The Arts In Canada Essay

2454 words - 10 pages

Over the past few years, a number of commentators have argued that we as a nation have reached the end of one stage of our cultural development, but are having trouble finding the way into the next (Tom Henighan, quoted in Conlogue; Kingwell, quoted in Cobbs, A3). I want to develop this theme.

1. introduction

I take the matter of arts funding as an index of this country's commitment to the arts. In funding the arts, our governments at all levels take a middle way, below the European approach, which tends to be complete support, and above the American approach, which tends to be a combination of private patronage and free market (Conlogue). I employ the terms "old order" and "new order" to evoke old world thinking and new world thinking in this matter. I want to identify the dynamics at work here, rather than develop a detailed history of cultural policies.

2. the old order

We begin with the British connection, which for many generations was strong indeed (I follow Bliss 2003a). Great Britain gave birth to British North America and later (1867) the Dominion of Canada. We gained our independence from Britain in 1931, when Parliament in Great Britain passed the Statute of Westminster, clarifying the powers of the dominion governments; at Canada's request, the British Parliament retained the power to amend the BNA Act, i.e., the Canadian constitution.

In short, Canada's political institutions, its economic orientation, the flow of immigrants, its dominant culture were shaped by the Mother Country. The Thirteen Colonies had left (1776) the British Empire in violent revolution and had developed distinctive political and social institutions, leading the world in the development of democracy and individual liberties. Canada stayed British, embracing "old world" values: high culture, law and order, and respect for tradition.

For generations, Canadians studied British history and British culture. On the one hand, students studied the work of Susanna Moodie (1803-85), who wrote about her experiences as an immigrant to Canada in Roughing it in the Bush (1852). On the other, arts themselves looked to Great British landscape painting for inspiration. Think of the Group of Seven, which was founded (in 1920) by Arthur Lismer, F.H. Varley, and Lauren Harris. Before watching a movie, people stood at attention singing "God to save the Queen." Our brightest students won Commonwealth or Rhodes scholarships to study at Oxford or Cambridge. Our welfare state, including our approach to health care, was modelled mostly on the Mother Country.

Like their British ancestors, English-speaking Canadians believed that (a) culture--understood as a general process of intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development, a particular was of life, whether of a people, a period, or a palce, and the works and the practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity--possess inherent values, in terms of civilizing human beings, which are fundamentally opposed...

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