ED, May-June 2006

From the Executive Director

In the last issue of FilmPrint, I had an opportunity to focus – some say rant – on the inadequacies of the public funding structure for artist-run media arts culture in Canada. perhaps, we should go back in time to figure out how and why the media arts are so poorly funded by public arts councils. Could there possibly be some historical event that contributed to the way the arts are funded in Canada?

It appears that the advent of electricity plays a crucial role in determining which sectors of the arts receive adequate funding. Think about it. Prior to the invention of electricity, the performing arts (theatre, opera, ballet, etc.) music and literature were all established as the high art forms. Film, video and new media only emerged after Mr. Edison created artificial light and the opportunity to re-charge batteries.

If we look at the different art sectors as one big family, media arts is the bastard child of all art forms: the product of an unholy alliance between voltage power and some ingenious inventors. Could it be that the arts councils still look upon the media arts as the red-headed stepdaughter of culture? The current funding structure at the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council would indicate that the invention of electricity does indeed define the hierarchy of public funding for the arts.

When the cultural family gets together to feed at the public dinner table of annual operating funding, the pre-electrical high arts get to gorge itself while media arts is served crumbs and occasionally left overs.

Perhaps we should look at other indicators that could define which cultural sectors receive proper funding. The more exclusive an arts organization is (in terms of public accessibility, admission fees, etc.) the more likely that they will receive substantial funding. While those arts organizations that are most accessible to the citizens of Canada (like artist-run culture) are most likely to receive the last amount of funding. Is that why the high arts are exclusively in the realm of Canada’s wealthiest class?

I an hear my detractors in Performance arts now: what about the Toronto International Film Festival? Aren’t they a big well-funded media arts organization. Actually TIFF is more of a market than a festival, akin to a stock exchange for film products except for the fact that it doesn’t pay dividends in the form of artist fees to any of the filmmakers that participate in the festival.

Perhaps electricity and accessibility are too conceptually abstract to ever be considered satisfactory indicators of public funding for the arts.

The most likely reason media arts remains at the bottom of the public funding barrel is that those individuals in positions of power with any of the arts councils (or with the Department of Canadian Heritage for that matter) don’t have roots in the media arts community. Has there ever been an executive director of any arts council in Canada that originated from the media arts community? I don’t think so. In fact, arts council executive directors almost always come from the performing arts. Could this be the reason why media arts are so poorly funded? When will media arts have a leader that advocates on its behalf?

Perhaps the Board of Directors at the Canada Council and the Prime Minister’s Office should consider seeking someone from the media arts community when they look for a replacement for executive director John Hobday.

On a happier note, I am proud to announce that LIFT will begin our ambitious, “Film is Dead, Long Live Film.” 25th anniversary project. With the generous financial support of a Commission grant from the Canada Council (Yes, I am full of contradictions these days), LIFT will produce 25 film based projects that include 16 films on various gauges, 4 film performances and 5 film-based installations. We look forward to presenting these projects in the new years.

Roberto Ariganello

May/June 2006  Volume 26, Issue 3