Left and Leaving Halifax

It has not been a good year for those that sacrifice themselves to lead the energetic arts and culture sector in Halifax. There is a growing feeling, hovering somewhere between ennui and abject despair, and it is expressing itself throughout the province’s creative continuum.

Halifax has never been an easy town to love if you are a creative person, or as the bureaucrats call them, “cultural worker.” The city and the province it is capital of have never had particularly good support for the arts, and if anything, the gap between expectations and support has never been wider.

In fact, many worry that the limited success we have had in the absence of adequate funding and resources has in fact made it even harder to convince government that more funding is desperately required.

Arguably, Halifax’s reputation as an international centre for art has its roots in the incredible experiment that was NSCAD in the 1970s. For a time, our humble art college was THE world leading institution in art and design.

Garry Neill Kennedy lead the college to unimaginable heights, but the support to continue this momentum, for growth and international leadership, was simply not forthcoming from the Provincial or Federal funders. Don’t get me wrong, NSCAD is still a good institution, and probably better than we deserve, but like most things in Nova Scotia the raw potential of the organization is not being realized due to insufficient leadership and lack of funding.

The situation with NSCAD can be used as a template or referent for the challenges faced by virtually every other arts agency, institution, or business in the province. From craft to film to music, from higher education to art galleries, the potential for greatness is there, but not realized.

Provincially, funding is stagnant. The current government promised to double funding during the election, and then increase the $7 million dollar budget by just $450,000. Vital organizations from the Tattoo to the Writers Federation have not seen significant increases in funding since the 1980s.

Costs continue to rise, funding does not, and the end result is decreasing programming and slashed services. Depending on who you speak too, Nova Scotia’s funding is either the lowest or the middle of the national pack, per capita. How can we lead the nation with anything less than top notch funding?

On the municipal level, the much vaunted “culture plan” has yet to result in concrete action or funding. The HRM has, I am told, over 2200 pieces of art in storage. The city has an entire museum, the Dartmouth Heritage Museum, in storage. The city has finally, after 23 months, reposted the cultural officer job that has been empty since Keith McPhail fled the position is despair in 2005.

There may be meetings underway, there may be “multi-stakeholder committees” meeting and discussing plans, but at the end of the day, the council has yet to commit serious and even adequate money to funding culture.

The most depressing example was told to me at a recent brainstorming session for Symphony Nova Scotia, where we were told that Halifax funds our symphony the least of all municipalities in Canada, with $15,000 a year. The next lowest, you ask? Edmonton at $100,000, and the support rises rapidly in other cities from there. Halifax wants world class art and music? Show us the money!

The creative energy in Halifax has never been stronger. The raw potential is there to have a cultural powerhouse, to be a centre, if not the centre, of independent arts and culture production in English Canada.

The people who sacrifice to stay in a city they love, to create and live their lives, do so in large part because they perceive that things will change for the better. They think that society wants art, wants creativity, and is willing to fund opportunities, and also, to fund not just good or adequate institutions, but amazing and world class institutions and agencies.

Halifax has the potential to be better than average. Halifax can and should be great, but the question remains, will leadership, vision, action and money come in time? Will it come before the current batch of cultural leaders end up packing up and abandoning the city in frustration, and exhaustion? Time is running out.


Waye Mason is music and festival promoter, business consultant and activist in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


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  • Louisa Charlene Vacon (Montreal, QC) wrote
    at 10:49am on June 21st, 2007
    Ug.

    Any remorse that I feel about being away from the sublimely creative talents of Halifax is consistantly conterbalanced by precisely this: no one opens the doors for creative talent in Halifax.

    It’s not like that everywhere. Where I am now, people feel honoured – supported, even – to thrive in creativity. (I’m a film producer, among other things, in cultural boomtown Montreal.)

    What to do? Demand that cultural producers be treated with decency? Ick. And, that demand is getting old anyway.

    Halifax, are you becoming a dud?

    – Gone, sadly, with no plans to return
    Message – Delete

    Barry Rueger (Hamilton, ON) wrote
    at 10:57am on June 21st, 2007
    Although the grass always looks greener Waye, the reality is that no level of government in Canada really supports the Arts in the way that they should. Compared to their American counterparts our cultural organizations are surviving on a pittance.

    All of this of course comes back to to the globalized, profit driven, bottom line culture that took over our governments during the last quarter century – if you don’t have big audiences you are by definition unworthy of support.
    Message – Delete

    Dusty Keeler (no network) wrote
    at 11:02am on June 21st, 2007
    The arts may get more funding if more of the general population new about local events. I speak mostly about our two daily newspapers. They always have articles from the wire about the latest Maroon 5 record or who advanced or got cut on Survivor. Articles taking up space in our local papers about last night’s tv shows, that the interested have already seen, does nothing to advance the general population’s knowledge of the culture they live in.

    There is something going on every night in Halifax, but you’d be lucky to get a paragraph in the capsule column down the side of the page of the Chronicle-Herald.

    If more people new about the arts in Nova Scotia, they may turn out to support them and with numbers, the various levels of government may see them as viable investments rather isolated groups of people looking for hand outs.
    Message – Delete

    Waye Mason wrote
    at 11:18am on June 21st, 2007
    I know that Canada has a lot of issues, but in my travels I have become pretty convinced that HRM has country leading bad artistic planning. I hope it can be turned around, but 15 years of hitting your head against the wall… well it gets harder and harder!
    Delete

    Amy Fritz (Toronto, ON) wrote
    at 11:51am on June 21st, 2007
    Keep raising the alarm, Waye. Well written article – thanks for sharing.

    Sorry I missed you on your recent trip to T.O. I’ll be in Hali in September.

    Cheers.
    Message – Delete

    Cadence Macmichael wrote
    at 11:58am on June 21st, 2007
    thank you for expressing what i have not been so eloquent enough to say.
    Message – Delete

    Peter Rowan (no network) wrote
    at 2:22pm on June 21st, 2007
    And here I am writing you from Toronto. You know my experience. While there were lot’s of extenuating circumstances, I still feel that I was in part driven from Halifax. Despite EVERYTHING that Halifax had going on; unless “the usual suspects” could suckle the government teat, there was NO support. To this day when I think about all the press our music scene generated for Nova Scotia as a whole; it makes my blood boil. Imagine what 5 pages of ads in Vanity Fair would have cost if the province had had to buy the advertising? Despite great strides, through people like you who have stuck it out, NS is still an old boys club, with their heads so far up there asses, and there hands squeezing each other in a game of mutual pocket pool… anyways. Keep on Waye, and hopefully someday I could actual consider the possibility of coming home and working.
    Message – Delete

    Jessica Andrews (Montreal, QC) wrote
    at 4:24pm on June 21st, 2007
    Hi Waye,

    I’m writing to you from Montreal though as you know I have lived a long 30 years in Halifax, and I miss it a little every day.

    Here there are three quite healthy levels of government funding. That money contributes greatly to the very apt description Louisa gave of Montreal as a “cultural boomtown”. Indeed Quebec is the only province in Canada to actually have an official cultural policy and invests heavily therein. The province invests the same amount overall as all other provinces and territories (around $25 Million) in the visual arts sector.

    Money yes, but we also have great leadership in other areas of the community. The money must be used to generate a wide appreciation of the arts. This includes audience development by arts organizations (Musee d’Art Centomporain director Mark Mayer just dropped their membership fees to $10) and by the media (to Dusty’s point).
    Message – Delete

    Jessica Andrews (Montreal, QC) wrote
    at 4:24pm on June 21st, 2007
    CONTINUED…

    This development will leverage not only government funding (we hope, though in NS this is perhaps up for discussion given Peter’s point re: Vanity Fair) but also other forms of investment from private donations (you’re lucky you have the Fountains) to corporate investments (like Sobeys)…and maybe even BUYERS!

    What truly lies behind the challenge of investment is the idea that something is worth investing in. Although I was surrounded by wonderful creators and artists while I lived in Halifax, I had the constant (and very disturbing) awareness that their contributions were of little or no value to anyone outside of our family and circle of friends.

    Here, the big joke is that everyone is an artist, a musician or a writer…you feel a bit like a castoff if you aren’t…
    Message – Delete

    Fran Elkington wrote
    at 5:44pm on June 21st, 2007
    Excellently written.
    Message – Delete

  • Louisa Charlene Vacon (Montreal, QC) wrote
    at 10:49am on June 21st, 2007
    Ug.

    Any remorse that I feel about being away from the sublimely creative talents of Halifax is consistantly conterbalanced by precisely this: no one opens the doors for creative talent in Halifax.

    It’s not like that everywhere. Where I am now, people feel honoured – supported, even – to thrive in creativity. (I’m a film producer, among other things, in cultural boomtown Montreal.)

    What to do? Demand that cultural producers be treated with decency? Ick. And, that demand is getting old anyway.

    Halifax, are you becoming a dud?

    – Gone, sadly, with no plans to return
    Message – Delete

    Barry Rueger (Hamilton, ON) wrote
    at 10:57am on June 21st, 2007
    Although the grass always looks greener Waye, the reality is that no level of government in Canada really supports the Arts in the way that they should. Compared to their American counterparts our cultural organizations are surviving on a pittance.

    All of this of course comes back to to the globalized, profit driven, bottom line culture that took over our governments during the last quarter century – if you don’t have big audiences you are by definition unworthy of support.
    Message – Delete

    Dusty Keeler (no network) wrote
    at 11:02am on June 21st, 2007
    The arts may get more funding if more of the general population new about local events. I speak mostly about our two daily newspapers. They always have articles from the wire about the latest Maroon 5 record or who advanced or got cut on Survivor. Articles taking up space in our local papers about last night’s tv shows, that the interested have already seen, does nothing to advance the general population’s knowledge of the culture they live in.

    There is something going on every night in Halifax, but you’d be lucky to get a paragraph in the capsule column down the side of the page of the Chronicle-Herald.

    If more people new about the arts in Nova Scotia, they may turn out to support them and with numbers, the various levels of government may see them as viable investments rather isolated groups of people looking for hand outs.
    Message – Delete

    Waye Mason wrote
    at 11:18am on June 21st, 2007
    I know that Canada has a lot of issues, but in my travels I have become pretty convinced that HRM has country leading bad artistic planning. I hope it can be turned around, but 15 years of hitting your head against the wall… well it gets harder and harder!
    Delete

    Amy Fritz (Toronto, ON) wrote
    at 11:51am on June 21st, 2007
    Keep raising the alarm, Waye. Well written article – thanks for sharing.

    Sorry I missed you on your recent trip to T.O. I’ll be in Hali in September.

    Cheers.
    Message – Delete

    Cadence Macmichael wrote
    at 11:58am on June 21st, 2007
    thank you for expressing what i have not been so eloquent enough to say.
    Message – Delete

    Peter Rowan (no network) wrote
    at 2:22pm on June 21st, 2007
    And here I am writing you from Toronto. You know my experience. While there were lot’s of extenuating circumstances, I still feel that I was in part driven from Halifax. Despite EVERYTHING that Halifax had going on; unless “the usual suspects” could suckle the government teat, there was NO support. To this day when I think about all the press our music scene generated for Nova Scotia as a whole; it makes my blood boil. Imagine what 5 pages of ads in Vanity Fair would have cost if the province had had to buy the advertising? Despite great strides, through people like you who have stuck it out, NS is still an old boys club, with their heads so far up there asses, and there hands squeezing each other in a game of mutual pocket pool… anyways. Keep on Waye, and hopefully someday I could actual consider the possibility of coming home and working.
    Message – Delete

    Jessica Andrews (Montreal, QC) wrote
    at 4:24pm on June 21st, 2007
    Hi Waye,

    I’m writing to you from Montreal though as you know I have lived a long 30 years in Halifax, and I miss it a little every day.

    Here there are three quite healthy levels of government funding. That money contributes greatly to the very apt description Louisa gave of Montreal as a “cultural boomtown”. Indeed Quebec is the only province in Canada to actually have an official cultural policy and invests heavily therein. The province invests the same amount overall as all other provinces and territories (around $25 Million) in the visual arts sector.

    Money yes, but we also have great leadership in other areas of the community. The money must be used to generate a wide appreciation of the arts. This includes audience development by arts organizations (Musee d’Art Centomporain director Mark Mayer just dropped their membership fees to $10) and by the media (to Dusty’s point).
    Message – Delete

    Jessica Andrews (Montreal, QC) wrote
    at 4:24pm on June 21st, 2007
    CONTINUED…

    This development will leverage not only government funding (we hope, though in NS this is perhaps up for discussion given Peter’s point re: Vanity Fair) but also other forms of investment from private donations (you’re lucky you have the Fountains) to corporate investments (like Sobeys)…and maybe even BUYERS!

    What truly lies behind the challenge of investment is the idea that something is worth investing in. Although I was surrounded by wonderful creators and artists while I lived in Halifax, I had the constant (and very disturbing) awareness that their contributions were of little or no value to anyone outside of our family and circle of friends.

    Here, the big joke is that everyone is an artist, a musician or a writer…you feel a bit like a castoff if you aren’t…
    Message – Delete

    Fran Elkington wrote
    at 5:44pm on June 21st, 2007
    Excellently written.
    Message – Delete

  • More facebook comments:
    Charles Crosby (Dalhousie) wrote
    at 3:22pm
    Great post, Waye and truer words were never written; it’s bad here. And in my travels it’s been made very, very clear – we are the worst in the country.
    Message – Delete

  • More facebook comments:
    Charles Crosby (Dalhousie) wrote
    at 3:22pm
    Great post, Waye and truer words were never written; it’s bad here. And in my travels it’s been made very, very clear – we are the worst in the country.
    Message – Delete

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