I am no great follower of Oprah, but sometimes I leaf through a copy of "O" magazine when visiting my sister. There is a regular feature in "O" called: "What I know For Sure" wherein famous and vaguely famous people share insights into the few things they perceive to be absolute truths. Whenever I stumble across this feature I do a little psychological experiment on myself: I ask myself that question and make myself answer without hesitation. And this is always the answer I give myself: "I know for sure that I am an artist."
I know that I am an artist and I have known this for sure since I was a very, very young child. This has been a certainty to me, and to my family, and to my friends. Very few people ever asked me "what do you want to be/do when you grow up?" because I had made it clear that not only was I going to be an artist, from the time I was in my single digit ages, I simply considered myself to be so.
I hope this doesn't sound arrogant, or pretentious. It isn't meant to be. I am not even a little bit rich or famous, but I have managed to keep "artist" of some sort as the main descriptor on my tax return for most of my adult life. I am proud of that, and I am deeply grateful. I am an actor, a writer, a director and a visual artist. I am grateful to every person who has said "yes" to me, and allowed me to make creative expression a basic part of my every day.
A few days ago a horrid announcement was made in Vancouver: The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company is closing its doors after nearly 50 years. I have never worked for the Playhouse, I have never even auditioned for the company. But as an artist, I am sickened. The VPH is an institution, it is a flagship, it is one of the main companies in Canada and it has now closed its doors because the company is broke, in debt, and has hit the wall when it comes to finding ways to keep on keeping on. Vancouver theatre community members have been protesting, grieving, ranting, hugging and just trying to find ways to make sense of it, to keep hope alive, and to yell out the truth of the matter: arts need public funding.
I find it soul crushing to read the comments on the internet from people who don't understand: "This is a free market economy! If you can't be self-sustaining you deserve to shut down. My tax dollars shouldn't be funding theatre, I never go to see it anyway." etc. etc. The simple fact is, art of any kind, save for a very few select instances, is not self-sustaining financially. Without public/state funding Shakespeare might never have written a play, Michelangelo would not have painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, countless Canadians would never have written and painted and danced our stories - arranged in the form of art. Art needs funding, and every great society has understood this. Go to London, New York City, Rome, Berlin... you will find these places rich with museums, galleries, festivals, live performance, music, public art...and I can assure you, none of this is self-sustaining. These cities fund their culture because they consider it to be as important as the more prosaic amenities like garbage collection and policing. Art is what a city uses to express itself to the world. Art is the soul of the city.
I recently defended my MA thesis. My thesis is about the use of theatre in museums and heritage sites, and the use of theatre in communities to help us all understand and appreciate our own place in the world. I called my thesis: "Telling Ourselves to Ourselves" because I believe that this is the very essence of the innate human compulsion to make art - because we all need to find ways to understand what it means to be human. Art struggles to make sense of humanity in the most beautiful manners of expression - song, sculpture, dance, plays, books, stories, poetry.
Right now, in BC, we have lost our way as far as the arts are concerned. We have become a society that views art as a non-essential service. If you are a person who truly agrees with that statement - that art should pay for itself with no initial assistance from the community in which it is created - then I challenge you to live one day without art. Do not watch television, do not read a book, do not look at a painting or a sculpture, do not go to a movie or watch one on TV. Do not visit a festival, theatre, museum or gallery. Do not look at public art installations. And while you're at it, don't read the paper or even go on an internet site where someone has written words. Don't listen to music. Cover all art in your home. Most creative expression was, at some point on its road to fruition, helped into existence through funding, donated time, space, material, sponsorship, etc. I hope you will soon discover, during your artless day, that a world where all that matters is that which can be immediately measured with a price tag is a soulless, bleak and heartless place. And it is a place where love has lost its voice.