote–it’s a lose-lose scenario.

I think it’s time to revisit our prompt from the beginning when I asked you to name three Arts contributions from Canada. Here are my best guesses as to the responses:

  • Glenn Gould
  • Canadian Brass
  • Oscar Peterson
  • Rush
  • Bryan Adams
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Deadmau5
  • Jim Carrey
  • Dan Aykroyd

While I’m sure that some of these artists benefited from some grant funding at some point in their careers, does anyone seriously believe that they would have languished in obscurity without the Ministry of Culture? To phrase this another way, with all of the funding and programs that I’ve listed, why isn’t Canada the world’s leader in the arts?

I know it might lead to vertigo or mild nausea, but look once more at the mind-numbing size and complexity of the Canadian system. Imagine how much that costs in salaries, buildings, offices, supplies, conferences, travel, and the other expenses to feed the beast. In addition to the distasteful potential for political interference and pandering, scarce resources are being diverted from the actual artists to the administrators who are, unlike the artists who get funding once or twice a decade, drawing a good middle- or upper-class salary every year.

Now, consider this fact: Canada’s population is currently about 34 million, which means it is smaller than California. Can you imagine what this Secretary of Culture, Tourism, Sports, and Kayaking would look like in a country the size of the United States?

I’m sure that the people who founded these supportive agencies never dreamed that they would morph into these leviathans awash with redundancies and layer upon layer of bureaucratic oversight, but they do. It’s in the nature of these types of organizations to grow; in the Darwinian mosh pit of resource allocation in the attenuated government funding realm, you grow or you die (or you’re perceived as dying, which is close to same thing).

A final aspect of this that I would like to consider is the implicit assumptions embedded in the very idea of a Secretary of Arts and Culture. It assumes that some government official with a fancy title can, by right of title and through funding, create policies and fund projects that will actually shape the cultural development of an entire country. In the face of historical fact, I wish I could call this folly, but hubris is the more appropriate word. Culture exists on the street, on the subway, on Channel 749, on my iPod, on my iPad, in millions of blogs, on Youtube, in the concert hall, in the dance club, and in between the ears and behind the eyes of 7 billion fantastically independent and wonderful human beings. Managing and controlling the development of culture has been the dream of tyrants and humanitarians alike, but neither has been successful, nor will they ever be. Eventually, even under brutal authoritarian regimes like the Soviets, the voice of culture crawls out from under a rock and spits in the face of its overlords. Strong arm tactics can’t keep it down, the threat of death can’t shut it up, and yet we posit that some “Secretary of Arts and Culture” (with policy and funding to further a new “mission statement” cooked up by some “task force” committee) can manage, coerce, shape, tinker, tailor, or soldier it into submission? In modern chat parlance, LMAO. Perhaps then, it’s both–folly and hubris.

This is why I think that a Secretary of Arts and Culture in the United States is a bad idea. If you want the government involved, the NEA and Canada Council models seem to be the best solution. They operate “at arm’s length” and provide funding mostly through grants. Even though there are politics involved in both, the limited autonomy provided affords some measure of independence and results in efficacious use of funds to support grass roots organizations and artists. It just doesn’t get much better than that in this scenario. Don’t tinker. Don’t tailor. Don’t soldier. Don’t do something, just stand there and watch as it all gloriously unfolds.

*Art work is “Le Processus 006″ by Marc Antoine Mathieu

About FraKathustra

http://www.kurtellenberger.com

5 Responses to “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier. Why?”

  1. Alexandra Bonifield Reply April 8, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    A butt-nekked Czar d’ Art Emperor to follow political winds, keep the riff-raff at bay and host tasteful dinner parties for lobbyists and their closely-leashed Congressional lackeys to attend. Just what we need!

  2. I was getting a little bogged down in your post’s Canadian cultural program details, but I guess that was the point. I was rewarded by the text that followed. Clever AND logical writing–a combination not seen that often in the arts world I’m afraid.

  3. Reblogged this on Bostron's Rants and commented:
    Do we need more bureaucracy in music? Read Mr. Ellenberger’s blog and find out…BRAVO!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Kurt Ellenberger: Why We Shouldn't Try To Save The Arts | USA Press - April 20, 2012

    [...] more be able to “save” the arts than you could destroy them. This gets us back to the folly and hubris (that I wrote about in my last post) of trying to shape or manage a culture. We in the arts [...]

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