There was a piece on CBC Radio this morning about the opening of a new arts space in the south central district of St. Henri. The project is underwritten by Peter McAuslan, of brewery fame, an important supporter of the arts and literature in Montreal. The centre's new Director Dave Cool said that more and more artists are fleeing the Plateau as property values rise, rental prices increase and condofication spreads. The Plateau's loss is St. Henri's gain and this new space fills a gap, giving the growing community of artists new opportunities to exhibit.
This initiative seems wonderfully old-fashioned, in the sense that it's privately underwritten and responds to local artistic needs emerging organically out of current economic conditions. Listening to the piece and Cool's remarks, my thoughts turned to a series of what ifs: What if the government didn't hand out grants to artists at all? Would art cease to be made? Of course not. Would the vacuum be filled by people like McAuslan stepping up to the plate and going to bat for the arts? I think so. Would private patrons, as opposed to government bodies be more responsive to the actual needs of artists working in the community? In what ways would the culture of artists and the work they produce be changed i.e. instead of being preoccupied with filling out grant proposals and the culture promoted by that relationship, would the focus shift and would their work be less academic and more relevant to actualities and public tastes? I don't see the arts as we know it shrivelling up and dying if the circumstances were different. I see the opposite to be true, a more vibrant, relevant, urgent and more cherished existence for the arts, with a stronger sense of ownership and responsibility on behalf of the communities where they enrich daily life.