Monday 26 May 2014

Keeping Active

Shut Up! Sut Up!
photo collage

I was asked, “What is art for?” and “How many citizens would actually complain if towns didn’t provide services for it, or if services were cut back?” During a discussion, the question arose as to whether governments should spend money providing free art or culture-related services to their communities in dedicated facilities such as art galleries, music rooms, theatres or other performance spaces. This when there was no question that money should be spent on sports facilities. No one questioned that the latter could function free or ‘at a loss’ (ie, cost more than they could earn) but the arts were deemed ‘expensive’.
I thought about it. The suburb town in which my family has lived for nearly fifty years is a relatively well-off, mostly residential town. Until recently, the majority of dwellings were private homes with nice yards, many with at least two vehicles, though in recent years more and more apartment and condo buildings have gone up. There seemed to be little need to share space or for community-based activities since people could afford go to hear concerts and see performances in ‘the big city’. In fact, there seemed to be a perception that there was little need for ‘public’ here except for children, and except for sports
To this day, sports are the accepted, ‘leisure’ public service on which money can be spent. After all, while individual homes can have swimming pools, even the biggest can’t accommodate such things as soccer and football fields, arenas and tennis courts. Anyway, would they want to? For sports, everyone knows one needs ‘the community’ to create competitions and teams and “the public’ to have audiences for the games, whether the facilities are run by subsidized, member-only associations or by Town employees. The more varied the sports, the more players are given training by qualified people, the more levels of sports are played, and the more access ‘local’ players have to players from other towns, the healthier the community gets in terms of competition and achievement.
Sports are activities that everyone agrees build individual and team strength and character but only if there is public challenge and crowd support. They are activities that MUST be shared by the entire community to have any beneficial effect. Everyone accepts this; participation in sports events by teams and attendance by the public are encouraged by the Town simply because it provides the facilities despite costs related to maintenance, repairs, security, clean-up, and so on.
What seems to cause difficulty is the sharing of art activities and by extension, of cultural events. People can no more have concert halls, theatres, sculpture and painting studios or art galleries in their homes, yet unlike ‘minor’ sports facilities that are built and maintained year-round in every district of the town, by comparison there are two small art studios and one art gallery in the major civic complex that also houses three arenas and two swimming pools, some Olympic-sized, and a fitness and exercise facility.
Comparatively speaking, the uneven proportion of public sports versus public arts facilities provided creates a serious imbalance of access to the community, for cultural events cannot be provided at the same level, frequency or for the same sizes of audiences as sports events. There is an equivalence of importance between a hockey game and a play, between a soccer game and an art display, between a tennis game and a musical performance, yet theatre, art and music are treated like dispensable activities.
At a time in human culture when it is imperative that we share space in a peaceful, respectful and beneficially competitive way (as opposed to aggressively or for money), that we learn to balance self and community interests and to communicate effectively with each other regardless of our economic status, ethnicity, heritage or our ‘team’, the imbalance created between sports and arts in the community seems counterproductive. The arts – and by this I don’t mean just craft fairs and recreational art courses, I mean such things as plays, concerts, as well as art exhibits – are proven to help a community create a common culture.
As a person involved in both arts and sports, as both a volunteer and a professional, and as both citizen and employee of a Town, I would like to see this imbalance addressed in all communities. Each town that provides dedicated year-round public sports facilities can, and in my opinion, should provide equal numbers of dedicated public arts facilities. A balance can be maintained: Arena/Gallery, Swimming Pool/Theatre, Tennis Court/Painting Studio, Hockey Rink/Sculpture Studio, Skateboard Track/Music Rooms, Weight Room/Computer Room, Chalet/Dance studio and so on.  If the concern is usage, there must be access and activities must be provided there can be no hockey without smoothed ice, no swimming without contained, de-contaminated water, no tennis without asphalt and nets, just as there can be no art display without walls and lighting, no painting without sinks and ventilation, no dance without a sprung floor… and no learning in any of these activities without access and expertise.
If you build it so that all may have access, they will come, if you make them welcome, they will come back, if you help them do better, they will participate more, if you celebrate their participation by letting them share and connect on competitive as well as on creative levels, all will thrive. I’ve always believed that these are the goals of any community.

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