Art Business Magazine


Taking a Look at the Big Economic Picture:

a response from Bill Horne, President, CARFAC - B.C.


Canadian Artists' Representation/le front des artistes canadiens or CARFAC objectives include promotion of the visual arts in Canada by improving the professional and financial status of visual artists through research and public education. CARFAC has regional and affiliated offices in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Vancouver.
Below is the Art Biz Bit which prompted Bill Horne of CARFAC, B.C., to respond. Mr. Horne's e-mail follows. Art Biz Bits is a service provided free by ABM.

To: (Art Business Magazine)
From: Bill Horne
Subject: Re: ART BIZ BITS
At 18:50 17/03/97 GMT, you wrote:
>Monday, March 17, 1997
>Is your subsidy eroding? Are the big guys taking your volunteers? Forget your woes and come shake your booties at the Alberta Arts Council!
>Between the wearing headlines on subsidy erosion and the incessant pleas for financial assistance, it takes little effort to realise that not all arts institutions/organisations are going to make it. In response to financial challenges, some large institutions like the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, are becoming more and more like commercial businesses with large advertising and marketing budgets (the coloured banners for the Munch show along University Ave. are impressive). Still, the AGO continues to rely on and canvas for government aid as well as our personal time and money; volunteers work their expanding gift shop. A vestige of a passing era? The transition from the protected grace of noble mandate to survival by those regrettably necessary hoary business practices, is an awkward place for such institutions.
>But what are the choices? Government is a fickle partner. Corporations need only so much good will, and the weary public interrupted by a solicitation every evening at six is starting to get indigestion (consider as well the competition from universities, hospitals and disease charities).
>Calgary's Alberta Craft Council has come up with an interesting survival strategy that gives meaning to financial responsibility in the arts. Without waiting for the inevitable, a damaging reduction of government subsidy (which has fallen steadily since 1990) Susan Abell, Executive Director of the non-profit service organisation, began to plan for their new business programs in 1992. Confirming her direction was a media photo of Alberta Premier Ralph Klein holding a sign which said "Think differently!" This photo, commented Ms. Abell, "crystallised" her thoughts: the best way to strength crafts in Alberta and the ACC is to make them increasingly self-sufficient.
>After analysing its market (Alberta's craft artists), its members and their potential to make money, the ACC borrowed about $723,000., interest free, from the federal government to create a number of business programs. These include: courses to train craft artists in all areas of business; a quality approval program in which an ACC jury will give craft artists a special logo to put on their products; and an artist's representative program -- for a 17 percent fee, the ACC makes sales and distributes crafts to wholesalers.
>Significantly, the ACC has broadened its definition of quality craft -- a new criterion is saleability, a change which has upset some members who perceive an erosion of craft aesthetics. Doug Haslam, a Calgary furniture maker and ACC jury member, complained in the Globe and Mail (Feb. 25/97) that the Council is more interested in "craft in terms of people at homeknitting booties." Mr. Haslam commented that the ACC is helping home-based, part-time craft-makers ahead of the "full-time professionals, especially those working to a higher standard of arts-based work."
>But as the ACC adjusts to the rules of the marketplace, such criticisms are inevitable: when fully subsidised, the Council did not need to think about the buying habits of the general public. Now, as the ACC adheres to economic principles, the sales of "higher standard", labor-intensive and therefore more costly crafts are lower than those of knit booties -- surprise! one market is smaller. While no one ever went broke underestimating the public, hasty critics are in for some interesting times from the ACC.
Dear Ms. Fraser:
I've been enjoying the Art Biz Bits and want to thank you for organizing this service. I recommend it to artists who have an Internet connection. This week I would like to respond to some of the recent articles.
I don't oppose galleries or artists becoming leaner or more creative in their quest to be financially independent. But whenever I read about eroding subsidies to the arts, the marketplace and the need to downsize to eliminate the deficit, I have to ask, what about the big picture? After all, we are living at a time of *enormous* wealth creation and productivity. I think the problem is more one of distribution of wealth than of scarcity.
The debate has largely been framed around one corner of a large economic canvas and few journalists are looking at the "painting" in its entirety. If they were, they'd be questioning the tax expenditures and loopholes that make the largest corporations (many of them foreign-owned) the most highly-subsidized enterprises in the land. It's just easier to pick on the subsidies given to the arts or the CBC or NFB, because they are named as such and right there for all to see. Much higher subsidies to corporations exist, but they're called something else.
This information is readily available to those with five minutes on the Internet or in a library to seek it out. Every artist or arts administrator in Canada should be familiar with Linda McQuaig's "Behind Closed Doors - How the Rich Took Control of Canada's Tax System" and "Shooting the Hippo" before devising a business plan, applying for funding, lobbying, or going into an election awarely. We can't afford NOT to know this information.
I hear a lot about the need to improve artists' business practices so they can market their work and become independent. Many artists want to do this and the trend is a good one. However, let's not fall prey to illusions such as our Free-Trading governments have promoted.
"Retraining" will not *create* jobs. In the same way that a newly computer-literate ex-fisher in outport Newfoundland might have a hard time finding a job that doesn't (yet) exist in their community, the most sales-savvy artist is still going to run up against the brick wall of our colonized culture. Every artist knows it's hard to compete for Canadian leisure sales dollars eaten up by Hollywood videos and the rest of the flood of commodity culture that pours into our country from the south. Surely it's as important to deal with the issue of our cultural sovereignty as it is to improve our marketing skills. --And why Canadians largely continue to accept this situation.
Why aren't we in the streets burning copies of Sports Illustrated and taking out subscriptions to your magazine or Canadian Forum in its place? (Remember the thousands of Indians who burned their British-made clothes and replaced them with home-spun cotton garments, as part of the Gandhian campaign for independence?)
My wife and I are fortunate enough to have our own studio-gallery through which tourists stream in the summer. We've seen the faces of people who can't even *consider* buying a print or pot or painting, because they've lost their jobs through restructuring, etc. Who's going to buy all the art we produce and promote effectively? Individual solutions are obviously not enough. These topics ought to be on the agenda with the other good ideas.
Bill Horne
CARFAC-BC (Canadian Artists' Representation/le front des artistes canadiens)