Alberta oil and arts

by admin | 10.17.12 | Arts

Ah, lovely, scenic, rustic, Alberta; the home of big oil, big fields, big cows, and big dollars. A place where the almighty dollar is King, and an 18-hour shift is merely a normal working day. It’s a dusty, windy province with dirt under its fingernails. A province where trade schools pump out streams of young […]

Ah, lovely, scenic, rustic, Alberta; the home of big oil, big fields, big cows, and big dollars. A place where the almighty dollar is King, and an 18-hour shift is merely a normal working day. It’s a dusty, windy province with dirt under its fingernails. A province where trade schools pump out streams of young men and women into industries that will pay them for every convenience; trucks, houses, drinks, drugs, bigger trucks, vacations, and a chance to “make something of yourself.”

To those outside the province, Alberta seems like the kind of place where one can find easy work in back-breaking labour, easy money in oil and gas, and nothing else. It would be a challenge to track down someone who doesn’t believe that the entire province and everyone in it is a country song come to life, something out of a different space and time altogether. They certainly wouldn’t assume Alberta is home to a thriving and burgeoning arts community. They wouldn’t assume that all that oil and gas money does anything but buy Budweiser and gasoline for 4×4’s.

“It’s nothing but rednecks.”

“They don’t appreciate the arts out there.”

“It’s the Texas of Canada.”

None of this is anywhere true. It may seem that way to those to the west, but those in B.C. who point at Alberta as a place where all artistic things go to die should take some time to realize that while Alberta may be sporting swathes of blue, white, and oil stained collars, it still manages to support, fund, and make time for its arts scene. While B.C., the supposed darling of arts on the West Coast of Canada, makes every attempt to shoot its arts scene dead, only to then prop it up in the sitting position and claim to everyone that it’s a healthy, fully alive thing of beauty.

In a poll conducted by Stats Canada in 2010, it was revealed that the B.C. government spent the least amount of money per capita on the arts out of all provinces in the country. If boiled down, it can be translated to $53 dollars per B.C. citizen. In comparison to that, Alberta spent $71. The low spending per person could be overlooked if it was merely in the one category; however, B.C. ranked last or second last in the spending areas of culture (different than arts) and government grants and funding to the arts. So, for a province that seems to want to make its bones by being this artistic utopia, they seem to be doing a pretty terrible job at giving anything to their arts scene.

Also on the financial support side, it is worth noting that Alberta still supports its arts scene with money spent and acquired by casinos. This gaming fund money was a staple of B.C. arts support, but was shockingly and tragically rerouted to other areas two years ago. The casualties of this withdraw of support are too long to list here, but needless to say, everyone from theatre companies to music festivals felt the bite, many to a point where it was impossible for them to recover.

It may seem that money is the focal point of this attack on B.C.’s artistic genocide, while that is not entirely the case, it is worth noting that cold hard cash is what let’s any and all artistic enterprises work. It pays for supplies, rents space, puts food on artistic tables, and runs electricity through festival lights. To say that any arts scene can run on desire and drive alone is an extremely foolish and naïve viewpoint: while those two things are important to the health of an arts scene, as stated earlier, they don’t solve the basic problems.

A sad contrast to Alberta’s well-funded, well-supplied arts scene. Everything from playhouses to independent magazines receives a healthy amount of money, and that money in turns helps grow the art scene into a bigger and stronger community. It may not be well reported on, it may be buried amid endless news stories about pipelines and alcoholism, but it’s there, and it’s living a significantly healthier life than its B.C. counter-part.

A counter argument from B.C. might be that Alberta is a “have” province, that the money that comes flowing in from oil and gas is of course going to eventually trickle down to the arts, and that all that money can just be thrown at the arts so that politicians can claim they offer cultural support during their next big speech. While this is true, it is worth noting that all this money flying around the flatlands isn’t just going to bigger skyscrapers and expanded highways. Say what you will about oil and gas; the damage it does to the environment, and the iron grip that it apparently possesses on anything it touches, but all that money, in addition to taxes skimmed off the top of those famous trades paychecks, does get moved around to good areas, one of them being the arts.

Then there’s the scene itself. The outside ignorance to the Alberta arts scene is staggering. It is seen as a province of only uneducated types, simple people who lack culture that doesn’t come from shooting gophers. It is this ignorance to the Alberta arts scene that has probably driven it to seclusion in the first place. An ignorance to a province that supports culture, and lets it grow without stifling it financially at every turn. Barring the financial side of the issue, it is a province of smart, driven, equally creative individuals as any that can be found anywhere in Canada. Simply because the stereotype of Alberta rednecks exists, does not mean that the entire populace follows it.

B.C., and the other provinces of Canada, should be taking a page from Alberta. The B.C. government would do well to stop slamming a crowbar into the throat of everything that makes the Province desirable, and attempt instead to make some sacrifices to make the hype live up to the reality. And those who participate in the arts out there on the rain-soaked coast would do well to remember that culture can grow, thrive, and be completely worthy even when it comes from a place that may not seem like a mecca of everything creative.

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