Gov’t not responsible for Alberta’s culture

Asked to name “the most exciting cultural happening of the year” in the province, most Albertans would be hard pressed to mention

Marco Navarro-Genie, Guest Columnist

Asked to name “the most exciting cultural happening of the year” in the province, most Albertans would be hard pressed to mention something called Alberta Cultural Days. Yet, that is exactly how the government of Alberta bills it.

The Alberta Cultural Days “adventure,” “spearheaded (a rather war-like term) by the Government of Alberta, amounts to a province-wide state-sponsored festival of festivals. Its official website calls it “a three-day celebration of Alberta’s unique blend of peoples and passions and the importance of arts and culture to building healthy and vibrant communities.” The three-day event ended Sept. 30.

Culture Days, however, is simply an example of how out of its element government is when it comes to culture.

While it is true that arts and culture are linked to vibrant communities, the implied claim that healthy communities are derived from state sponsored cultural events is less true. In fact, social research points in the opposite direction.

That research shows that the strongest communities are those in which civil society is strong, and civil society is strongest in communities in which the community autonomously develop and promotes what is best for itself. Conversely, community is weakest in places where governments run their citizens’ lives, leaving little room for autonomy. It is no coincidence that Russia had such weak civic culture after coming out of seven decades of Communist rule.

So for the Alberta Government to say that “culture is part of what makes Alberta such a great place to live, work and raise a family” is flippantly akin to saying that air is what makes Albertans such great people. If there is community, there is culture.

The government is implying that Albertans enjoy great communities because they have culture. But it is the opposite that is true: we have great cultural expressions because we have strong individuals, families and communities.

The government is also suggesting that, as promoter and funder of Culture days, it is the cause of such great culture and community. In other words, that Albertans “owe” it for such great things.

Culture Days, now in its fifth year thanks to former Premier Ed Stelmach, is an example of the government’s attempt to insert itself in civil society in order to both gain favour with the artistic community and to appear “fostering (of) unity, (with) a sense of belonging and caring for our fellow citizens.”

The worst part is that its generosity is achieved with other people’s money, which amounts to fake generosity.

Finally, such events, an appeal to a “unique blend of peoples and passions,” are an attempt to inject multiculturalism by stealth at a time when such policies are being questioned all across the world and across the country. Surprisingly, the brunt of the criticism against such events is being launched by ethnic communities and individuals, no longer interested in being condescended to by politicians.

Real culture is independent of the state, unless it is state culture (which often means bureaucracy, red tape, corruption and overspending, entitlements to expense accounts, junkets to London, England, and so forth), which most folks despise.

State sponsorship has not often resulted in great works of art. It is true that Elizabeth I was a patron of the arts, as were several Renaissance rulers. But none of them funded everybody and everything. They exercised choices that we would certainly not entrust to politicians or government employees today. One can see the difference between Russian novels and Soviet writings, or between Marc Chagall’s works and Soviet painters.

Alberta’s premier will not commission the next great sculpture, largely because she does not make such decisions. Modern state-sponsoring makes impersonal choices and does so in nearly an egalitarian fashion, making the promotion of all the promotion of none.

Albertans would be better off without the intrusion of the state into their civil affairs. Autonomy begets stronger communities and better culture.

Marco Navarro-Genie is vice-president of research at the Frontier Centre www.fcpp.org

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