Attack of the Arts Administrators

This post is prompted by the District of Tofino’s Request for Proposals for a “cultural scan” (on tofino.ca, the 3-page PDF downloads from this link). Scanning the document itself, i am struck by how little it has to do with actual art. In fact, the thing is pure 200-proof bureaucracy in its wording and its thought process, and as such is 180 degrees opposed to art. I suppose i’m not saying it shouldn’t be done; presumably the district’s bureaucratic mill needs it. I am saying nobody should even begin to confuse it with making or advancing art.

When i think of arts and culture, scans and reports are last on the list, and arts events of various forms are first: artists doing art, and “the public” seeing/experiencing artists doing art, and “the public” making its own art (for a healthy society does not silo off its creativity into any one sector). All else is dross. I think of events: arts talks, spontaneous shows … happenings with passion in them (or intellect or intention or anything but bureaucracy!).

In my experience, bureaucracy is the vampire of the arts world. A certain amount of it is unavoidable – the setting up of concert tours, the booking of venues for shows, the simple organization of events … even the buying of supplies might be considered a low-level bureaucratic chore. But when you bring the whole arts granting scene into the picture, then you’ve entered the big leagues of bureaucracy. It’s shocking to me how much raw artistic passion and vision gets sucked away into triplicate forms and applications and phone calls and infinitely regressive procedural loops, to the point of undermining or outright stifling the creative impulse that is supposedly the raison d’etre for all this activity in the first place.

And because the first priority of any bureaucracy is its own survival, a huge chunk of the resources purportedly “made available” to arts and culture is also sucked away, into a bottomless pit of minions and their administrators. If regular businesses were made to operate on the “business model” that arts organizations are forced into … well, there would be no regular businesses.

Along those lines, one thing i realized tonight is that nowhere in the district’s call for  proposals does it stipulate making an estimate of how big Tofino’s arts-and-culture sector is, economically. If one were studying any other business sector, question #1 would be How many dollars does it bring in? — a primary measure of how “important” the sector is. With the arts, for some reason, it doesn’t even come up. The reasoning behind this lapse would be an interesting study in its own right, but let me propose that it’s based on the buried assumption that art and culture is a frivolous, expendable luxury – just a hobby, and not a real business, or even a serious activity.

This line of thinking is one that should be exposed for the self-fulfilling prophecy it is. And for the arts-crippling attitude it is. Those audacious artist who attempt to make a living from their art in Tofino deserve a better valuation of their passion and their toil. Tofino deserves better. And if Tofinoites are going to throw money at arts and culture (and i strongly think we should, for a whole bunch of hard-to-articulate reasons), that money should go mostly to arts and culture, and only peripherally to arts bureaucracy. I hope we’re not starting down the opposite path.

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