|Cicada 42x42" oil on panel ©Janice Mason Steeves 2011|
The southern Ontario City of Woodstock received a $3.3 million dollar grant last year to renovate and expand their art gallery to four times the space with the ability to house world class exhibitions. With construction nearing completion, this past week, recently elected Mayor Pat Sobeski dealt the city and the arts a huge blow. In a last minute decision City Council decided to offer the space instead to a local college and leave the art gallery in the small cramped space they have occupied for the past twenty-eight years. In a rally last weekend, a huge group of arts supporters turned out to protest this move, waving signs that said: "ART IS FOR EVERYONE". The mayor is now reconsidering his decision and may propose that the college and the art gallery share the space. This is a less than perfect decision for the art gallery but still affords them twice the space they had previously.
Just before the rally, in my anger at the mayor's ignorant attitude to the arts, I wrote him a letter. My letter most likely fell on deaf ears, but writing it gave me some small satisfaction.
I reminded him of the speech given by Canada's Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson when she presented the first Governor General's Awards for Visual and Media Arts in March 2000.
Here are some selected quotations from that magnificent and inspiring speech. The entire speech was printed in the National Post, March 23, 2000:
"All art is magical activity because even though its subject matter can be representational or abstract, it is meant to propel us to a level of consciousness that’s not purely intellectual. As the British philosopher, R.G. Collingwood said sixty years ago, “Art is a necessity for every sort and condition of man and is actually found in every healthy society. A society which thinks, as our own does, that it has outlived that need is wrong, or else it is a dying society, perishing for lack of interest in it’s own maintenance.’
We need art. Those who deny this need deny society as a whole its right to live and experience with every fibre as sentient beings. They deny the evolving humanity which makes society aspire to the heights of perception. They deny the deep community that comes from a shared vision.
For most of us who appreciate art, but do not create it, art is, in the words of Baudelaire, infinitely precious, a nectar that is at once refreshing and warming: bringing both the physical and spiritual into a natural, ideal balance.
Those who would deny us the right to spiritual nourishment by alluding to an ill-defined and, to be sure, contemptible 'elite' do not understand what it is to see, to be enlightened by a vision that transforms from within. All of us can be changed, can be transformed, at any time, by a painting, a sculpture or a film.
By drawing us along with them, artists make us aware that we all create art,in every action and every word. We must therefore all strive to express human emotion, to vanquish that which corrupts the conscience in the eternal struggle to be human.
Art is what makes life worthwhile, what makes it passionate, what makes it livable. To all of you who have given us the ability to see, to feel alive, to be more human, thank you."