“Who am I?” “Who are we?” In response to these open-ended questions, artistic creation guides us, taking the risk of plunging into the unknown, breaking the silence and overcoming taboos, making the impossible possible, uttering the unutterable, and prompting us to dream; in a word, artistic creation takes the endlessly renewed risk of humanizing humanity.
A strong culture is one that accepts rich and varied influences and gives us today’s Canada, both this country’s past and that of those who have come to populate this land of immigrants. A strong culture is one that seeks to build on both pasts to create a present and a future. A strong culture is one that asserts itself as a necessity and a factor in improving the quality of life for the society in which it flourishes. It thus springs from a collective desire, a responsibility shared by the public and the creators. It includes a network linking artists, members of the public, arts administrators and academics sharing a conviction that art is an essential resource, naturally, but also a renewable one that must be protected. During a national Art Matters event we held at the Banff Centre in April 2008 to review the 24 meetings held across Canada, the participants quickly realized that it was their duty—as artists, decision makers, researchers and cultural managers—to spread the idea among all Canadians that, like air and water, creation, imagination and ideas make life more livable. The result was that at the end of this seminar, we adopted the following slogan: the arts make life more interesting than art. It is therefore up to all of us—and this is our purpose with Art Matters—to share that idea and make sure it resounds daily in our communities so that people sense the urgency of working together to develop a culture they can share.
What creates Canada is the creative people who create in Canada. We have to remember that the desire of a nation is a mystery waiting to be revealed, and an artist is someone who remembers the future.
Canada’s culture exists at several levels of government and decision making. There is nothing negative about this if we approach it in the light of contemporary issues. From local to provincial, from provincial to federal, and from all of these to the international with universal concerns, no category of art or culture can disregard this if it is to live and survive. This is the dynamic we must stimulate and activate as effectively as possible. The outreach of Canadian culture in its diversity depends on circulation both in Canada and elsewhere, and on the harmonization of effort.
Our Department of Foreign Affairs lacks the resources to execute a cultural policy worthy of the name. A sector should therefore be developed for thought and action that will bring together the realities of culture in Canada and the right tools for diplomatic work. Cultural diplomacy is one of the major assets of international relations in the 21st century. The reality of internationalization is not something each component of the Canadian federation can tackle in isolation. It has to be addressed by provincial cultural bodies, with representation harmonized at the federal level through regular meetings. Otherwise, it is difficult if not impossible to ensure that Canada makes an impression on the globalized flow of knowledge.
So what role can culture, the arts and creativity play in society? Culture has a role to play in education, diplomacy, the economy and human rights. It is a part of the very meaning of democracy (for which it stands surely) and equal opportunity. It must not yield to—on the contrary, it must preserve a balance among—media domination, the dizzying progress in communication technologies and the pathological expansion of faith in economics as the answers to everything. Culture is the antidote to the ills of the civilization that is characteristic of the times we live in: the individualism that has spread over the last thirty years, and allowed greater autonomy for the subject and expanded freedoms and personal responsibility, has led to collateral damage to our living patterns. French sociologist Edgar Morin believes that the downside of individualism has been a deterioration in traditional solidarities, a fragmentation of individuals, a weakening of the sense of responsibility for one’s neighbour, self-centredness and what could be called a metastasis of the ego.
Canada is not immune to these ailmants of civilization, which can be cured only by a thorough rehumanization of daily life. Such a civilizing policy—what Edgar Morin calls a politique de civilisation—requires the kind of input from the arts, culture and creativity that can generate happiness. This is the prerequisite for a regeneration of our human and social fibre. In this sense, culture is part of a civilizing effort to tackle issues that are more radical and profound for Canada’s future, since the essence of Canada and its cultural diversity are one and the same.
In these times of economic and civilization crisis, does there not lurk in the background an opportunity to develop a new Utopia? Are we not facing a challenge to meaning that could help us build the foundations of a new societal organization, another way of living together, with culture front and centre in our political life and—why not?—as the goal of our common future.
Accordingly, when the Governor General’s mandate ends, it seems to me that we cannot give up: everything we have done, everything we have learned, the connections we have made, the needs expressed by artists, members of the public, young people, decision makers, business people, and our own convictions, all of these make it our duty to continue our mission beyond the current mandate. We believe that the establishment of an apolitical organization, dedicated to research, reflection and cultural action at the national and international levels, would have very substantial public value and would be a consistent and logical continuation of the actions taken within the mandate of the Governor General of Canada. It was a three-step process: first, the generation of cultural turmoil; second, a time to rethink our culture; and third, a time for action.
In reality, I can now state that these three steps are one and the same: elements of a lively culture within a lively society.
Edgar Morin, Pour une politique de la civilisation, Éditions Arlea, 2002.