So there was an interesting article in the Globe & Mail yesterday which was twittered pretty broadly amongst the theatre and culture mavens I follow. It was about sports and arts and competing for funding and attention, a battle in which I’ve been bruised many times. And all these artsy people quoted in it – including my friend, Stuart Reid – think the war is being won!
Oh, you poor benighted dears.
Or – and this could be interesting – were you just doing the politic dance to avoid being whacked by the big boys in pads when they came out to play next time?
Look, I want to believe that there is an even playing field, so to speak, or that we’re getting close to such when it comes to funding, sponsorship, donations and even just simple moral support for arts organizations and for sporting groups & clubs. And it’s possible that in a city like Regina, as Stuart pointed out, such support could be a little more even than has been true in my experience. Regina is, after all, one of the most self-contained, can-do places I’ve ever learned about, and I suspect that helps with a lot of cross-polination between arts and jocks.
However, I think Regina is the exception. I truly believe that in larger cities and smaller towns, the battle is just as pitched as ever it was, and in fact, it might be even worse in some ways. Kelly Hill, of Hill Strategies, says that there is a greater shared audience in the two areas, that there are people who will go to sporting events and to cultural events. As I’m one of those people, I can’t disagree with her about crossover audiences. And while there may be less overt fighting and disagreement between the two groups – the jocks and the artsies – where I will disagree with her and Stuart, and many others, is the idea that there is less competition between art and sport.
In an era when every dollar is harder and harder to find, the reasons for contributing to your favourite community cultural and/or sporting organization become even more pointed. People will give money to sports clubs because their kids can play. At some level, house league, rep league, whatever level, their kids are playing. And their customers’ kids are playing. Sports is, in many ways an equalizer because so many can do it, at some level. But here’s the more important part: everyone can talk about it!
Really. Think about that for a moment. Everyone can blarney on about what effect the Fisher trade might have or that awful slump the Attack are going through or the thrill of watching the Packers win last Sunday. You almost don’t actually have to know who Fisher is or what game the Packers won because the conversation is being carried on by everyone, you just have to follow the flow.
But say instead, the man in the cubicle next to you went to see Ibsen which he really enjoyed at Soulpepper over the weekend, or the woman at the coffee shop with whom you exchange pleasantries every morning was waxing poetic about a thrilling dance company that’s just moved into town. You’re not sure who Ibsen is or how to eat a Soulpepper, and the only thing you care about dancing is avoiding doing so with your elderly relatives at family weddings.
Culture simply is not common conversational currency. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, just true. In turn, that keeps culture lower on the radar, and in turn lower on the ladder of organizations and principles that gain moral, physical and fiscal support.
Yes, some people who buy Senators tickets may very well have subscriptions to various NAC programming. Some people who go to Belleville Theatre Guild productions will also attend Bulls games. Some Raptors fans will have attended recent ROM exhibits. I get that, I believe that. For some. Not for many. Nor do I believe those who financially support sports will also financially support cultural organizations, or vice versa, other than with their admission fees (a not inconsiderable amount, granted, but not in the same league as being a donor or corporate sponsor).
Our culture still rewards sports heroes in amazing ways above and beyond the amazing salaries they get. Even journeymen in professional sport have whacking great incomes these days, far above the level of other professionals at the same level of experience and skill in different industries. (Insert your favourite argument for the shorter careers of athletes, the greater commercial return sport brings to the community, the benefit their sport brings to the community as a whole… I’ll wait for you….)
Our culture also rewards the biggest stars in some performing arts at levels that astonish me and to some extent should embarrass them (Charlie Sheen? A million dollars for 23 minutes? And yes, I know it’s much more work than the 23 minutes we see on screen; that’s not the point and you know it).
And here again is the difference between sport and art: at even the lowest level of professional sport, salaries are liveable. Not magnificent, perhaps, but certainly above poverty level. Not so true of art. I have a dear friend who is an incredible artist, paints such incredible seascapes and birds, and his struggle to make a living is 40 years in the duration.
Although I recognize I’m leaving myself open here to a thousand different arguments about what consumers want, what the market will bear, what sport means to the Canadian psyche and what art doesn’t…. Trust me, I’ve heard them all, and have made one or two of them myself on occasion. I’m just trying to swing the focus back to the idea which the Globe and Mail article raised – that there seems to be a peace developing between sport and culture, an idea with which I do not agree.
If that were true, the new recreation centre in Owen Sound would have LOTS of space dedicated to cultural groups’ use. If that were true, the proposed new sport facility in Quebec would include LOTS of ways in which culture could exploited as easily as hockey. If that were true, the optometrists and tire shops of Canada would just as quickly drop $500 on the Youth Theatre Coalition’s next production as they do on new t-shirts for the t-ball league. Maybe, as Stuart says, the good people who work at his art museum love the Roughriders just as passionately as they do their museum, but I believe they are the exception that proves the rule: jocks still win.