«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
Ultimately, he argues that the state restructuring of the relationship between culture and class is a central process through which hegemony or “a condition of social ascendancy, of cultural, moral and political leadership by a particular social bloc” (2006, p. 379) is achieved.
Much like Britain, the arts have been central to questions of the nation state in Canada. In the mid-twentieth century, the construction of Canada’s nationhood was intimately linked to the arts. In 1949, the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (also known as the Massey Commission) was charged with the task of fostering a national culture given that Canada had gained greater prominence on the international stage through its involvement in World War II but had yet to develop a distinctive national culture (Massey Commission, 1951). Canada’s growing international reputation also empowered the federal government to become involved in the arts at the national level as prior to this period, arts policy was considered to fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces (Druick, 2006). The report published by the Massey Commission made it clear that Canada needed to foster the participation of Canadians in all forms of intellectual, artistic and cultural activities as a way for the country to distance itself from American cultural hegemony (Finlay, 2004). The work of the commission was central in paving the way for the establishment of the Canada Council for the Arts, Canada’s federal arts funding body. Toward the end of the twentieth century, the state again became preoccupied with the role of the arts in creating and maintaining a distinct national culture. In negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States, special status was accorded to artistic culture (Atkey, 1997). Within the overall discussion about the movement of goods, services and people across state borders, Canada considered it important to take measures to protect the nation’s art from the free trade discipline otherwise imposed by the Agreement.
Studies in the politics of art have been keen to point out how the arts serve as the site through which state institutions seek to deal with populations that are otherwise considered to be outside of the national body politic. Sujatha Fernandes (2003) examines the role of the Cuban socialist state in harnessing the oppositional power of rap music to maintain its hegemony in the face of growing racial and economic disparities. She shows how, in the absence of organized political movements or forms of association among Afro-Cuban youth, rap provides an avenue of expression and cultural resistance in Cuban society where musicians can address racial injustice in Cuba and make demands for the inclusion of marginalized sectors in the process of advocating for political and economic change. By assimilating internal critiques that denounce the country’s racial and economic injustice, Fernandes outlines the ways in which the Cuban state comes to exert influence over the strategies, directions and politics of rap in Cuba.
Fernandes analysis of how arts figure into states attempt to contain racialized others resonates with other ethnographic studies. For instance, in his analysis of how Aboriginal art comes to be considered ‘contemporary Australian art’, Fred Myers (2001) tracks the way in which it has been commoditized not only through market processes of consumer capitalism and the demands for recognition by Aboriginal activists but also by practices of the Australian state.
Tracing the history of Papunya Tula, Myers demonstrates that this artist cooperative in the Western Desert was derived from the Australian states assimilationist policy toward Aboriginal peoples. When Australian Aboriginal people gained the rights of citizenship in 1967 they became subjects of national concern and federal responsibility. In response to high rates of poverty and mortality, the Australian state attempted to find them a place in the economy and turned to art as a way of providing culturally meaningful work.
Within Canada, one way in which the state attempts to contain racialized others is through the operation of arts funding structures focused on “community arts”4. In tracing the history of the institutionalization of community arts, Honor Ford-Smith (2001) 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 Canada Council for the Arts This current political arrangement is different from an earlier era that Peter Li describes as being characterized by two separate and unequal art worlds. Li differentiates a formal legitimized and high status art world populated by mostly white Canadians and supported by the Canada Council for the Arts (an autonomous professional body), from a marginal folkloric and low status multicultural art world reserved for largely immigrants and visible minorities supported by Canada’s official policy of multiculturalism and subject to government oversight.
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 ethno-racial and linguistic groups. 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). Yet Ford-Smith is skeptical about the transformative potential of state institutionalization and questions the degree to which people of color and other marginalized groups are able to set the terms of the debate. She cautions that if these new arrangements prevent artists from working in politically subversive ways, “what we have is a situation in which so called community art becomes a way of massaging and managing social consent by offering welfare to the most marginalized, in a bright new decorative package” (p.
Ford-Smith’s insights into the way in which community arts can serve as a means through which states exercise control over racially subordinate populations are borne out in more recent studies focused specifically on the city of Toronto. Grundy and Boudreau (2008) draw on literature around neoliberal governmentality to argue that community art programs in Toronto serve as technologies of governance where active citizenship is premised at least partly on participation in cultural events and creative practices. In a finer grained analysis of art funding in the city, Debroah Leslie and Mia Hunt (2013) argue that community art programs target at-risk youth (largely youth of color) living in impoverished neighborhoods as a means of reducing the risk of violence presumed to be associated with these populations.
But state institutions recognize the multiple uses to which the arts may be applied, mobilizing both its repressive and productive potential. Thus while the arts serve to contain racialized others, they also operate to empower other populations for particular ends. The role of gay people in Richard Florida’s (2002) argument about the relationship between creativity and economic growth provides a particularly apt example of how this process occurs. Drawing from his extensive research on urban economic development, Florida maintains that creativity is the driving force of economic growth and that the role of urban planners and policy makers is to create environments that are conducive to this creativity. According to Florida, because of an overall decrease in job security, people are no longer moving to jobs, opting instead to live in geographic areas based on their lifestyle interests. Companies are thus increasingly interested in moving to regions that are populated by creative skilled people who, according to Florida value diversity in all its manifestations. Because of the fact that “homosexuality represents the last frontier of diversity in our society…[an openness to gays is a] good indicator of the low entry barriers to human capital that are so important to spurring creativity and generating …[economic] growth” (2002, p. 256).
In Florida’s argument, gays are important for urban governments because their presence serves as an indicator as to the areas in which state institutions should concentrate their resources to promote creativity, which serves as a driver for economic growth. Florida’s thesis linking gays to the advancement of urban economic development is a prime example of what Lisa Duggan (2002) refers to as homonormativity or a depoliticizing politics in which gays are complicit not only with dominant heteronormative assumptions but the unfolding of neoliberalism such that “gay rights” are narrowed to the sphere of consumption and private domesticity.
Though his work has been subject to academic criticism, his arguments have been widely embraced in the halls of urban government in countries as diverse as the United States, Australia, Japan, Copenhagen, and Italy. Florida has a particularly intimate relationship to Canada and with Toronto in particular. Florida is the Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and Professor of Business and Creativity at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. In his text he specific mentions Toronto as one of the cities that recognizes the importance of fostering a “creativity” climate in support of urban economic development (Florida, 2002).
Florida’s arguments can also be evinced in the City of Toronto’s latest cultural plan (City of Toronto, 2011) which mobilizes the concept of the “creative city” as an economic engine that ensures prosperity. This is not altogether surprising given that Florida is listed as the first special advisor on the report's advisory council.
As an instrument of governance, the arts operate not only to contain the threat posed by racialized groups but also to foster a kind of economic development supported by gay inclusion.
The existing literature on arts governance does in fact attest that these two populations are analytically distinct. A closer reading of Florida's work reveals a categorical distinction that he makes between questions of race and those of sexuality. He states, "my own research shows a negative statistical correlation between concentrations of high tech firms in a region and nonwhites as a percentage of the population, which is particularly disturbing in light of my other findings on the positive relationship between high tech and other kinds of diversity..[such as] gays" (2002, p. 80). For Florida, it would appear that non-whites are not gays and that race and sexuality are separate categories of existence. I am not the first to make note of this distinction.
Hanhardt writes "Although for Florida, acceptance of gays represents the far reaches of tolerance and diversity, his curious definition is absent of people of color" (2013, p. 187). Similarly, while studies on the use of arts as a political tool in the lives of people of color have noted how issues of racialization are connected to other aspects of social difference such as age and gender, none have adopted an analyses that take into account how race and sexuality may be mutually constitutive.
In this section, I ask how the figure of the queer and trans person of color complicates existing analysis of the arts as a political tool wielded by the state to both constrain the resistance of racialized others and enable the assimilation of (white) gays in the name of economic development. If the state works through the arts to contain people of color and to assimilate (white) gays, how do queer and trans people of color fit into this narrative? Roderick Ferguson’s (2004) conceptualization of “surplus populations” provides an important starting point for this discussion and demonstrates the simultaneously productive and repressive dimensions of power to which queer and trans people of color are subject. Extending Marx’s analysis in “On the Jewish question” (2012), Ferguson argues that the workings of capital continuously disrupt the state’s insistence on the universality of citizenship by enabling social formations marked by intersecting particularities of race, gender, class and sexuality. Speaking specifically about the United States, Ferguson points out how US capital had to look outside local and national boundaries for labor thereby violating ideals of racial homogeneity. He argues that the enlisting of labor in this way produces surplus populations or those that are “relatively redundant working populations…that is superfluous to capital’s average requirements for its own valorization” (Marx, 1977, p. 782 as cited in Ferguson 2004, p. 15). He states, “surplus populations point to a fundamental feature of capital: it does not rely on normative prescriptions to assemble labor, even while it may use those prescriptions to establish the value of that labor. Capital is based on a logic of reproduction that fundamentally overrides and often violates heteropatriarchy’s logic. Subsequently, capital often goes against the state’s universalization and normalization of heteropatriarchy” (2004, p. 16) In Ferguson’s analysis, while queer and trans folks of color are denigrated by a state that operates to construct a universal citizenship based on a particular gendered, raced, sexual and classed normativity, they are nevertheless sanctioned by the demands of capital which constructs them as “surplus”.