Supporting the Arts means actually going to see stuff
The following is an op-ed written by Neil McArthur, associate professor of philosophy and director of U of M’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics.
I often have conversations with my friends and colleagues in which I hear them argue passionately that government needs to support the arts, or in which they lament the steady stream of cutbacks to arts funding. I also see in my Facebook feed links to articles friends have posted about the crucial role the arts play in society. I agree with all of this, passionately. But, in demanding that taxpayers give money to arts groups, too often we are asking them to do something we’re not prepared to do ourselves.
I’d like to make a radical suggestion. If you want to support the arts, don’t just talk about their importance, or get upset when the government cuts back on funding them. Go out and see stuff.
Let me be more specific. Everyone at the University of Manitoba who supports public funding for the arts should pledge to attend two ticketed cultural events per month, the kind you actually pay for, effective immediately. Winnipeg has lots to choose from. There is music, theatre, dance, a thriving local film community whose members frequently screen their work, as well as a large number of wonderful art galleries. Mix it up. Attend shows not just by the big players like the Royal Winnipeg Ballet or the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, though both do excellent work, but also by local independent groups like NAfro Dance Productions or the Snakeskin Jacket Theatre Company.
Few excuses, many reasons
As members of the University of Manitoba community, we are uniquely well positioned to boost attendance in the local arts scene. Most professor and administrators have good salaries, while students can take advantage of student discounts. The cost of tickets is often very low in any case, the equivalent of two or three trips to Starbuck’s, and some shows offer pay-what-you can performances as well. Many of the productions deal with themes that are relevant to our teaching and research, and give us insight into the real-world impact of issues that we often just study in the abstract. The university has numerous faculty, students and alumni who are actively involved in the productions. For instance, this month Snakeskin Jacket is putting on “The Flick”, a play directed by University of Manitoba professor George Toles, with several U of M alumni also involved. By going out to see shows like that, we are supporting our colleagues and strengthening the university’s arts training, as well as helping the arts scene in general.
Have children? Even better. You get an excuse to hire a babysitter, which puts some money in the pocket of a deserving young person, and it gives you a night off from parenting. If you are travelling or you are too busy one month to make your quota, not to worry. Winnipeg has festivals, like the Fringe and the New Music Festival, with multiple shows in a short period to let you make up for it if there’s ever a month or two you come up short. With so much choice, you should have no trouble making two dozen shows in a year.
If everyone at the University of Manitoba did this, there would be three results. All three are good. First, we’d all get to see more stuff. Second, there would be more stuff to see, as the local arts scene took advantage of the increased attendance to put on more, and more ambitious productions. Third, it would give us all something to talk about besides just school. Yes, that article you’re working on is interesting, but your friends and family will be happy to hear about something else for a change, trust me.
Someone might worry that the surge in attendance will give just governments an excuse to cut funding further, since they can say the local arts scene no longer needs it. I believe in fact the opposite will be the case. By showing them that they are supporting a thriving and popular local arts scene, politicians will see that public funds are being well spent, and that boosting such funds can boost their standing with voters.
There is a saying that is popular right now: you’ve got to have skin in the game. I don’t know what it refers to. It sounds kind of gross. But I think it applies here. If we want government to support our local artists, we need to put our skin in the game, or at least our butts in the seats. Twice a month. Starting now.