In January 2018 Canada will witness something that we as a nation, don’t get to see enough. Next January the first Scotiabank New Generation Photography Awards for photographers under 30, will be announced and a total of $30,000 will be awarded to three recipients.
It has long been noted that Canada is short of the kind of philan-thropists who keep the art world humming in excitement and help encourage new artists to emerge. Mind you we do have some big ones in the background, Lord Beaverbrook and his museum in Fredericton is a fine historical example of Canadian philanthropy and for modern times there are very few around the world that can match Ken Thomson’s gift of 2,000 pieces of art to the Art Gallery of Ontario. That being said Canada still does not have enough patrons of the arts in an old fashioned sense. While it’s true that $30,000 split three ways doesn’t go very far these days the prize also carries with it a variety of other perks that should brighten up any aspiring artist’s resume. Each winner gets $10,000 and an exhibition of their work at the National Gallery’s Canadian Photography Institute.
It is not every artist under 30 who can claim to have exhibited at the National Gallery. They will also receive mentorship from the National Gallery of Canada’s curators and production staff. In one way or another art is an industry This can easily be seen if you bother to look at the situation with a clear head. Art from renaissance Italy often bears the inscription “By the School of……”
Those attending “the School of,” were usually apprentice painters who learned on the job and were used to fill in the backgrounds of all those very large paintings which we all love so much and which are worth millions and millions of dollars. If the above doesn’t describe a guild or non-union work force I’m not sure what does? And the practice hasn’t died out. In modern times we have Andy Warhol and The Factory. And then there is Damien Hirst, the richest artist living in England whose fortune has been valued at 215 million pounds in 2010, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. Like a renaissance painter Hirst employs assistants to do some of his work. Some politicians, of course, prefer to think of art as some sort of hobby that doesn’t generate anything other than dreams which they usually find distasteful because they can’t see what investors might call the value proposition. They can’t see any net benefits stemming from either the creation or the consumption of art in all its forms.
This lack of vision is a real financial handicap on both Canada and Canadian artists. For the year 2007, the Conference Board of Canada estimated that the annual contribution of the Canadian arts and culture industry hit 7.4% of real gross domestic production. That number may sound inconsequential but it is more than those slightly more recognized industries of mining, forestry and fisheries and the Canadian Armed Forces, combined. Dollar figures for the arts are difficult to come by but here is a vague hint as far as monetary value goes. In 2015 the Canadian government conducted a study on how much Inuit visual and performing arts as well as film and writing contributed to the Canadian economy and the total rang the bell at $87.2 million. It seems to me that most casual observers will remember bail-outs to the industries listed above. With the on-again, off-again softwood lumber dispute now definitely on-again, that industry is now being supported by Ottawa. You can probably guess where this is going and you are right. Why aren’t the arts ever given subsidies that work for both the artist and the art buying public. Yes it is true, most museums are supported to a large degree by one level of government or ano-ther but artists usually aren’t unless they are lucky enough to re-ceive a Canada Council grant or money from a provincial arts body. In honour of the Canadian sesquicentennial, here are one or two ideas that just might help discover the next Tom Thomson or Jean-Paul Riopelle. Take taxes off of artists’ materials, across the board. Creating art has so many positive benefits, including mental health ones, that the materials used to create it should be as cheap as possible. Showcase Canadian talent across the world in order to create a more vibrant market for a vital Canadian export. This is already being done from time to time but it should be done more frequently. I’ve been told that in Quebec the average working lifespan, or should I say selling lifespan, of a professional artist is seven years. In other words it takes seven years for an artist who has adequate gallery representation to sell out the market. Presumably the situation is the same in other provinces. It might not be a bad idea to put in place some form of national network that would see artist A from Quebec exhibiting in Nova Scotia or the Yukon, right across Canada.
Finally, if you like art, encourage the industry by going out and buying some. Noel Meyer