Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Art Funding and Politics

One of the topics I assiduously avoid here at the Music Salon is a topic that is particularly frequent in the mainstream media: the funding of the arts. I don't avoid it because it is unimportant--it can be very important. No, I think I avoid it because the public discussion is usually so distorted by hidden agendas, personal interests, pandering to the public, happy thoughts, intentionally misleading information, out and out lies and most particularly, the crucial information being kept secret that it makes my head hurt just to think about trying to sort it all out.

Take for example the simple case of an orchestra going on strike or threatening to go on strike. Obviously each of the sides involved, the management and the union, are trying to spin the facts or semi-facts to their own advantage so media coverage--especially 'unbiased' media coverage--will give equal time to both sides. Sometimes, as in the case of this story, the precipitating event was a press release from one side and countering information from the other side might not be presented.

But in either case, one-sided or balanced reporting, what we don't have, nor have a way to determine, is what the actual truth of the situation is. Whose account is accurate? Is either account accurate? How can we tell? A friend of mine who used to play in an opera orchestra had a sobering experience last year when the opera orchestra decided to go on strike to protest the slip-shod and unethical way in which the impresario was treating the musicians. After a couple of days walking the picket line and being cursed at by the public, who just saw greedy musicians preventing them from seeing the opera, she decided never to become involved in this sort of thing again. Neither the politicking nor the opera!

From being more or less on the inside of things I know that the public version and the truth are often far apart. Sometimes the situation is so complex, it is impossible to tell what is really going on. For example, a story just broke concerning the Banff Centre, a fine institution I have attended a couple of times. Here is the story in the Globe and Mail. They picked up the story from coverage a couple of days ago on Norman Lebrecht's blog, where it generated quite a lot of commentary which is well worth reading. Notice how the two headlines put entirely different slants on the story: "Classical music's future at Banff Centre not in danger" and "arts centre dismantles classical residencies". The problem for me is that at least some of the parties involved have zero interest in telling us the truth: they just want to put their spin on it. Perhaps there are no 'objective' witnesses here.

One kind of discourse that is, to my mind, a sure indicator of political spin comes from the President, Jeff Melanson who writes:
I thank all Banff Centre staff for their support during this transition period, as we continue to redefine our collective vision for the future of The Banff Centre. Over the next few months, we will review the needs of our participants, and consider ways to diversify and strengthen our programming. Our ambition remains to design and implement the most compelling and impactful programming possible, and to continue to offer the very best in creative and professional development for artists and leaders from across Canada and around the world.
The buzz words "transition period", "collective vision", "diversify and strengthen", "design and implement", "compelling and impactful" and "creative and professional development" are a sure indicator that we are being shined on, soft-soaped, happy-thoughted and manipulated. These are all abstractions with no content. Maybe the writer is intending to do all these things, but there is no real content so perhaps he is just going to do whatever he feels like, or perhaps this is just an excuse to fire someone so he can hire a friend. Who knows? And anyone with actual inside information is probably afraid to speak out because their own career could be in jeopardy. Yes, I'm afraid that is often how things work.

Here is another story, the kind that doesn't bother me a bit. The Welsh National Opera is going to put on an opera by Gordon Getty after a big donation from the Getty family. As far as I'm concerned, this is perfectly ok. I understand exactly what happened and what the motivation was and there don't seem to be any secret agendas. When the opera is produced, the audience and critics can make up their own minds. Now let's hear a little music. Here is the overture to La Gazza Ladra by Rossini. In English, The Thieving Magpie:

No comments: