«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
In 2003 the City produced the policy document, Culture Plan for a Creative City and established the goal spending $25/capita on arts and culture (City of Toronto, 2003). By the time this town hall and art jam had taken place a decade later, this goal had yet to be realized. The Beautiful City coalition that hosted the art jam and town hall that night was an alliance of over 60 social service and arts organizations throughout Toronto. It was advocating that the City’s funding target be realized through the taxation of Toronto’s billboards and was pushing for these funds to be directed toward enhancing public space through the arts, focusing specifically on underserved communities and grants to artists (Beautifulcity.ca, n.d.-a). The work of this alliance had finally resulted in this proposal being put forward to Toronto City Council. At the end of the town hall and art jam, the hosts of the event encouraged audience members to contact their councilors and ask them to vote in support of the proposal. The next day I made a call to Ana Bailao, the councilor of my ward, to ask her about her position on the arts funding proposal under consideration. She assured me that, as one of the many people involved in pulling together the document to present to City Council, she would most definitely be voting in favor of the proposal.
note to the Unapologetic facebook page. The first paragraph reads:
"THIS JUST IN - Unapologetic Burlesque received its first arts/community grant from ArtReach Toronto!! THIS MEANS WE HAVE MONEY TO DO AMAZING THINGS LEADING UP TO OUR NEXT SHOWCASE!! Not only do we have more funds to put toward accessibility and production costs, more fairly compensate the work & art that performers, crew and organizers do, we’re ALSO going to be able to create space for more skill share workshops revolving around all things unapologetic burlesque (storytelling!
active listening! character building! gender play! props and costume making! tech, stage and production skills! whatever the fuck you want!) because this knowledge is meant to be shared, and we are meant to grow into stronger artists, storytellers and organizers."
Neoliberal governance: Making the artist entrepreneur amidst labor market precarity In tracing this series of events, it is important to situate the work of Unapologetic Burlesque, ArtReach and the City of Toronto within a broader discussion of neoliberal governance. Scholars of government in advanced liberal democracies like Canada have pointed out a shift from welfarist to neoliberal modes of governance beginning in the 1970s (Harvey, 2005; Rose & Miller, 1992). Adopting Keynesian fiscal policies, welfarist states focused on securing full employment and economic growth by actively intervening in market processes to dampen business cycles. Animating T.S. Marshall's concept of social rights, which call for the protection of women, the poor, minorities and others who are vulnerable to social forces that undercut their standing as equal citizens, these states also established systems to attend to basic human needs like health, housing and social insurance. The shift to neoliberalism signaled a significant change in approaches to governance. In the bid for economic growth in the aftermath of fiscal crises engendered by Keynesian policies, government bodies re-oriented their relationship to economic forces, no longer intervening in activities of capital accumulation, regardless of the effect on employment levels. They also transformed their relationship to the populations they governed, abandoning the programs that were said to foster dependency and instead encouraged a more active citizenship whereby enterprising individuals are understood to best be able to secure their own needs.
Typically scholars have understood neoliberalism to be associated with curbing the influence of government authorities, especially in areas of the economy. This can certainly be seen in the case of the City of Toronto where, in the lead up to the release of the 2013 municipal budget, media outlets identified concerns around reduced government spending. This is not altogether surprising given that, in 2010, Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto on a platform based on stopping "the gravy train" of municipal expenditures and taxes (Blatchford, 2010) and that the 2012 budget process involved a highly publicized struggle between Mayor Ford who sought to cut $19 million from city services and Toronto residents and city councilors who were vehemently opposed to these measures (Alcoba, 2012). Some of the more conventional tensions around city spending were reported in the media such as cuts to the affordable housing, shelter and housing support programs due to decreased contributions from the provincial and federal levels of government (Social Planning Toronto, 2013) as well as struggles with the firefighters union over the fire service budget (Gee, 2013).
At the same time, scholars of neoliberalism have pointed out that in addition to eliminating social programming, government institutions may also engage in the formation of such programming in order to achieve specific aims. In their analysis of neoliberalism in North American and Western European contexts, Peck and Tickell (2003) point out “a shift from the pattern of deregulation and dismantlement so dominant during the 1980s which might be characterized as a “roll back neoliberalism” to an emergent phase of active state building and regulatory reform- an ascendant moment of “roll out neoliberalism” (2003, p. 384). In this newer version of neoliberalism, “new technologies of government are being designed and rolled out, new technologies of ‘reform’ are being constructed…new institutions and modes of delivery are being fashioned and new social subjectivities are being fostered” (2003, p. 399). Peck and Tickell’s notion of “roll out neoliberalism” help to explain why, in an environment where essential services like public housing are struggling to maintain existing levels of municipal support, arguably less important budget line items like the arts are able to secure increases in government spending. The 2013 municipal budget thus positioned increases in public funding of the arts alongside issues of poverty alleviation and public transit. (Krgovic, 2012).
It is important to note the significance of the public nature of community arts funding.
Cindy, a community grants officer at a government arts funding agency, shared that given the difficulty of accessing money from other sources, community arts necessarily have to be funded
through public budgets. She states:
"It's very hard for them [community arts initiatives] to raise funds in any other way. So there's no expectation of diverse revenue. Corporate funding? No. Ticket sales? No. There aren't opportunities to generate revenue when you are trying to provide access…because of the kinds of communities being engaged, it's much more difficult. You can't really sell tickets when trying to provide access to programming. And in terms of fundraising in terms of corporations? No. Why would they be interested? Not to say not at all but you know, pretty much nil.” Mariana Valverde argues that the government support of “community” initiatives has a particular history in Canada. Through a close reading of the government of Ontario’s 1874 Charities Aid Act, she examines Canada’s history of social service provision and argues against facile binaries between public and private, state and civil society as conceptualized by Gramsci (1971) and other social theorists. She argues that these dichotomies often fail to account for the similarities in the practice of government between government and non-government agencies. In the case of Canada's history of publically beneficial programs, this division obscures the particular characteristics of different aspects of social service processes: funding, service delivery, regulation and policy development (such that for instance, while the government may fund a particular social service program, its delivery may be left in the hands of nongovernmental actors). Ultimately, Valverde contends that Canada's particular brand of social service provision is related to kind of mixed social economy, which necessarily involves a theory about the relationship between the state and civil society. Her articulation of this theory is as follows, “The appearance of a clear public/private divide must be maintained by both government and business rhetoric, but this liberal ideological requirement is not to stand in the way of public subsidies to supposedly private organizations, subsidies which make at least some spheres of the so-called private subject to different types of government regulation and inspection. Subsidies, however, have to be justified as somehow encouraging private initiative and eventual independence of state support.” (1995, p. 50) It would appear that characteristics of what Valverde describes as Canada’s mixed social economy continue to persist in current modes of neoliberal governance. But if we can understand the extension of social programming to be as much a tool of neoliberal governance as its destruction, to what end is this tool being applied in the case of community arts in Toronto? Peck and Tickell maintain roll out neoliberalism is especially concerned with “the aggressive reregulation, disciplining and containment of those marginalized or disposed” (2003, p. 389). A similar concern with reaching out to disenfranchised groups is articulated in several municipal public policy documents that attempt to justify the need for financial support for the arts.
In Creative capital gains: An action plan for Toronto a document produced by the City of Toronto’s Economic Development Committee as a follow up to the city’s initial cultural plan in 2003, one of the specific challenges outlined was the need “to ensure access and opportunity for cultural participation to all citizens, regardless of age, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, geography or socioeconomic status” (2011, p.7). Similarly, in its 2012 annual report, the Toronto Arts Council (TAC) emphasized the importance of taking into consideration the “changing demographic of the city…[and the need to support] culturally diverse artists and art forms” as well as “the growing financial disparity between the inner suburbs and downtown, leading to underserviced artists, neighborhoods and audiences” (Toronto Arts Council, 2013a) Arts funding agencies, municipal authorities and arts organizations have especially centered community arts as a means through which to engage marginalized communities. In the preamble to the guidelines for community arts funding, the TAC states “Art practiced at a community level creates a powerful sense of inclusion, understanding and the possibility of selfexpression among participants… the collaborative involvement of professional artists with community members is a necessary component” (Toronto Arts Council, n.d.-a). This understanding of community arts as the involvement of professional artist(s) in community settings is a common criteria in funding for community arts across different levels of government. Honor Ford-Smith (2001) traces the history of the institutionalization of community arts in Canada and argues that it was only through the advocacy of artists of color in the 1980s and 1990s around the lack of access to the means of cultural production that authorizing institutions like the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts began to respond by implementing specific reforms. Consequently, community art programs which had previously referred to arts in the more remote provincial regions were expanded to include different ethnoracial and linguistic groups. Ford-Smith argues that this struggle for inclusion has continued to inform mainstream conceptions of community art, “When the term ‘community’ is invoked in discussions about community art, it usually refers to groups that are different from the dominant (white middle class) norm” (2001, p. 22).
It is important to note however that not all non-dominant groups are equally prioritized in the funding of community arts. While Creative Capital Gains makes mention of the importance of reaching out to all citizens, the images accompanying the section on “Access and Diversity” are all of young people of color. The document also points to the significance of focusing on youth as “the most entrepreneurial and technologically literate members of our society” (2001, p.