Friday, May 04, 2012

Another Sad Day for the Arts

Why does it seem like the only time I post anything to this blog lately is when I get my knickers in a twist?

Perhaps it's because I am creatively and physically blocked right now.

Perhaps it's because I am turning into that cranky old blogger who has nothing better to do than bitch.

Or, perhaps it's because so many stupid, petty, oppressive and small-minded people are doing so many stupid, petty, oppressive and small-minded things around me lately.  The list is never-ending,
and here's another one:  At 11:30 this morning, the faculty of the Visual and Performing Arts programs at our local college (Keyano College) were rounded up and given 15 minutes to clear their offices, then escorted from the premises by security.   They were not met with by the administration and gently informed that their programs and jobs had be cut.  They were not given pink slips.  They were not even notified by email that this was their last day at work.  They were escorted out.  By security.  Like common criminals.

These people had done nothing wrong.  The plain and simple truth is that the Board of Governors and the new president of the college crunched the numbers and the arts lost out to in-house training provided for the oilsands industry.  Plain and simple.  Money talks, and the arts walk.  Every. Fucking. Time.

It does not help that I read this little essay on the perception of a "cultural elite" from Salon this morning, either.  It speaks directly to the American experience of the arts, but the principle applies here, too.  For those who do not wish to follow the link, here is a brief summary: Art is something that children do.  It is a nice hobby for housewives and retired people.  Anyone who wants to be a professional artist is actually just trying to avoid having a real job while they live off of our hard-earned tax dollars.  Artists are "the other"-they are not regular, hard-working folks like you and me.  They do not belong in our country.

Now, I consider myself an artist, and I don't know about you, but I think I work damned hard.  I work 8-10 hours a day, if not longer, at my art.  I do not apply for an endless string of government grants.  I use the money I earn to pay my mortgage and buy groceries and make car payments and give my kids braces, like regular folk.  I PAY TAXES.  I am a regular working person, just like Joe Lunchbox, and I do not feel that I am entitled to special privileges because of what I do.  It's my job, just like being an accountant, or a doctor, or a truck driver.  Or a college president.

I am now one of a fistful of people who are making money in "the arts" in this community.  And I am not making "a living".  I am making money.  Modest money.  Nor am I making my money in the community I live in.  I have to travel hundreds of kilometres before I can get paid to do what I do.  And the way I make my money is to teach.  I teach people who dream of making art, of being creative, of living a life that is satisfying to their soul.

And that is all the young people of Fort McMurray want to do, too.  Not every kid who sings in a school choir is going to be the next Justin Bieber.  Not every kid who gets their artwork put up on Mom's fridge is the next Picasso.  And to be a working artist, they don't have to be.  Why shouldn't they have a chance to explore the art that makes them feel complete in an educational setting close to home. Why are we sending our best and brightest away?

Two of my three very artistically inclined children had to do just that.  And one of them was educated at Keyano College, in the very program that has now been slashed.  He, among other alumni, IS making a living (though a meagre one) as an artist.  My daughter had no other options, she had to leave this community to become a make-up artist, and she is now thriving in the fashion scene in Vancouver.  These are two home-town kids who could have added richness and variety to the community, but the opportunities were dwindling.  And now there are none.

So, Fort McMurray Moms and Dads, if you want your kids to stay in town, don't give them dance classes or piano lessons.  That sort of thing has no future here.

Teach 'em to drive a truck.

'Cuz that's what Keyano College wants them to do.


  1. Anonymous6:00 PM

    I am so proud of you for making a living "in the arts". Personally I am very right-brained and went to college in the sciences, not the arts. But I dapple in the "arts" now as a way to live a more balanced life. I do not feel artistically talented, but still feel the need for creative expression. If someone as right-brained as me "needs" the arts, then you can make a strong argument that the arts are important.

    But then we get into the fuzzy stuff like how do you define the arts. Is it only painting? Do you include TV or just "art" films? Can yarn be art? I think it should be broadly defined, to appeal to a broad humanity.
    As an optimist, I wonder which door will open because the college chooses to close theirs. Is there a need for summer school art camp, for parents who feel the school system is shorting them? Adult education outside the college system? Local yarn stores to step up and fill the gap?

    That article you linked to was offensive on so many levels, although they are welcome to their opinion of course. But what the heck is “cultural elite”? Do you have to be wealth to be culturally elite. Can’t you have a library, books, PBS, museums and Internet? I think it is easier now to get culture than previous generations. Let’s just forget about the “elite” word altogether. And their interpretation of “successful artist” is narrow too. Plus given their narrow definition of “successful artist” they ignore those like me who dabble or others who are musicians in a band that will never “make it” so it is a second job, but worth it to the musician. We need the “professional artists” who produce more for the rest of the public to “consume”. But we also need the arts just to make everyone’s life fuller, whether you dabble or just like watching street artists perform. I do not think they make their point about how hard it is to be a “successful artist” now as compared to any previous time in modern history. If you define successful as being able to put food on the table or get any respect in your lifetime, I think it has always been difficult with only a handful being “successful”. If you feel good about your art, you are successful in my book..

  2. You're right, Anonymous. The definition of "the arts" is pretty fuzzy. What most people don't take into consideration is that for every actor, there are a dozen theatre technicians. For every painter, there is a gallery technician. For every writer, there is an editor. And each theatre, gallery, and publishing house has an accountant and a janitor. These are the people who get lost in this debate. And each of those teachers who will teach those summer camps, the music teacher in your child's school, the local yarn shop teacher who offers classes. These are people who work in the arts.

    The concept of a cultural elite is based on the idea that the people we see are the only people working in the arts. We, as a culture, have to realize that the "arts" are not just watercolours and opera. Every aspect of what entertains us, relaxes us, and brings us joy stems from an "art", from the magazine we read in the doctor's office, to American Idol, to the colour of our sofas.

    We have to remove the divide between "art" and "work". Some of us can do the things that others do for fun as a "job", and love the doing while we're at it. And for others, it's just another day in the salt mines. Art is just another aspect of life, and we should embrace it as such.

  3. I am devastated. I was so proud to tell people that Fort McMurray was not just oil, but also the arts. I would rave about the tight knit theatre community that nutured a beautiful performing arts program at the local college. Just as I left Fort Mac, they started bringing in more professional productions and presenting fewer community and VPA program was then that I started to wonder if the times were changing up in the Mac. I guess it was inevitable. Sad day for Fort McMurray.

  4. I am speechless. I left in very good spirits last year with great hopes for the future for art in Fort McMurray. I honesly thought they were on the right track.

    ex-Wood Buffalo Artists Forum

  5. Short-sighted approach here by the powers that be, and a callous way of implementing their decision. Collegiality died there along with compassion and the arts.


  6. Anonymous6:16 AM

    Well written blog Michelle - your kids are a great example of the benefits of having these arts programs in Fort McMurray. It seems that Keyano College is taking several steps backwards in the past few years instead of steps forward. Enrollment may have been low in these programs but a balanced approach means spread the wealth and not just focus on the trades and serving the oilsands. Keyano College should be named NAIT2.

  7. Anonymous10:09 AM

    Something seems amiss. Would this have any correlation to the telus donation of $250,000 to the Keyano Theatre and Arts Centre a week ago?

    1. I can't see any connection. The Telus donation was to sponsor the 4-play Mainstage season at Keyano Theatre, which operates separately from the VPA classes. The gutting of the VPA as more to do with the Province increasing money for the trades, making it more lucrative for small colleges to focus on trades training.

  8. Anonymous2:43 PM

    is there any proof of this actually happening? verified by police or news stations?

    1. Jacquie9:21 PM

      There's first hand accounts from people who work at the school and whose friends were those treated this way.

  9. Anonymous4:56 PM

    Sad day, thank you for sharing this. Seems we're under attack from all sides. Courage!

  10. Wow -- that is really horrible. So very sad for Alberta and Canada.

  11. Jean Corrigan9:05 PM

    If its not the OILSANDS, it's not worth investing in it. The McMurray mentality, well in the not too distant future, we will see if big industry will sustain the broken earth & polluted water, we are destroying the earth with each breath we take

  12. Roxanne Dicke9:56 PM

    Well said, Michelle. Thank you for your thoughtful and passionate words. i am saddened by the decision, and angered by the treatment of the faculty cut. Fuck the 15 minute "policy." Have the guts to face these great people and let them collect themselves and process. Get a grip on your human resources, Keyano AND on what the arts means to a community.

  13. While I am disgusted by this news and the sick treatment of the faculty, I am unable to verify this story anywhere via extensive web searching. Does anyone know if anything has been published about this action beyond Michelle's post here? I'm surprised that there has been no media coverage already.

    1. Actually found something here:

  14. Anonymous11:46 PM

    Randy, I was one of the staff affected and can tell you that this is an accurate account, although the timing occured throughout the morning.

    19 staff members, most from the Faculty and some from Cupe and Admin. There are more coming on Monday with an altimatum to chose to be reassigned or leave. I understand there are 10 more possible. Remember, this is prior to the budget being announced as well.

    1. Anonymous: thank you for this information. Have you seen your administration's response?

      Can you tell us if it is accurate or more spin than anything else?

  15. Anonymous1:05 AM

    I am just very glad there is ALOT of public outcry over this.. Good for you people bringing this to the media to keep people aware of how poorly these giving community members were treated!.

    I will not be supporting or attending any Keyano Community events from now on. You left the Community with nothing and stole a part of its Wood Buffalo Big Spirit, so why should the Community be happy with you??

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Does the irony of Munch's "The Scream" selling for $120 million the day before escape anyone? As an artist growing up in central Canada in the 1960s, I understand how undervalued art has been in this country. For a brief moment in the late 60s and early 70s, we 'got it.'

    But the drift away from art has been unrelenting with the progression of corporatism, managerialism, globalism and technocracy. None of these movements value innovation, creativity or outspoken honesty. In fact, they require quite the opposite. And the people involved with these evolutionary movements vote with their funding.

    On the same day that fine arts program was cancelled I was facilitating a workshop for a board of directors representing American researchers. They are now facing the same problems (although in the initial stages) that artists have been enduring for uncountable decades. The reason research is dying? It's either seen as too expensive or unrelated to direct profit streams.

    On a final note, our decision-making financial class now has access to 4 millennia of aggregated art as a collectible resource pool. Our museums and art galleries are stuffed to overflowing with it. Not only are new artists challenged to find new ways of seeing and saying things in the realm of diminishing returns (it's all been discovered and said; there is no new frontier), but their work may not find any available wall space in the real world.

    It used to be that artists could go into other fields, such as marketing, as I did. It was an extremely dynamic and profitable creative environment (however ethically questionable), and produced or influenced most of the great art of the last half century.

    But even that is disappearing, as there will be no need for it as advertising becomes algorithmic targeting, in which data trackers aim product descriptions in our path just as we're ready to purchase. (Check out Terry O'Reilly's radio program on the topic if you can). No more need for creativity, good-bye creative departments.

    The end game is management, herding and harvesting humans now, for profit. (A walk through an airport to board an international flight says it all.) We are engineering a society of passive managers, distributors and buyers. The rest, who dissent or fall out the bottom of the new class system will be jailed or jettisoned into homelessness.

    Yes. This closure is significant. It is one more symptom of the privatization of our entire society. While the public sector and commons collapse.

  18. Anonymous7:18 AM

    Friday was horrible. It was not just the Arts, but Bus. Admin. and University Studies lost huge chucks of their staff as well. Most of these staff in all the areas affected have decades of loyal service to the college and were very close to retirement.

    Staff are now trying to cope over the weekend with who is next on Monday and will that be the end of it.

    It will be hard to maintain morale and retention when a employer treats their staff this way.

    As a student it is hard to want to stay at Keyano because who knows when your program will be cut and you having to scramble to find a place to transfer to to complete your degree or diploma. I have heard some students were to do rewrites on their finals next week but their instructor has been escorted out of the building. The rewrites are not going to happen and the students now fail and they will not graduate on Saturday.


  19. I moved from Ontario to create Keyano's IT department in the early 1980's. Premier Lougheed was implementing his vision for a growing - and maturing - province. Advanced Education was compact, efficient and effective. Theatres were being built in Alberta's colleges and ours was beautiful. Keyano had an artist-in-residence, a musician-in-residence and a professional theatre director. All aspects of life thrived in Lougheed's Alberta.

    To say times have changed is an understatement both trite and true, but they have, and we are all responsible. While money was flowing we grabbed it and spent it. Through successive busts we have plastered aging (four years old is "vintage" here) pickups with "I promise not to piss it away" stickers, then promptly forgot about them, their message and the lesson unlearned as another boom rolled through and we rushed off to buy shiny and new.

    We bought into being totally owned by "investors", the new "they". And we accepted the lie "they" would leave if we raised royalties, asked for more pay, or made a worker-friendly modification to the labour code. Like "they" would take "their" oil and go home.

    We laughed at Premier Klown's antics and voted PC. By not acknowledging his completely visible puppet strings we acquiesced to foreign control, took off our balls and hung them from the trailer hitches on more shiny and new trucks. We patted ourselves on the back because Premier Klown was a good 'ol boy. One of us.

    This past month, with the threatened return of the 1940's, rather than thinking about democracy, the future and our responsibility to our children, we opted for continued corruption and corporatism like the cattle we have become.

    Not to worry, though, we can use our Seadoos over the summer, and come the fall there will be another shiny new F-150, RAM or Silverado to ease our envy when the boss flips his Escalade. We can comfort ourselves thinking the former Premier endorsed our election selection.

    But this is not Lougheed's Alberta. It is Exxon/Mobile's.

    Arts? Not here, we're tough Albertans. We've done it all ourselves. We're independent. Art celebrates humanity, to acknowledge it is to recognize how much of ours we've sold.

    1. Hi Don. Alison MacNearney here (also ex-Keyanonian). I've been looking for your on-line presence for some years now. Sad that the final nail in the coffin of the Arts in North East Alberta provides that connection. Last year the big battle was to save the Music program. (We lost). Please drop me a line: we have 35 years to catch up on!

  20. Kelly8:24 AM

    I am very worried about the future of Fort Mac. The arts are necessary in developing community and sustaining a balanced social environment within a city.
    A city without the arts is a city without a soul. And a city without a soul is a dangerous one to live in. Fort Mac needs to engage in some art therapy on a city wide scale.

    1. Erinn Webb9:54 PM

      And since one of the only Art Therapy, Drama Therapy, and Music Therapy programs in Canada is in Montreal, Quebec, there's a great divide. I'm a home-grown Alberta girl in the big city studying Drama Therapy and more and more I'm afraid to come home.

  21. Anonymous9:29 AM

    I found this notice on Keyano's website highlighting their side of the story. Makes it sound a little less bad and at least gives some reasoning. Still no excuse to be escorting someone out with security and 15minutes notice...


    1. Anonymous10:04 AM

      Smoke and mirrors...
      Coming back to teach through contract means no living allowance, no benefits, no pension...

      if they are offering a Business degree then why let go of the 2 accounting instructors? The only 2 accounting instructors? you cannot graduate without accounting.

  22. Anonymous2:34 PM

    Why am I not surprised? For years I worked as a Stand-up Comic, one of the least rewarded arts for the bulk of the performers(but upstream from poets and "non-commercial" visual artists. I used to say only partly in jest that comedy was like sex-everybody loves it but nobody wants to pay for it. The general perception is that "The Arts" are a frill which are rightly the property of those wealthy enough to support the artist and consequently dictate what they shall or shall not create. The Harper Consublicans are only the representation of the country's real sole proprietors, that is large international corporations with no loyalty to either nations or customers. I also have said in even less jest that if you follow the bottom line far enough you will arrive at an asshole. This news has not changed my mind.

  23. Anonymous4:20 PM

    It seems counter-intuitive to have just built a high school dedicated to the arts and then cut programming at the college? The ulterior motives are written on the wall-industry should not be the only motivation to learn. The direction the college is moving in is very sad and very short-sighted.

  24. I am dismayed over and over again when I hear stories like this. It goes against my mission in life, to keep the creative/artistic brain alive. I'm sorry, but "Ya can't do that with truck driving"!!! *sigh* .... When people question the idea of "artists", whereever I am, I point out that someone had to design the chair you are sitting on, the mug you are holding, the salt & pepper shaker you use, the placement of where things are in the cafe, the music in the background... HELLO!!? I've watched while people consider these basic elements, and agree, "oh yeah... I suppose that's true". Yup.. ART or right brain nurturing shows up everywhere if you pay attention, or if you even know what it is. Maybe it's time to send "Keyano" a copy of esteemed Daniel H. Pink's book "A Whole New Mind"... "The keys of the kingdom are changing...".... sorry, needed to rant. Thank you for writing what you did, Michelle...

  25. Anonymous7:16 PM

    Can someone show me where Keyano announced that the art and drama programs were cut?

    Let me save you some time. They didn't.

    1. Anonymous8:28 PM

      True for now...but I challenge you to call the Office of the Registrar and ask them if they are taking applications. I am sure you will get an interesting response...but putting applications on hold isn't cancelling the program is it?

    2. Anonymous9:53 PM

      They announced it loud and clear with their actions over words.

      Why cut the senior staff that have been there for decades?. You would think their input would be valuable towards remodeling the existing program to benefit the college if that is the case. Or at least discussed it before making any decisions.

      Keyano may not have "cut" the program based off their open letter, but they definetly cut the heart out of it.

    3. Don Johnston10:41 PM

      They didn't cut the Music or Musical Instrument Repair programs last year they "suspended" them. Well as a member of the last MIR class I can tell you that the programs are gone despite whatever the college wants to say.

      At least the college had the guts last year to tell the students to our faces that the programs were "suspended". Though they tried to buy us out and send us to a college in the states. This year the powers that be chickened out and made the decisions after the students were gone.

  26. Erinn Webb9:47 PM

    NO. I am outraged. Why are we suffering these losses? Why NOW? What is happening in our communities to drive out the Arts?

    Keyano College Theatre in Fort McMurray has been thriving for the last 30 years, so what is happening NOW that allows the entire staff of the Visual and Performing Arts faculty to be marched out of their offices like prisoners of war? If this is a war, the power has never been in our hands.

    In this province we have always had our hands tied behind our backs, and our welcome has always been superficial, wavering with the tides of financial insecurity. They've made us beg and said, "Look, isn't it nice that we have thrown some scraps to the Arts", but the steak has always been for someone else. If jobs had been cut in other areas, there would be public outrage. But since jobs in the Arts are so invisible and seemingly dispensable, they have been overlooked and eliminated in the night.

  27. Anonymous10:52 PM

    This post is in response to the radio comments made by the President of Keyano College today. Wow, the arrogance and condescension in the President's voice is ridiculous. "...and to say that it’s the marketing department's responsibility is a bit of a red herring, last time I checked we were the college in Fort McMurray"-are you freaking kidding me? It is that kind of overconfidence that causes students to go elsewhere-why would anyone want to stay here if the college doesn't care whether you do or not-how incredibly insulting.
    "He also scoffed at suggestions that former staff members may be under a gag order," absolutely sad and disgusting the lies coming out of that place. Those of us who are trying to stay here past the five year plan are constantly being provided reasons to question why we would. When industry is the only catalyst for change community suffers. There is no community at that college and each and every day they are proving it by brushing off legitimate concerns from the citizens who live here. By the time the results of what happened last week are truly felt those in the administrative, decision making roles at this time will be long gone and those of us who are struggling to make this home will be left holding the empty bag.

  28. Anonymous7:35 AM

    Yeah lets run a program that has 1 or 2 students in it. Yeah thats smart business sense. The majority of you die hards dont care and are on the Save the Arts bandwagon. I challenge the mouthpiece that is calling for change at Keyano to take a nice look in the mirror ... because he or she wont be at any rally or any protest that comes up. Hmmmmk?

    1. Anonymous2:58 PM

      you need to do more research. You do not know what you are talking about. Sorry. And there are a lot of people who care about what happens at the college and in this community.