Senate Canadian Craft Federation Agm: Halifax

Identity: Artists, The Senate & Canada

October 14, 2018

The Honorable Senator Patricia Bovey:

Thank you!

It is a real honour for me to be with you today, and I thank you for the invitation to address you. It is truly an honor to be among you, the artists of Canada who give us the realities of our country, and who express our joys and visions for the future. I thank you. The importance of your work, and the profile of Canada you demonstrate to the global world, is truly significant. The expression of Canada's artists is magnificent. Our history is rich and remarkable. All of this is important for all Canadian society and for all Canadians. So, thank you again. It is very important that you continue our work.

Arts and culture are alive in the Senate of Canada as well, and I will talk about some recent initiatives.

I very much respect, enjoy, and need, my engagement with Canada’s artists of all disciplines. The studios of visual artists across this country inspire and ground me as you individually and collectively connect with audiences and citizens across the country through your international language.   

The depth, range and quality of art that is being created by artists in every part of this country, engaging and inspiring audiences of changing demographics, diverse backgrounds and ages is exciting. Artists reflect, challenge, question and present social issues with the valid expectation of healthy and honest engagement and dialogue. Your expression in your unique visual voices are critically vital windows and keystones for Canada and for Canadians at home and audiences abroad. As members of the Craft Association you use your choices of media, traditional craft materials, in innovative ways. Your messages are strong. Your visual expressions of your ideas, concepts, reflections on issues, place, self, the outward appearances of things around you and the inward inscapes, are so important.

I know I need not tell you that Art is integral to every aspect of society. It portrays humanity, defines who we are, and our regional and societal concerns, past, present and future. Through your art you engage people of all diversities and ages with your acute insights as you are not afraid to articulate society’s critical and troubling issues, while portraying the beauty, and fragility of the environment around us. You also often suggest resolutions to contemporary issues.

People understand human stories. You tell those human stories in the international language of the visual arts. As craft artists you do that using everyday materials, clay, glass, wood, metal and textiles, and frequently, poignantly, by using everyday things as your core imagery - shoes, clothes, hangers, food, animals and more, as you will see in the images that I will show you shortly. That use of the everyday makes the power of your message particularly strong.

The Prime Minister said last fall:

“Canadians have world-class content creators and creative industries and we know that investing in them and supporting our creators is the best way to ensure that Canadians hear our stories [and] people around the world hear stories Canadians have to tell.”

Today I want to do several things in the time we have.

First, I want to celebrate the work of Canada’s artists who work in craft materials. In a moment you will see images behind me of work by major Canadian artists, all of whom work with craft materials and their innovations have taken these media to new levels of excellence. They are those who have received many honours, honorary degrees, financial prizes and awards including the Saidye Bronfman Award, the Governor General’s Award in the Visual arts, the Order of Canada and/or Provincial orders; those who have and do teach in art schools and faculties across Canada; those who have had many residencies and exhibitions in public galleries across Canada and internationally; as well as those who have received public and private commissions and won architectural competitions at home and away. All have addressed who we are, our values, and the positives and the problems we face as a country.

I am not going to talk about each of these artists, or any particular work, but I will be happy to respond to any questions you many have about what I say, or about these works. I am sure you all will agree with me that each one of these artists whose work you will see on the screen are truly important Canadian artists.

I also want to underline that there are certainly many others whose work should be up here too, but our available time alas forced me to cut my proclivities to show more!

Secondly, I have been asked to talk about what I, or we, in the Senate are doing in regard to the visual arts in Canada. I can honestly tell you right now there is a great deal.  So, what are the connectors between my Senate role and my decades in the visual arts and culture sector? There are many commonalities. Both involve the presentation of multiple viewpoints, vision, and national and international concerns, issues, scholarship, and information. Both give voice to those who may not otherwise have the opportunity to be heard in our exhibitions and in the work of the Senate itself. Both strive to give hope.  Both share similar ethical considerations.

I believe I am the first art historian and museologist in the Senate’s 150-year history and as such I am well aware of my daunting responsibility to ensure artists are at the forefront of all our discussions. When the Prime Minister called to appoint me to the Chamber he made it very clear that I was to be independent, that I was to work on everything, assist in improving legislation, and to do it all “through the lens of arts and culture.” That is my mantra!

In addition to reviewing legislation and forwarding amendments, the Senate undertakes special studies on issues and matters of national importance. Our duty as senators is to bring the voices of Canadians to the floor of the Senate, particularly those who do not have the opportunity to do so themselves. I am doing that, as I was mandated, through the lens of arts and culture.  

So how? Firstly, I believe the arts are society’s glue, affecting each of the eight key issues we deal with year in and year out. We must ensure that glue is strong. ‘Silo-ing’ the arts as has happened over the past few years does not work and does not address our wider societal challenges.  Sidelining or ghettoizing is absolutely counter-productive to creativity, reality and growth. Thus, I believe we must ensure the arts are in their rightful place, at the centre of civil society, and we must do what we can to enable this critical connection to the whole of who we are as a country. That is my overall goal as a member of the Senate of Canada – a truly humbling honour, and hence my title today: IDENTITY: ARTISTS, THE SENATE & CANADA.

 Though my work as an art historian, curator, gallery director, university professor and consultant has primarily been in the west over these past 5 decades, I have sat on a number of national boards, committees and task forces. When the Senate is not in session I continue to visit studios and write about the visual arts with three projects underway in particular. My book Don Proch: Masking and Mapping WILL come out next March; the exhibition and catalogue Myfanwy Pavelic: Mirrored Selves Within and Without will open in Victoria next May; and my larger longer term book, Impacts and Turning Points: The Western Voice in Canadian Art, which will include much of the material you see on the screen, is still in the writing stage –  I cannot commit to a publication date!   

Back to the arts and society. In my view, Society as a whole, including many politicians and business leaders, still lacks the true understanding of the very significant impact of the arts across all aspects of contemporary society. Our metrics for measuring impacts and meaning of the arts are far too narrow, and they are looked at in far too short a timeframe. My research over the past ten or fifteen years has been focused on the societal concerns defined by politicians of all stripes and all levels of government and the role, or roles, the arts play in each. That led me to developing my Octopus– the eight tentacles representing the key 8 issues. My research, both empirical and anecdotal, has shown unequivocally that the arts are essential in solving, or even working on, each of these. As John Ralston Saul said: “Culture is the motor of any successful society.” The eight tentacles?

The first is Jobs and Job Creation: the arts are the third largest employer in Canada, 3.3% of our workforce, double the number in forestry, and more than double the number in banks. 609,000 work in the cultural sector; 135,000 in the automobile industry. The second is the economy where the arts industries contribute about 7.4% of the country’s GDP, and pays in taxes MORE THAN 3 times the $7.9Billion governments paid directly on culture in 2007.

The third, health, is equally compelling – International studies have proven that people who engage in the live arts live longer – on average 2 years & with better health; They cost the health system less and they tend to be discharged from hospital one or two days earlier after elective surgery. They also miss less work.

Regarding education, again multiple studies have proven that the arts in school and extra curricularlly improve educational outcomes at all levels. Likewise, with crime prevention the statistics are overwhelming particularly where professional artists work with youth. Rural revival is my sixth tentacle where the arts have had a positive impact and one can cite examples in many like Powell River or Arora where the arts have given new life and business to shrinking communities. As for the environment, artists have drawn attention to issues of pollution, acid rain, desecration and more and have been and are actively engaged in these critical issues. Lastly, but certainly equally important is tourism where the contribution of the arts is truly significant – in some of Canada’s centres accounting for more than 22% of all hotel bookings.

Our collective challenge? We need more voices to convey that reality of the place of the arts throughout society and of the importance of artists in every endeavour. I am pleased to say that I am seeing evidence that these voices are growing within the Chamber.

What is the Senate doing? I am really delighted that the Foreign Affairs Committee accepted my request to undertake a significant study on Cultural Diplomacy, the need for which I spoke about at the National Gallery’s 2017 Summit, “Canada Art & the World”. That study is currently underway. The testimony we have heard has been strong, underlining the importance of culture on the foreign stage as a means of strengthening the profile of Canada abroad.

Cultural Diplomacy also been presented to our committee as a means of building trust for international negotiations and collaborations, and as a builder for economic trade and growth. A Report and Recommendations of our committee’s findings will be presented to the Senate as a whole, and the Government must respond to our recommendations and observations. This work on this WILL go beyond the Senate Chamber itself.

The role of Cultural Diplomacy has been much studied and written about in recent years, particularly its integral importance to international trade and foreign relations.  As the UK’s Cultural Diplomacy: Report of 2007, by Kirsten Bound, Rachel Briggs, John Holden, and Samuel Jones, argued

today, more than ever before, culture has a vital role to play in international relations. … culture is both the means by which we come to understand others, and an aspect of life with innate worth that we enjoy and seek out. Cultural exchange gives us the chance to appreciate points of commonality and, where there are differences, to understand the motivations and humanity that underlie them. … these attributes make culture a critical forum for negotiation and a medium of exchange in finding shared solutions. … The value of cultural activity comes precisely from its independence, its freedom and the fact that it represents and connects people. 

Our Foreign Affairs Committee is looking at the issue, its impacts and benefits, from a 360-degree perspective – the artist, arts organizations, foreign trade and trade missions, business, Canada’s profile, Canadian embassies, and, comparatively, what is being done elsewhere. We have heard from Canadian and foreign diplomats; funding agencies at home and from elsewhere around the globe; artists of all disciplines; educators and academics; arts organizations, business; Global Affairs staff, Canada Council staff and those from the Department of Canadian Heritage. All the testimonies are accessible on line; the hearings are public, and I commend them to you. It is clear from what we have heard thus far that Canada’s leading international role is significantly enhanced by the work of artists in all disciplines, their connecting of many international dimensions, defining our national values and underlining Canada’s profile abroad, both economic and social. We have heard how Canada’s business overseas increases with cultural understanding.

Witnesses have also underlined the critical need for support to enable artists to take their work and knowledge of Canada abroad. We know the very impressive results of Canada’s former Trade Routes Program, its tangible economic benefits and more. It has been made clear to us that we must retool our cultural diplomacy approaches. As Simon Brault said last December, “we are ten years behind where we were and where could be as a result of the cuts by former governments”. My sincere hope is that Culture will again be a strong aspect of Canada’s Foreign Policy, with Cultural Attaches, or those with arts understanding and knowledge in all Canadian Embassies, giving greater presence to Canadian art in our embassies, like Canada House, and in other centres and galleries.

I hope too that Canadian artists and arts organizations will again be part of all international trade missions.

I am heartened by the Creative Export Strategy announced by the Department of Heritage late last June. The strategy is aimed to help Canada’s creative industries open up opportunities in new markets around the world. The budget of $125 million is to support three key pillars: the first is to Boost export funding in existing Canadian Heritage programs; the second is to increase and strengthen the presence of Canadian creative industries abroad; and the third to create a new creative export funding program and build the relationships needed to make business deals. The first grant run has concluded and that while it is clear the monies fall far short of the demand as seen in that first grant run, it is a good start.  The program is for for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and also Indigenous band councils, tribal councils, or other Indigenous governments or organizations (First Nations, Inuit or Métis). It is open to all media including design. The next deadline is November 16th.

All this was also made equally clear in the discussions I was part of in France and Latvia last year with the Speaker of the Senate and again at last month’s Arctic Circle Conference in Northern Finland. At that international conference language and culture were put forward as critically important for indigenous peoples around the Arctic Circle. Culture is essential in all our international relationships and I hope more will be even more so in the next few years. It is really exciting to see the work of Canadian artists abroad as I have in recent months at Canada House, London.

The work of Canada House, as with our Embassy in Paris, with Canada’s arts and culture is impressive, as is the installation of art from every Province and Territory, including some of the artists you are seeing on the screen.

My antennae are also focused on the place of arts, culture, intellectual property and copyright in each of our trade negotiations. They are included in the new USMCA agreement and I was pleased that the government was been strong in insisting on the protection of Canada’s culture in the negotiations. Intellectual property was also included in the recently concluded CETA agreement with Europe and in the more recent CPTPP with Pacific nations. I affirmed my focus on this issue in my discussions ten days ago with Omar Alghabra, Parliamentary Secretary to the Honourable Jim Carr Minister of International Trade, as I have with the Minister himself. The Minister by the way is not a stranger to the arts. In addition to his business career he is a musician who once played with the Winnipeg Symphony and a former CEO of the Manitoba Arts Council.

On another arts front in the Senate, I am pleased to confirm that the Senate passed the Visual Artists Laureate Bill, originally introduced by Senator Willy Moore, and which I sponsored after his retirement. This Bill is now in the House of Commons for their deliberation and passed First Reading before the summer break. The role of the Visual Artist Laureate will be akin to that of the Poet Laureate, the Artist Laureate to portray the work of Parliament Hill in their choice of media. A competitive process every two years, adjudicated by a peer jury, the artist will be appointed by the Speakers of the Senate and House of Commons.

I hope this international visual language will bring the work of parliamentarians to Canadians of all ages and diversities. The support cross country is overwhelmingly positive. George Elliott Clarke, former Parliamentary Poet Laureate, wrote a poem for me to quote in the Chamber when I presented the bill:

The blank page—the blank canvas is—

Undeniably delicious—

Like fog, which obscures, then reveals—

What Hope imminently congeals—

A fantastic architecture—

Imagination born secure:

What Vision—the I of the eye—

Had dreamt, is What answering Why. …

Rainbows erupt from paint of ink—

And film sculptures light—in a blink:

A needle, weaving, is lyric,

And whatever is shaped is epic.

Art’s each I articulate,

Whose vision ordains a laureate.

First Nations Reconciliation through the arts is also at the forefront of Senate discussions. In speaking in the Chamber last Spring on issues of Reconciliation, or Reconciliaction, as I prefer to call it, I turned to the work of Canada’s artists.

Artists have the insights and vision to see and express societal crises long before the rest of society recognizes them, and Canada’s Indigenous artists’ work has been particularly poignant on a number of issues. Joane Cardinal-Schubert’s 1990s art installation The Lesson, for instance, a gutsy, clairvoyant and important clarion call to understanding and redress, predated the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Faye Heavysheild’s 1985 work Sisters, its gold, pointed shoes in a circle, its toes pointing outwards drew attention to the issues of Murdered and Missing Women how long before the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Women and Girls was established?

Many Canadian artists, as seen in the images flowing by you, viscerally bring critical issues to the fore, long before they are topics in the contemporary lexicon of issues with which we must deal. Trace, for example, is Rebecca Belmore’s compelling work commissioned by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A ‘blanket’, it hangs through the multi stories in the middle of the building as a towel does on the back of a bathroom door. The hand-formed beads of Red River clay, were fashioned by people of all ages and diversities who participated in her many public workshops held throughout Winnipeg. The meanings of Trace are multiple, as is its process of creation. The ‘blanket’ aptly refers to the HBC blankets which spread small pox through so many First Nations communities, virtually wiping out thousands of people. The hundreds of people who took part in making the beads signify those thousands lost in the epidemic. On the other hand, a ‘blanket’, when wrapped around us, signifies warmth, while the imagery of the towel on the bathroom door evokes cleansing. Its title, Trace, refers to past wiping of this part of history.

The upcoming Copyright and Cultural Property Export Import Review Act revisions, for which hearings at the House of Commons Heritage Committee are underway, are also issues I monitor regularly. I have been assured that Artists’ Resale Rights are part of that review and now understand that the issue has been brought before the House of Commons Finance Committee, and I can attest to the fact that it was brought up by the Indigenous Curators Collective in their testimony to the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Other countries recognize Resale Rights leaving Canada behind.

The development of a National Portrait Gallery, a Gallery of Canadian Identity, is likewise on my front burner having support from over 80% of senators. I am encouraged by the interest and support of the arts from every corner of the Senate. That project’s steering committee meets regularly and has raised sufficient funds to undertake a feasibility study about to be commenced. I am involved, and a year ago summer received a letter from the Prime Minister confirming his interest that the work and discussion continue.

Another important recent Senate initiative is the establishment of the Special Committee on the Arctic, of which I am Deputy Chair. This committee is mandated to assess and address issues for artists, as well as sovereignty, security, climate change, social issues of housing and health, digital infrastructure, education, mining, oil, language and more.  Last month our committee toured the Arctic from Kuujuuaq in Nunavit, to Iqaluit, Baker Lake, Meadow Bank and Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, and to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, and Whitehorse in the Yukon. In each community I saw galleries or installations and in each I asked about the artists’ success rate in the recent Canada Council grant run. I am concerned that with no internet in so many of these communities that artists could not apply. I am now analyzing the response.

En parlent des situations des artistes, mon collègue, Senator Cormier a décrit le décembre dernier que la situation entière pour les artistes est précaire et l’un de “feast and famine” d’emploi et de la revenue. Je suis d'accord avec son évaluation complètement. Donc, je veux parler maintenant de leurs conditions de travail et de la situation des autochtones.  Art being made and presented in all media in Canada today is exciting, honest and embracing in and of a society, with some regions perhaps being more adventuresome with new ideas and technologies than others. But all are reflective of their community, or regional, or national concerns, or as with the work of Ed Burtynsky, international concerns of huge proportion. My concern is about the still exiting difficult challenges for artists – a major one being that of funding, despite the infusion of monies into the Canada Council. I hope that at the conclusion of the first year or so of the new program we will be able to assess its reach and impact to artists working in all media, and that it will prove to be equitable in access and success in all parts of the country and for artists of every cultural diversity.  Lack of infrastructure monies for the arts is another concern, perhaps more problematic in some parts of the country than others. In this I include creation, presentation and engagement spaces. Many are sorely in need of upgrading having been built 50 years ago for Canada’s centennial.  Appropriate and flexible creation and exhibition spaces are imperative for artists. Also, without appropriate funding for galleries and publishers work cannot be presented and published as it should be. Hard copy exhibition catalogues are still critically important.  Issues of artists’ rights and studio availability are likewise paramount.

Today’s diversity of creators’ backgrounds now calls into question Canada’s long-held definitions of what a professional artist IS. Is it tied to training or ‘formal’ education credentials? Or, the amount of their income derived from their art? Or, the number of exhibitions an artist has had and in what kinds of spaces with what kind of governance?  Should we, or can we not be more creative in that definition in order to properly reflect the creative energy and output today?

In 2008, the Conference Board of Canada concluded:

The health of that culture economy, and therefore the future economic health of Canada, depends on having a large and diverse pool of professional artists at the very heart of the economy.

You can understand why I worry about the continuing trend of income for artists and their working conditions. I am sure you are aware that:

  • Canadian artists earn 39% less than the overall labour force average
  • Sadly, 15% of artists either have no earnings or lose money on their self-employment activities; 27% earn less than $10,000, and 18% earn between $10,000 and $19,999.
  • The number of Artists with a BA or higher is nearly double that of the whole workforce, 44% versus 25%, and on average, they earn 55% less than other workers with the same education level
  • Women artists earn 31% less than their male counterparts.

By the way, the 2010 poverty line was measured at $22,133. This is not a pretty picture of fairness and equality. We MUST, as a society, find a way for artists’ work to be counted as regular employment with relevant benefits. I will do my best to assist with these needs.

Then there is the issue of working conditions. Having been in and out of studios in all parts of this country since 1970, I fear we are no further ahead than we were then. In fact, we may well be worse off given the cost of real-estate, rents and the gentrification of areas in our cities which once were ‘studio districts’. Given the lack of a secure income, I fear even well-known artists are forced to live in the studios where they work. With the threat of contravening permits and building codes, they continually watch out for ‘the authorities’ who might turf them out. To where?

Even in the last five years I have been in studios with non-functioning or no elevators, with stairs as the only means of entrance and egress – sometimes eight or nine flights! Often the most affordable spaces are in buildings slated for demolition. A number of eminent artists have told me that despite that, rents are increased without improved services.

Compounding dubious working conditions and low-income levels are serious residual health issues. Today while there are safety check lists and warnings about materials, many artists remain unaware of the inherent dangers of their materials or work places, or if they are, do not have the means to address them. I have often spoken of health hazards, such as styrene poisoning, lung disease from dust, working with chemicals for printmaking in kitchens used for meal preparation – the list goes on. We need to find ways to redress these situations.

I also wonder why in recent years a number of directors for major arts organizations, including museums and galleries, came from outside Canada. I don't doubt their ability, but do contend the required talent resides among Canadians. I am watching upcoming appointments. Will the next director of the National Gallery of Canada be a Canadian, with knowledge of Canadian art? I certainly hope so. I will bird-dog this competition to the best of my ability.

But I have to ask, are we giving our up-and-coming arts leaders sufficient experience in deputy roles? Do we lack confidence in our training programs? Are we not willing to take risks with our own? To have that “large and diverse pool of professional artists at the very heart of the economy” as the Conference Board cited, we must develop and steward our talent.

So, let me tell you briefly about the Senate art collection, obviously of interest to me given my background. It is significant and includes portraits of all the Speakers of the Senate, most painted by major Canadian artists, though few of them by women; works of French and English royalty, some Canadian landscapes and a growing number of Indigenous and Inuit two and three-dimensional works, as well as historical furniture and sculpture. With the closing of Centre Block at the end of this year for earthquake upgrades and asbestos removal and other specific renovations, the collection will be moved. Much of it will be installed in the Senate’s new ten-year temporary quarters, the old Ottawa Station and Conference Centre across from the Chateau Laurier Hotel. Other works will be moved to storage and some will undergo conservation. The Senate art committee members, myself, and Senators Joyal and Eaton, with the curators recently visited the Canadian Conservation Institute, and just before Thanksgiving I went to the new storage building. I can tell you it meets museological standards! The committee has discussed all the details of the move and installation of the works in the new building. Work is underway to to define a clearer collections policy. The curators have also updated the collection data base and I am pleased to say that going forward the labels will include the artist, dates and medium and no longer just the name of the sitter. I also hope we will find ways to draw greater attention this national public trust. I have recently done a short video on the World War I paintings which now hang in the Chamber, and I hope to do more regarding the portraits. I should say all the work of the committee is reported quarterly to the appropriate Senate standing committee.

Before I close, I DO want to tell you about an initiative I want to bring forward in the next couple of years -- a topic dear to me, and one in keeping with the Prime Minister’s challenge of “looking at everything through the arts and culture lens”. It is the development of a Canadian Cultural Bill of Rights. Now in draft stage, I hope to present it in the Chamber either later this year or early next. I drafted it a few years ago before I was appointed to the Senate and presented it at an academic conference and got a very supportive response. It is short, but my goal is to enshrine the rights of all to access to culture, to the arts and to arts education. I ‘dusted’ it off this summer off and really think the Senate is the appropriate place to launch it. I have to do further work on it, but stay tuned!  As Jaune Quick-To-See Smith is quoted as aptly saying: “Dying cultures do not make art. Cultures that do not change with the times will die.”[1] Canada’s is NOT a dying culture. It is rich, innovative, forward looking and vibrant, as evidenced in your work, that of your colleagues and in our arts organizations. That is what I want to make sure every Senator and every Canadian knows and is proud of. The vibrancy, meaning and import of arts and heritage is what I seek to convey through my work in the Senate, along with fair and equitable access for audiences of all regions, backgrounds and diversities, and with fair and equitable support for artists, financial, safe working conditions, benefits and training.  

My goal therefore is multifold. I will continue to address issues for which the arts have the key –including reconciliation and public education; introducing whole families to our visual history, present and values, as families attend arts events and galleries together, but do not go to school together.

We must be conscious of the fact that the work of artists assists concretely in language acquisition for immigrants; and provides essential information on climate change, the environment, patterns of life, expressions of social inequities and injustices, and much more. You as creators must not be afraid to tell the troublesome, the wonderful, and the difficult challenges as well as the achievements we have made as nation. Our languages, including the visual arts, are our soul and perhaps the best way to convey truth, reality, the present and the future.

I know I have set myself a tough goal, but you all do that every day in your work. That gives me great pride in Canadian artists, and hope for the substance of our country going forward. I will continue to meet with artists and arts organizations of all disciplines and regions, but remember, I cannot deal with issues I do not know about! I will continue to champion your work; will continue to cite examples of your work in my Chamber speeches; will continue to celebrate the work of Canadian artists when speaking across the country, and will continue to write about and publish the work of Canadian creators as long as I can!  As for you, keep making the art, our window on the world. You are honest gatekeepers of Canada’s realities. Let me know what I might be able to do in the context of the Senate to bring your issues forward! And please remember my mandate – “To approach everything through the lens of arts and culture”. Whatever the topic this mantra is at the forefront of my interventions. THANK YOU!


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