THE BLOG

We Must Do More to Support Canadian Artists

11/16/2014 11:24 EST | Updated 01/16/2015 05:59 EST
Michael McCann Photography via Getty Images

About 50,000 years ago, a creative explosion occurred in our human evolution when Homo sapiens suddenly developed new skills and forms of self-expression. They began painting, created music and designed musical instruments. They made decorative jewelry from ostrich eggshells, fashioned clothing and invented advanced tools. This "dawn of culture," according to authors Richard Klein and Blake Edgar, is when humans began to display abstract thinking and develop culture and art, and is considered to be the most significant cultural event in human history.

Symbolic thinking -- that is, thinking and communicating through abstract symbols -- is the foundation of arts, music, language, mathematics and science.

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(Art courtesy of Julie Himel)

Fast-forward to the 21st century, human beings have come a long way in our creative arts since decorating ostrich eggshells, and one thing is for certain: artists make our world a colourful and interesting place. Innately curious and inquisitive, artists create beautiful, dramatic, thoughtful forms of art that please and engage the human eye and ear, or get us to think -- or move our bodies. Artists also play an important role in society because they document history in the making. Think of all the artifacts and works, ancient and modern, that are in museums and institutions around the globe.

And yet, given their importance, many artists -- from painters to filmmakers to dancers to writers -- are still today unable to survive economically from their art alone. Often times, they are asked, almost expected, to provide their talents or skills for next to nothing, or nothing at all. As Jenn Goodwin, Toronto-based dance artist and programmer for Scotiabank's Nuit Blanche, put it: "You would not ask a plumber to give their services for free."

As a nation, we do not support them enough.

Historically, artists have always had to rely on personal patrons, like a rich uncle. Today, we are fortunate in this country that our governments have become larger-scale patrons with their various funding and resources for arts and culture, but the arts is always vulnerable to cuts and economic down-turns. Fortunately, we do have a number of philanthropists who support the Canadian arts, such as The Honourable Margaret McCain, who I have had the pleasure of interviewing.

And so, this season, on my show Extraordinary Women TV, I wanted to bring out the stories of local independent artists, the challenges they face and how they get their support to continue doing their art. I wanted to play a role, albeit a small one in the bigger picture, in advocating for them.

So I went on-location over the summer to various art shows, such as the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition and Distillery District, and visited galleries. As I walked around with my camera-person and spoke with these artists, I realized they are truly extraordinary -- not because of status or financial wealth, but because it takes bravery to not only create art, but to share your art with the world. As Toronto-based artist, Karen Taylor, says: "As an artist, you feel naked and exposed."

Artist Julie Himel, an award-winning Toronto painter and mother of a young child, has managed to find support to do her art full-time and balance it with having a family. On a personal level, during difficult times, she turned to her art as a means of healing, as so many artists do. Her work, which is nothing short of magnificent, can be found in public and private collections internationally. "If you keep your eye on beauty and simplicity, life can be a lot happier," says Himel.

Abstract artist, Kate Taylor, works out of her studio home in Toronto and her art appears in private collections around the world. Blending art with business, she spearheads The Artists' Network, an organization geared to helping and supporting visual artists create sustainable businesses and professions.

And so, if I have a take-away from filming this season's show it is this: Toronto has many remarkable and talented artists, women and men, who make our city a colourful and interesting place. Their art has value -- and so do they. My wish is to see many more Canadian businesses, and those with deep pockets and rich resources, taking a greater role in supporting independent artists. Surely today we are much more awake than we were at the dawn of culture 50,000 years ago. The stereotype of the "starving artist" should no longer linger in our collective consciousness.

This post originally appeared at www.ShannonSkinner.com.