Digital Dilemma part 2

Computer graphics
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Over a year ago I wrote here about the overhaul Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council were undergoing to update their activities to include the support of creative industries struggling with the disruptive forces of the internet. Canadian Heritage revamped the federal policy surrounding copyright, intellectual property, and made slight but fairly good maneuvers toward helping the more commercial industries like TV and film compete in a world where even the squirrels on my property are Netflix binging.

The Canada Council completely changed the way artists applied for grants, turning their website into a portal that made applying for money for your art project seem like getting a passport and just as boring. But bureaucratic processes to find funding have always been the realm of the stultifying, and artists who are consistently successful have patience beyond my understanding. The Ontario Arts Council did the same thing, and while their portal seemed to make the transition fairly easy for many of us, their shortened project descriptions and truncated c.v. requirements meant that juries would have to make a lot of assumptions in judging your project.

Along the way there was a ton of Twitter discussions (#digicancon was the hashtag for Canada Heritage; the Canada Council released a survey but didn’t have any serious social media engagement) on the creation of policy that the Minister actually seemed to pay attention to, however eventually people who worked for unions and associations defending the work of creatives in film, TV, and digital drowned out those of us who didn’t have time to devote to getting involved and staying online.

The Canada Council had a summit and invited 300 artists and arts workers (many of them without any kind of social media profile, and with absolutely no transparency as to why they were picked), which I watched on Facebook. It consisted of some young people wearing iPads as necklaces gushing over a bunch of speakers who got up and either discussed how screwed we all were or how exciting it all was. No Facebook/platform representative, only one or two digital company speakers, and not one academic studying the effect of the internet on culture—I know many; none of them were asked to speak.

And now? The Canada Council has created an $88-million digital fund that will help the art world compete in the digital world. The fund, which I tried to apply for and consequently gave up on, had vague explanations for how you could use the money. My idea was to augment an internationally known site by adding an arts section where I could highlight Canadian artists to the world and visa versa.

Initially I tried emailing with an officer at the Digital Survey Fund, but when I realized he didn’t understand the difference between a platform and a website, I needed to call him. The office informed me that this money was not to be spent on the making of art and not to be used to promote artists. The longer we spoke the more I realized what he was getting at: the money would go to new platforms and digitally driven networks or publications that help artists connect to each other and their communities.

Wait, what? We all already do this, on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. I didn’t get it, still don’t, and so I will have to wait and see what they fund in order to compare what I was thinking to what they are doing. If you applied to this and get money, please let me know how you did it (results are expected this month).

So, like I wrote about over a year ago, my gut feels that this $80 million might easily get wrapped up in tech, because the tech industry really needs the help. Seriously though, if an art gallery wanted to create a digital platform that helped engage their memberships and community through contests, polls, and webinars, they would hire a tech company or a digital design company to build it. Or if a filmmaker wanted to make an augmented reality game for their upcoming movie, they would hire a company that does that. Is this where the money will go? I mean if it isn’t going to artists then who is it going to? I can see no other group then tech.

But as I mentioned I don’t get it, so I remain open minded. The #digicancon conversation that Canada Heritage had is all but over since the release of the official report, Canadian Content in the Digital World, its press moment overshadowed by Netflix announcing it would spend $500 million in Canada over the next five years. Unfortunately, Minister Mélanie Joly made it seem like she had something to do with this decision. It may have been announced in collaboration with the Ministry but Netflix was going to spend that kind of money anyway. On Twitter discussion broke out about the fact that this money would probably go toward crews, security details, all sorts of stuff film people use, but not so much on scripts and talent. Again, these details remain murky.

Content is mentioned in this new policy and it is highlighted by the Canada Council too. Content is what I am doing right now but it is also a widget on WordPress, a meme, a cat video, a Google ad, stats, graphs, emojis, mapping and all sorts of things that will at times have nothing to do with art. What might have been a bolder move for Minister Joly was to get ahead of the narrative that Google et al. is creating for us (and about us) in our culture by advocating for a real look at what content means or what it is, how it is made, who makes it, and who pays for it.

But then that’s a discussion those of us in the arts have been having our entire professional careers—that people who make things, write things, make up ideas always seem to get lost in the process of funneling money. It’s still an unsolved riddle and this new policy and new digital enterprise by the Canada Council do nothing to solve it.


Read Part 1 of Victoria Ward’s “Digital Dilemma” discussion.

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Victoria Ward

Victoria Ward

Victoria Ward is a writer/painter living in a log cabin north of Peterborough.