Art Is Power: A bi-weekly column where Che Kothari, renowned photographer & executive director of Manifesto, asks artists to succinctly define the power of art.
In case you haven't heard the best news for the arts in Toronto in a long time, let me be the one to catch you up. The Billboard Tax for the arts has been long in the works, and has finally become a reality, thanks to the many artists and cultural leaders who advocated for it. This "third party sign tax" means all those billboards you see occupying our city streets and highways will actually be filtering millions into arts and culture and the beautification of our city. This is a huge win for Toronto, which has been massively underfunding the arts in comparison to other cities in a similar realm around the world.
Shad | Photo by Che Kothari
Shad is one of the artists who came out to lobby for the much-needed tax to go towards the arts. He's an ideal person to speak to decision-makers about art, because he fulfills the fantasy about what an artist is and defies the stereotype at the same time. He's the guy who rubbed a couple of sticks together to make it, who started out as a fan, recording his first album with the winnings of 91.5 FM's Rhythm of the Future competition in 2005. He also has a business degree AND his masters, is fluent in both official languages, and is known for lyrics dissecting political and social issues with as much flavour as an extra spicy Gandhi Roti. In fact, some of his rhymes touch on a subject that's been on my mind, defining the power of art. Check em out:
"Fools wanna make stars instead of music that's smart or special
Because art at a level that's real can be harder to peddle
Business prefers a market that settles for 2nd rate
Kill the true artists martyr the rebels"
(Shad "I heard you had a voice like an Angel")
Obviously this brilliant and uber-talented artist would have something to say about the idea that Art is Power.
Q. How has art changed your life?
Profoundly. Making music has helped me learn about who I am, connect with family and friends and complete strangers. It's grown my ability to communicate and my courage. It's allowed me to see more of the world. It's provided so much joy and so many opportunities for growth, I can hardly begin to describe them all.
Q. What does ART IS POWER mean to you?
First thing that comes to mind is how influential art/entertainment are in that they are possibly the primary force shaping our collective imagination. By that I mean that our cultural products don't just define our culture, they define the possibilities for our culture. That might sound like I'm overstating but I think it's true. The films we watch and the songs we listen to don't just describe what's going on, they also either expand or collapse the realm of possibilities that we imagine for ourselves and for our world. It happens largely on a subconscious level but I think it happens and that's the first reason why "art is power" to me.
Secondly, I think art has the unique ability to break through personal defenses and all sorts of divisions between people and connect us to an essential, shared part of our humanity. Rational arguments can change minds but I think art has the power to penetrate deeper and bring people together in a truly unique and potentially transformative way.
Lastly I'll say that art is power in that it gives people an opportunity to explore and express the fullness of who they are, which in turn liberates others to do the same. For many people, the dignity, understanding, and pure enjoyment of that experience can be literally life-saving. And for many others, at least it makes life much more worth living.
Overall, I think art has tremendous power to remind, redeem, delight, enlighten, compel, and more.
Follow Shad @shadkmusic
Check out previous Art Is Power Series Articles:
Kardinal Offishall On Why Art Is Power
Che Kothari is a renowned photographer and the executive director of Manifesto Community Projects, whose mission is to unite, inspire and empower diverse communities of young people through arts and culture. chekothari.com | themanifesto.ca
Follow Che Kothari on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chekothari