Made for art
Last week, the University of Saskatchewan announced it would be closing its Kenderdine Campus at Emma Lake immediately because of major infrastructure needs that the University could not afford to repair. This is only one major blow to the fine arts community in Saskatchewan in the past year, which I probably don’t need to remind anyone about. Cough-film tax credit-cough. The government simply cannot afford these frivolous little artists anymore is the message.
But this is such an ass backwards concept for Saskatchewan. As far as I remember growing up as a kid, art was part of this province. There’s the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the Craft Council, the Artist’s Guild, individual guilds in small towns, galleries everywhere, and distinct Saskatchewan artists like Glen Scrimshaw and Joe Fafard that define Saskatchewan artistry. Even today, there’s a huge focus on art that reflects the uniqueness of Saskatchewan, like the Regina Gateway buffalo spine on Regina Avenue by artists Paul Raff and Jyhling Lee.
But, at the same time, there’s increasing cuts to the programs that support artists and art in Saskatchewan. This is sad, not just for artists, but for the Saskatchewan legacy that will be left behind after the government makes these budgetary decisions, increasingly decisions that claim to promote business growth and industrial enterprise and demote the fine arts.
I spent the weekend driving around rural south Saskatchewan, and on my journey, I was stricken by how stunning my province is. Even covered in a plain white blanket, the vast empty fields glitter, and the sun and clouds envelope each other like watercolour paints swirling on a palette. Our grain elevators and railroads were built on a business foundation, but for decades, artists have picked up their cameras, paintbrushes and pencils and interpreted these manmade structures in a way that gives them iconic status, something uniquely Saskatchewan.
As an artist, I find it impossible to be in this place, looking at my surroundings, and not feel my heart and mind fill with inspiration. I know other artists feel the same, because despite the funding cuts to fine arts programs, many artists stay because this is our beautiful home, before, during, and after the current government and their budget. It just seems right that fine art and natural Saskatchewan go hand in hand. It’s inexplicable, and frankly, it doesn’t have to be explained.
Just look outside at the endless sunsets and sunrises, the fiercely powerful storms, the environmental diversity from Cypress Hills to Athabasca. This place is stunning. And it’s being destroyed by outer city developments, highways, oil mining and unsustainable farming. On top of that, those who work to record the wonder of nature are being undervalued by our government. This province was made to be painted, photographed, and immortalized.
Saskatchewan welcomes artists by simply being really lovely to look at. Despite this natural relationship, fine arts are being suppressed by budget cuts. Artists are being strained, and many are leaving the province because the government has made clear it is not supporting their work. The loss of artist influence in this province will prove to be a tragedy. Art belongs in Saskatchewan, and as far as I’m concerned, this conservative government’s unwillingness to see the value of the fine arts does not.
Photo courtesy Julia Dima