Patriotism Depends on Arts and Culture

Here we are in a city that, for a brief moment in time, displayed the greatest demonstration of Canadian patriotism that this country has ever seen. From the sea of white and red jerseys that could be seen from a space station, to the painted faces and temporary tattoos in every crowd, to homes and balconies  adorned in Canadian flags, to the impromptu choruses of “O Canada” that broke out in lineups, bars, streets, curling rinks and the over-brimming drunk tank, this city lead the greatest parade of national spirit since the end of the second world war.

But what happens now that the party is over? Will we get a severe case of patriotic hangover? Will we go into nationalistic withdrawal?

The answer depends on how far we can take the momentum that the Olympic and Paralympic Games have left us. Just like so many of the athletes we have seen pour their hearts out, so many of us Canadians have done the same.

So how do we keep this patriotism strong? How can we avoid invoking another tired cliché? How do we keep this feelin’ going?

The answer lies with the arts. Besides the actual sporting events themselves, one of the biggest rousing contributors to patriotism and plain old fun was the Cultural Olympiad, connecting the games to people through common denominators.

There were festivals and installations all across the city and across the lower mainland. From coy Francophone street mimes to clever Bollywood Shenanigans to sexy Sambata performers, the streets were alive with art and culture and the people embraced it.

So, given how popular and integral the Cultural Olympiad was to administering that great feeling throughout the city, does that mean that there will be a funding windfall to the arts? Unfortunately, not yet.

Back in 2008, the Tories began to slash funding to the arts. It started with a $40 million cut to nationally based programs such as film and video training, and led to an axing of the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada (which endeavored to archive important film and audio recordings). Next on the block was the funding for musical development networks. Cuts of this size get the proverbial tree falling and the splintering effect ends up with precious little to pick the teeth of those who need funding the most, the little guys.

This lack of support is like telling a musician they can only use two notes to perform, or telling a painter to only use the colour yellow. They put a stranglehold on both the performer and the audience, leaving a void which we fill with Nickelback concerts and fireworks displays. C’mon people, we need some variety.

Maybe the arts really need to look to the private sector for help. Could you forgive more street performances if Rogers tried to flog you a Blackberry or iPhone at every break in performance? Would you be appalled if Tim Horton's or A&W promoted their wares at the intermission to a great locally developed and produced play? Probably not, because corporate sponsorship is everywhere. A serious injection of cash from the private sector opens up a whole new can of worms beyond the mere marketing aspect.

Some may argue, however, that the inclusion of big business into the frame of arts and culture means that they will most likely support the cultural events that cross-promote their own vested interests. This will take time to resolve. As we all know, corporations will only act benevolently if their interests are at the forefront. It may mean the difference between offering something mainstream and having nothing at all, however.

Governments, both federal and provincial, need to see that funding to the arts produces happy citizens. It’s a simple formula, but our tax dollars seem to funnel elsewhere regardless of our cultural appetite.

The recent arts showcases have shown us that we are a diverse, multi-ethnic and culturally rich community, and they have fostered that sense of community, weaving taut through our society as the threaded needle gets passed through each genre. They have taught us that being Canadian is more than waving a flag and singing the anthem, it’s belonging to a culture that is full of culture. The arts were the engine of our Olympic momentum, and all we did was supply the fuel. It is only a matter of time before some suit in some boardroom thinktank figures it out and steps in where the government fumbles.

//Paul Garbini

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