Quebec arts funding shows majority’s hegemony
Racialized and cultural minorities are shortchanged, Rahul Varma says.
While the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) denies there is systemic discrimination against cultural minorities in arts funding, its approach has helped produce a three-tier arts world.
At the top is the arts world of white francophones, which, on account of history, is perceived as formal, hence legitimate. Below it is the arts world of white anglophones, rendered legitimate by Anglo-Eurocentrism, with an only occasional inclusion of diversity, largely to win monetary favours. At the bottom is the arts world of visibleminority, multicultural and Indigenous artists.
Hierarchy is associated with cultural hegemony, where artistic excellence is mediated by race and dominant culture. As a consequence, the excellence of visible minorities’ art is judged from the Occidental viewpoint that upholds standards of the dominant group, pre-supposing visible-minority art, which is different in form and content, as inferior. Their art world is stereotypically perceived as informal, low-status and folkloric, their cultures exotic. Folklore has a nostalgic appeal to the Occidental mindset on account of its exoticism, which feeds into its stereotypes of what visible-minority art should be. “Othering” is not just a political phenomenon, but extends into the domain of the arts.
This is why a hegemonic process immersed in Occidentalism fails to equitably evaluate racialized companies, which refuse to attune to the stereotypes and nostalgia of the dominant group.
At the same time, it rewards such a blatant example of hegemony as can be seen in Théâtre du Nouveau Monde’s mounting of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan with 18 white actors playing diverse characters, without a single actor of colour, a monumental esthetic aberration. The hegemonic system not only reinforces cultural superiority of everything white-EuroFrench, but it also legitimizes the cultural order of the dominant group as normal. So it is not surprising that CALQ keeps rewarding blatant racism such as blackface and yellowface, while shortchanging cultural diversity.
In its response to charges of systemic discrimination against culturally diverse arts, CALQ cites protocols and statistics. It also points to its Plan d’action pour la diversité culturelle 2016-2019. As well, CALQ’s CEO Anne-Marie Jean argues that 52.6 per cent of all of the cultural minority organizations that applied for funding received money, as opposed to 43.4 per cent of all organizations.
In any case, systemic discrimination cannot be disproven merely by pointing toward protocols, a Plan d’action or even statistics about the diversity of funded groups, but rather by demonstrating the absence of a marker of inequity, which can be measured by assessing the levels of funding afforded to certain groups over others. And that evidence is revealing.
White francophone organizations receive far more than do organizations made up of visible and English-speaking minorities or Indigenous people. For example, in the dance field, at the top are Les Grands Ballets receiving $2.3 million and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal $630,000, according to CALQ’s 2016-17 annual report, while such culturally diverse companies as Nyata Nyata and Sinha Dance received $42,500 and $55,250 respectively. Similarly, in the theatre field, among the top recipients are Théâtre du Nouveau Monde ($1.5 million) and Maison théâtre ($763,000). Well below are such Englishspeaking, culturally diverse companies as Black Theatre Workshop ($58,575) and Teesri Duniya Theatre ($8,055).
Another marker of inequity is the lack of cultural diversity in CALQ governance, leadership, administration and juries. CALQ’s juries are still predominantly, if not exclusively, white and francophone, adjudicating the productions of the Englishspeaking minority, visible minorities and Indigenous communities. A public body is obliged to be equitable, impartial and fair. Fairness can be guaranteed only by rules to maintain racial and cultural equity in the arts — and CALQ has no such rules.
Cultural diversity is best guarantee of social harmony. It is imperative that hierarchy, hegemony and inequality be removed from arts funding.