There’s a conservation I’ve been having a lot since I moved to Montreal to study at McGill. It usually goes something like this:
New friend: So, what do you study?
Me: English literature
NF: What do you want to do with that?
Me: Actually, I want to get a job as a dancer.
NF: Oh, do you study dance at McGill too?
Me: No, I can’t. McGill has no fine arts.
That last statement isn’t entirely true; McGill does teach fine art in the Schulich School of Music. But by and large the University does not fund art, and that’s a problem.
There are two ways that this non-support for the arts manifests itself at McGill. To begin with, the University does not offer degree programs in most fine arts disciplines. It’s true that not every subject can be studied at every university. But fine art always seems to get the short end of the stick, being overlooked in favour of more “serious” subjects. This is unfortunate for a couple of reasons: it means that the artistically-inclined must look outside of the academic structure at McGill to practice their art, and it also means that McGill is doing its part in maintaining a dominant order, all too pervasive in Canada these days, that says art is not worth funding.
That the University consistently underfunds the arts and humanities programs that it does offer, in favour of disciplines that are traditionally seen as more practical or career-oriented, only adds to the problem. For instance, a scant five per cent of McGill’s Faculty Expense Budget is allotted to the Schulich School of Music, in comparison to 27 per cent for the Faculty of Medicine. Despite the fact that 30 per cent of McGill’s student population is enrolled in the Faculty of Arts, the largest academic unit at the university, it is only given 16 per cent of the Faculty Expense Budget. To put this in context, you should know that although McGill Med only enrols 12 per cent of McGill’s student population – less than half the number of students studying arts – it is granted nearly twice as much funding.
I don’t mean to suggest that medical research isn’t a commendable pursuit – it is. What I take issue with is the idea, upheld by McGill’s funding structure, that studying medicine or science or engineering is more worthwhile than studying or making art. By refusing to pay for arts programs, the University is telling students from all faculties that art is not worth investing in, and that a career in art is a subpar aspiration. Instead of fostering and supporting the innovation and creativity that flows out of the arts, the University is stifling it.