Commentary  Wherefore art?

As student art sprawls across the pages of today’s Daily, it’s a good time to think about student artists and the state of art – or more specifically, the state of visual art at McGill.

We need to think about McGill in the broader Canadian context. The Harper government’s history of funding cuts to the arts points to a disturbing trend in institutional support for art. What is important is not only this decline in public funding, but what it could mean for the future of valuable institutional structures like the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA).

The important thing here is not just the money distributed by the CCA, but the actual mandate and structure of the organization – both as an active participant in the art world, and as a model for public funding. What sets the CCA apart from other sources of public funding is its peer-review system, through which juries of artists are the ones who decide which of their peers will receive grant money.

Though the CCA is in dire straits, as an institution it’s strong evidence of public support of art. The people understand: art is a social good.

At McGill, support for art is practically non-existent. Certain necessities – tools, funding, and space – are inaccessible or not widely enough known to enable students to create art. How many students, for example, know they can use FinalCutPro at Ferrier?
The Fridge Door Gallery, created to display student art, is emblematic of both funding and space issues. After a long bureaucratic battle with McGill, they managed to get a space in the study rooms on the first floor of Leacock in 2007. They have long struggled to secure steady funding.

The University has poured funding into theatre and music – not just for the official, academic programs, but for non-academic activities as well. Though there’s no faculty of fine arts at McGill, there ought to be accessible tools, funding, space – a support structure – for students’ artistic endeavours.

It seems the administration’s obsession with branding has led to its indifference to art. The administration’s refusal to allow CKUT to use McGill in its name and its attempt to remove McGill from SACOMSS’ name – actions like these point to a paranoid form of branding, the creation of a standardized, consumable image of McGill. The University’s not against art – it’s just against art it can’t control.

Public institutions like McGill are imperative for the prosperity of artistic communities, so it’s vital to combat its indifference to art in order to help foster a vibrant artistic atmosphere at the University. Toward this end, you should write Morton Mendelson, the Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning), at morton.mendelson@mcgill.ca, and request more funding for student art, more space for its display, and more accessible tools for its creation.

But we must not forget the work of forming those communities. Students need to take the initiative. Students interested in art at McGill have created a real community with its own institutions, journals, and showcases. We encourage anyone interested in art both to support their peers and also to follow their lead and do it yourself.

So if you’re an artist or just a fan (for now), you can submit to or help edit journals like Folio, Scivener, and Steps. You can illustrate or take photos for The Daily (email our editors at photos@mcgilldaily.com and illustrations@mcgilldaily.com for more information). If you don’t like what’s being done, step up to the plate: start a journal, start a gallery, start something and demand funding from the administration. Don’t just look at art, make it. Remake McGill in your own image.