Saturday, June 26, 2010

What's His Role?

Alberta’s Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett’s blunt assessment of Alberta’s film and television industries pulled no punches. Speaking at the Banff World Television Festival he said, "I sit here as a government representative for film and television in the province of Alberta and I look at what we produce, and if we're honest with ourselves ... I look at it and say, 'Why do I produce so much sh**t? Why do I fund so much crap?”
Those remarks received a lot of media attention. Most film and industry leaders agreed that the remarks were ill timed and delivered in a venue that embarrassed Alberta’s cultural community.
Yet his remarks raise a bigger question. Are his comments accurate? Is Alberta’s film industry producing “crap”? And if so, what does “non-crap” look like?
These are important questions for Alberta’s creative community to consider. Is it the role of the creative to produce work that makes folks feel comfortable and appeals to a broad spectrum of people; or is it to push the edges as it portrays the realities of life? Is it appropriate for government ministers providing funding for the arts to bluntly criticize the work of Alberta’s creatives? Should he or she who pays the piper call the tune?
The reality is that the creative's role in the restaurant of community living is to provide both comfort food and new-age cuisine. There will always be those who produce mainstream art that the masses enjoy, and there will be those that tweak and twang our sensibilities and sensitivities. What often gets forgotten is that yesterday’s radical- hello Wolfie Mozart- often becomes tomorrow’s Old Master.
Where the cheese gets binding is when public money funds the arts. Expecting a politician not to pander to his base is akin to expecting a dog not to chase rabbits- to a point.
That point comes when the politician becomes a cabinet minister. Cabinet ministers should be local, national, and international champions for the communities of interest in their portfolios.
Being a champion means that the minister does not publicly trash the efforts of the communities of interest represented in his / her portfolio. Should Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden speak to the International Beef Congress and say that Alberta’s beef mostly sucks? What if Tourism Minister Cindy Ady told a panel discussion on Canadian tourist destinations that Banff and Jasper were highly overrated?
Do you get my drift? The problem here is not the quality of Alberta’s film and television output. That industry is doing what the creative process and its’ marketplace always does- provide both a reflective and visionary perspective on our life and times. Perhaps the problem is simply that the Minister needs reminding that he’s not the television and film critic for the Calgary Sun.