With this exhibition I wanted to question the role and the value of arts and culture in our society today and challenge the perception that the arts are an elitist frill servicing all but a small segment of our society. During the 2008 federal election the Conservative government announced a $45 million cut to arts and culture funding and in defense of these cuts Prime Minister Stephen Harper famously stated "ordinary people" don't care about arts funding. This past September here in British Columbia, Rich Coleman, the Minister of Housing and Social Development announced unprecedented cuts to arts and culture funding and suggested that arts funding was taking away money from the B.C.’s hungry children. This brought to mind a meeting I had in 2007 with the late Stan Hagen, then Minister of Tourism, Sports and the Arts who told me that artists should be able to survive on their own merit and it was not the government’s role to subsidize the arts as the public would support worthy and relevant art with their own dollars. Interestingly, the Province of British Columbia views the role of the visual arts and the artist somewhat differently when it comes to public education. In the Ministry of Education’s Integrated Resource Package published by the Ministry of Education Standards Department in 1995 and revised on January 26, 1999 the Ministry describes the values as set out in the provincially prescribed curriculum for Visual Arts students in grade 11 and 12 as follows:
“The art of image making is a unique and powerful human endeavour. In visual arts, images give shape and meaning to ideas and feelings. Images take many forms and transcend boundaries of time, culture, and language… Visual arts both reflect and affect the social, cultural, and historical contexts in which they exist. For this reason, visual arts education provides a unique opportunity to foster respect for and appreciation of a variety of values and cultures. In addition, an education in visual arts promotes understanding of the role of the arts in reflecting and challenging social values throughout history…. The visual arts are an essential form of communication, indispensable to freedom of inquiry and expression.”
Artists have long been at the forefront of social change and their legacy is not only the barometer for which the health of a society can be ascertained but it is certainly a benchmark from which historians judge and record our passing. It’s been an unprecedented year with the global economic crisis, the election of Barack Obama, the Copenhagen Climate Conference, and our province’s devastating cuts to arts and culture while simultaneously hosting the2010 Winter Olympic extravaganza. As we begin to welcome the world to Vancouver, what legacy will come of these events and what if any global change will result from such a significant international gathering?
I invited artists to create dialogue around the role of the artist in our society, the work they produce and asked them to consider how our society views and values art and the artist in light of contemporary events. This is not so much an anti Olympic, anti government or anti sport exhibition but rather, it asks us all to enter into a dialogue as to how this period of our history will be best remembered in five, ten or fifty years time. I also wanted to question the inequity our current society places between arts, culture and sport andI made every effort to provide a fair and balanced forum to encourage public debate. My hope is that in years to come, the works included in this exhibition will provide a memorable snapshot of this moment in our cultural history and will reflect the Zeitgeist. As history has overwhelmingly shown, it's the arts and culture which people remember and study while only those closely involved in sport recall the event and winners of gold, silver or bronze medals.
Artists from across the province have submitted works which question the state and health of our society today and the legacy which will remain as a result of these contemporary events. I asked each artist to consider the importance our provincial government places on arts and culture and the role the arts would play as part of the Cultural Olympiad. I was also interested in how this would be reflected outside of the lower mainland. VANOC's website states; “the Cultural Olympiad is being promoted as a celebration of the contemporary imagination, from artistic collaborations that fuse contrasting perspectives to emerging talents re-inventing the voice of contemporary Canada.”
In order to participate in the Cultural Olympiad artists had to agree to the terms of the contract which included the following controversial clause: "The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC." Reading this and looking over the lineup I wonder how true this vision is and I wonder how accurate their promise of re-inventing the voice of contemporary Canada is and how democratic that voice will ultimately be.
Some say it’s a curse to live in interesting times and as we stand on the precipice of the second decade of the 21st century I couldn't think of a more apt statement and only the future will determine if it’s a curse or not. The Penticton Art Gallery has invited artists from across the province to gather en mass for our own Cultural Olympiad to celebrate the importance of the visual arts as an essential form of communication, indispensable to freedom of inquiry and expression. I hope the resulting exhibition and the dialogue which results will provide future generations with an opportunity to see where we were at this important point in our history and help them understand the circumstances behind all which follows as a result.