Government and the Arts
I AM NOT LOOKING FOR GOVERNMENT FUNDING. I AM LOOKING FOR LEGITIMATE EXCHANGES OF MONEY FOR SERVICES. (Captials hers) — Nicolette Bethel
It would seem that one of the main reasons behind the Day of Absence is to awaken government to take up the responsibility that it supposedly had in the cultural golden age of the 70s and early 80s. Of course, such a wake-up call brings up, not only the uncomfortable issue of government handouts, but also the even more difficult problem of deciding who should get what. In a lengthy comments thread on her blog, Nicolette has taken pains to make clear that she is “talking about trade, exchange, not handouts.” She suggests that a way to improve the tourist product in the country is not by hiring foreign advertising agencies to create alluring ads about a non-existent vacation experience, but to invest that money instead in local cultural industries. She gives as an example the government doing “something as simple as commissioning a Bahamian to create a show for the tourist market” at fair market prices instead of asking the artist to do it out of “love of country.” She is basically asking for the Bahamianization of tourist entertainment. The equation is straightforward, if the government funds the local arts scene, tourists have more to see and more to do while they are here and will spend more money that will go into Bahamian pockets.
This explains a good deal of the rhetoric of “RESPECT” in the Day of Absence proposals. Bahamians, it is argued, generally do not want to pay another Bahamian for their art, but want that work donated, while at the same time they would quickly pay top dollar for the same work if it came from some foreigner. The argument goes that if artists could get the same respect as business people, then they could get loans to fund their art-based industries. In line with the above theory, if government took the lead and redirected its funding, not in hand-outs, but in the “legitimate” exchange of cash for services rendered, then we could get somewhere.
The suggestion that Bahamian artists should be supported by the government has been the most resisted part of Nicolette’s proposal. It was first challenged by Bahamian poet, singer, song writer and architect Pat Rahming, and later by Rick Lowe of the Nassau Institute. Bethel claims that her critics have misread her, that she never proposed anything as banal as an “artists union.” But did everyone get the memo? In another photo from the COB demonstration, an artist slash cultural worker had his mouth taped shut with the words “Feed Me!” written across the masking tape. Is his request completely out of line with Dr. Bethel’s proposals? Does he not get the message she is preaching? It is quite likely that he did indeed read the manifesto; Nicolette seems to be of two minds in this matter and disentangling her separate arguments is, admittedly, not a simple task.
Take for instance where the Day of Absence manifesto decries our artistic “brain drain” which occurs when
Bahamians who want to exercise their talents in the cultural industries are faced with the choice of pursuing their callings as hobbies at home, or of leaving home to make a living by their gifts elsewhere.
How are we to prevent this brain drain if we do not provide these people with a decent living? If the artists ought to remain, and it is the society’s duty to ensure not only their artistic development but also their continued employment once they have matured, then it is naturally the artist’s right to demand room and board. Hence, we have the message written across the mouth of the demonstrator: a simple imperative sentence without a please or a thank-you.