The rules of the game are simple. There is a pile of wooden sticks in the centre of the table. Players take it in turns to gingerly remove one stick at a time. As long as the pile remains static, the player can attempt another; as soon as sticks begin to slip, the next player takes over. At times it seems as though our leaders are sadistically enjoying a similar game. Players from municipal, provincial, and federal governments sit around the table. Methodically, they take turns in making their move: remove funding here, reduce a budget allocation there. As long as no movement is discerned in the fragile cultural sector that they are gradually dismembering, they can continue. At the end of the game, the table will be empty. Who wrote the rules of this game and why do we accept them? Perhaps it is too late in the game to pose this question.
Cuts make the country better takes this idea as its point of departure. Far from advocating the status quo, the project takes issue with the current conditions in the arts. What type of financing is needed to foster development in the arts and to ensure that their basic purpose is fulfilled? And, importantly: what is the basic purpose of art?
These issues will be actively explored between the walls of articule for the duration of the exhibition. Videos and documents will be supplemented with special screenings, the publication of a magazine, formalized exchanges, and ad hoc meetings. These tactics and strategies are intended to foster discussion around themes such as the conditions under which artists practice, individual and collective career paths, and the autonomy of art. It is important to state that the occupation of the exhibition space will not be an end in itself. It will not be used to present the results of an artist-led inquiry for public consumption after the fact. On the contrary, it will form part of a longer process that will take place over time across several spaces, and to which we are invited to actively contribute. Through its method, this experimental and process-based event will affirm the importance of turning the mirror on oneself. While some rules are imposed from the outside, we have to admit that others are also set in place and perpetuated from within. We must question our usual ways of doing things and the limits we impose on ourselves.
To kick start the process, Edith Brunette and François Lemieux made video recordings in the autumn of 2014 of a series of interviews with artists and cultural producers from the Netherlands. We owe the statement “cuts make the country better” to the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, whose coalition government has made no bones about introducing austerity measures. In 2011, drastic cuts to the arts and culture sector were announced, forcing numerous organizations to revise their ways of working, to the extent that some were forced to close altogether. The budget for creative arts grants was reduced by half, as was funding for the Mondriaan Foundation, an important funding body whose mandate is to support and promote Dutch artistic production both locally and internationally. The lack of organization within the cultural sector has been made sadly apparent. There is widespread agreement on the need to act, but a lack of consensus regarding how to proceed.
The point of this exhibition is to examine the conditions under which the arts exist through active discussion between stakeholders in the art worlds of Canada and the Netherlands. To question the rules that determine our relationships with government institutions, as well as the internal rules that, though often reassuring, keep us from acting both individually and collectively time and time again, could prove to be essential in assuring the survival of our milieu. It won’t be easy but it seems the time has come to stop playing defensively, go into active mode and impose our own style of play.
Text by Josianne Poirier
Translation: Sarah Knight