When Will Canada Emerge As the New Frontier for Social Art?
Canada’s long history has been characterized by profound moments of historical as well as literary importance, making waves with the rest of the world while seemingly gazing from the sidelines. Despite the contributions of non-radical yet revolutionary new collaborations such as the Group of Seven and the vibrant work of Jean-Paul Riopelle, Canada is often under-valued as an innovative resource when it comes to the arts, with a rich cultural legacy stemming from the Maritimes to the Arctic and the picturesque West Coast. But when will Canada finally be recognized for its unique and definitive contributions to the arts world, and lead its own movement in social art?
The answer is now, with energetic campaigns from coast to coast beating a new drum which isn’t about to be silenced by the authorities. From First Nations activists and the Raincoast Conservation movement to the anti-fracking protesters and the passionate outcriers against Quebec’s recent extreme language laws, despite its political landscape, Canada’s people are emerging as powerful as ever.
Unafraid to Reinvent
Montreal, Quebec is a beloved anomaly. With a mixture of francophone, anglophone, and a multitude of other nationalities, it is in some ways what Canada is all about – diversity and harmony. Quebec itself, once branded as resiliently anti-Canadian, dropped its own Parti Quebecois in favour of the New Democratic Party and their more “up to date” principles, while the rest of the country resigned itself to another long run with the Conservatives. And each year, several festivals commence – among them the International Jazz Festival – which draw in some of the largest numbers of the world. And usually every few years, there are large demonstrations worthy of making national television. Like many Canadians, Montrealers care about what makes Canada a little bit different from the rest of the world – and they aren’t afraid to change so that the core values of what they believe in stay the same. Canada is the country where Greenpeace emerged, Cirque du Soleil flourished, where Margaret Atwood rose to fame, where Leonard Cohen composed his first laments, and where Haida artisans created some of the most architecturally progressive structures of their time. It is a country whose artists have risen up amid the chaos to create landmarks in the national and international artscape.
Canada for the Future
As further controversy around topical political issues build, Canada’s voice will grow ever stronger. Even among the smaller communities, not only have an increasing number of festivals expanded to bring exposure to rising artists and post-secondary institutions further diversified their arts programs, but the arts is playing an ever more poignant role in the health of the community heart itself.
With outreach programs developed with the assistance of arts-based intervention programs and art therapy to help people from a variety of circumstances who are facing challenges, art is gaining recognition with personal as well as social merit. Communities are embracing the use of art as outreach, which helps to deal with cultural displacement and identity, as well as form an active part of the healing process for sufferers of drug and alcohol addictions – even incorporating arts programs into rehabilitation techniques. People who have suffered with these afflictions have found that art provides a mode of expression to communicate feelings which cannot be manifested by words, and that the creative process encourages a catharsis through which they can come to terms with their inner struggle as well as use as a method of escapism. Addicts have found the act of creating an artwork liberating and empowering, and rehab clinics and galleries have even showcased exhibitions featuring some of their work as a way to encourage more community involvement.
And now more than ever, the freedom of the creative voice is high – regardless of background, particularly with the spread of social media networking where artists can share their art democratically without the confines of institutions to hold them back, art is the most universal that it ever has been in its history.
How will Canada use this to put itself ahead internationally in the arts world? Canada’s eclectic repertoire of art, music, film, and dance – from the talent of Denys Arcand to the uprising of artists from Pacific coast – is garnering it extra attention in galleries, festivals, and theatrical events worldwide. The younger generation of artists, both second and third generations and immigrants who make up the colourful mosaic which has become representative of Canada, have learned to live in a society where voices are stronger and differences are celebrated. Without the confines of establishment which has to some extent stifled the national creativity of other identities, Canada has the rare opportunity to experiment more freely than ever, forging an identity which is provocative, challenging, and unnerving in the art world.
Most importantly, as topical issues such as climate change drive an even greater response from the First Nations community who, through art, can regain their voice – then it will be Canadian art which begins the next art Renaissance.
*** Ghost Written by a friend who cares about the arts ;)***