PoliticsWrestling Canadian Cultural Identity

Wrestling Canadian Cultural Identity

The government has every obligation to foster, support and promote the artistic activities of the nation it serves. That participatory relationship should be no more than recognition through fostering of the fact that by virtue, the work of its people is virtually the work of the people’s collective culture. Canada sometimes passively and sometimes blatantly finds itself often mired in struggles to grasp its identity. It is a nationally shared pastime. Indeed an increasing western world attitude of an economic and social global vision competes with notions of national differences. That collectively allows for a vibrant sense of diversity across the plant. It does not mean equality by any means, but it allows for recognition. That very diversity and the ability for many to contribute to a oneness of humanity may be within the realm of Pollyanna-like thinking, but as a vision it is a comforting dream at the very least.

Culturally, the concept of Canada has been one that has been difficult to define and as equally challenging to demonstrate. Candidly many Canadians, from a myriad of cultural backgrounds, would find themselves arriving at the same conclusions about what it is that makes this country as great as it is and was always meant to be. Maybe the struggle with its identity and the healthy argument of its definition says who and what it is that we are. Open to healthy debate and conjecture, impressions and dreams, the Canadian attraction is that we can freely have those aspirations and be just as Canadian as the next person.

Many things go into the mix when realizing a sense of national pride and belonging. Depending on perception not all of them resound comfortably but all can be integrally important to the whole. The arts afford a culture venues for its stories; places to relate our diverse histories, and present ideas about our future directions. Commentary, whether visual, written, danced or acted focuses our minds on how we look at the world around us. That essence of us is a key. The creativity of artists gives all of us avenues to take in new ways of looking, liking or even hating. There is an exchange between the artist and those of us who observe or partake in a presentation. There is tremendous give and take, enough to ignite volumes of ideas for commentary and criticism. Inspiration flows in both directions. Canada’s endearing and enduring love of the ‘Canadian hockey game’ overflows into all aspects of its culture and has seen representation in many art forms. Those who argue that the arts are expendable should open their eyes wider to the effective and affective, provocative, fast bonded three-way symbiotic relationship between sports, culture and arts. In Canada with hockey that is a unique love triangle.

All art created by Canadians is Canadian art by default, virtue and inspiration. Not that long ago at the Vancouver Olympics the Canadian award winning slam poet/spoken word artist Shane Koyczan touched and moved us all with “We Are More”. He represents a burgeoning not so new literary reality in this country; part hip hop, part poetry, all about the word it is massively literary and very Canadian, again by default, virtue and inspiration. It is as deserving of experts in its field to champion and sensitively curate guide and present its glory to its ultimate levels of excellence and possibility (video available here).

Recent cuts to staff at the National Gallery of Canada are a wound on national institutions that present the country's cultural fabrics. There is always debate about the importance of the arts to this country. Strong opinions point to how the arts have shaped the nation and others point to the issue of government support and perceived interference. The arts have importance and viability regardless of the state of a country’s economic fortitude. There could only be consensus on that point. Post NGC curatorial staff cuts it may be true that the museum still has the largest curatorial staff in the country but the loss of the five talented specialists is no small affair. Specialists in arts and culture are essential and integral to the defining foundation of a people and nation. They help us to answer the question - what kind of people are we? They literally curate more than the art in the building but also set it out in such a way that in its celebration it includes Canada – by default, virtue and inspiration. As such they are integral to the blood, sinew and muscle that underlay the ever evolving definition of a nation and particularly this one. The reasons for the cuts are in keeping with an age of austerity whether real or fabricated it is a sign of the times we are in. Reasons have been given; this is not a forum for any of them. Cultural integrity is always at stake. The adage of Canada’s motto, ‘From Sea to Sea’, the phrase from the Seal of The United States, ‘Out of Many One’, and the Lyrics of Bob Marley’s, ‘One Love/People Get Ready’, “One Love, One Heart, Let's get together and feel all right…”. Maybe simplistic but they are also they also are inspiration and thought worthy. Canada is a young diverse nation as countries go, we are still weaving our fabrics together and to interfere with that, or see it as a done deal, at any point along the way, is tragic and myopic.

Artists thrive because they reflect and challenge their broader communities. This is true at a national level and very evident at local levels. Ottawa as a city is a case in point, a city bursting at the seams with an impossible, and yet, vibrant festival calendar. It rivals cultural capitals worldwide. Its charm is in its matter of fact manner and humility at times as it shows the world that the arts, culture and diversity are a not to be ignored element of its definition. No matter what you may think of it from inside the ‘fence’ from the outside see it as a growing, attractive destination of choice thanks to its festivals, size and atmosphere.

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