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Ideas of North: A Guide to Canadian Arts & Culture

james hörner

this text is touted as a "guide to canadian arts & culture," and indeed acts as such. ideas of north begins by looking at the viability of the arts in canada, and then does chapters on the mass media, literature, theatre, music, film, visual arts and dance. henighan also looks at 'arenas of culture,' looks at the future forms of art in canada and then gives a nice little appendix which gives listings for the winners of most of the major arts awards in canada (eg. gov gen's, molson...).

ideas of north henighan sums up the mandate nicely in the preface (aptly titled "preface: what this book is about and how to use it"):

In compiling this book I made no attempt to follow anyone's partyline on the achievements and future requirements of Canadian culture; I did not dive into this project as an act of piety to our national icons, although the book comes from a deep conviction that our culture under threat of being swallowed up by the world entertainment industry, centred in the United States. Nonetheless, I did not want to add to the list of dutiful and tedious celebrations of Canadian culture at all costs; I wanted this guide to be personal, provocative, and lively, as well as useful.

in conjunction with the lively historical developments of canada's various arts, there are side-bars which highlight henighan's choices for such things as the "top 12 most important canadian plays." indeed, this is a highly personal look at the arts in canada, but no matter how one feels about henighan's opinions one can't help but find out about a thing or two you haven't yet heard, seen, or experienced.

as for his opinions on the arts in canada...

let's backtrack to henighan's previous book, the presumption of culture: structures, strategies and survival in the canadian cultural landscape in order to get a clear idea of what he thinks about the arts.

in a well structured, quite readable manner, he proposes that:

a) the arts in canada are unable to rely on governments and should turn to private and corporate funding
b) the avant-garde should not receive funding, since why would the establishment pay for criticism against itself (and who's ever heard of a gov't funded fringe anyway?)
c) once start-up funding is established for an artist, they would be permanently cut from the governments purse-strings (i'm not sure if that means big presses like m&s would be up shit creek or not)

through these and other commentaries, henighan shows a bleak future for canadian arts funding. however, it is motivational in that a person had better get their ass in gear if they ever want to get anything done in canada.

at first i was violently opposed to what he had a say (because it pointed out that i would never, could never, and should never, ever even dream a little dream of getting funding for my projects). yet i grew more accustomed to his logic, and began to see the frightening reality behind them.

as well, he insists on the preservation of "high art" because this is the most resistant to outside cultural influence (ie. u.s.). however, this art does not necessarily reflect the masses.

so, if anything, the presumption of culture: structures, strategies and survival in the canadian cultural landscape will give you exercise as you repeatedly throw it across the room in frustration. good read, though not particularly comforting.

ideas of north, on the other hand, probably will find a nice spot on your bookshelf. with convenient, clean lay-out, and well structured organization, this is truly handbook to use to guide your way through experiencing the arts in canada.

published by raincoast books
ISBN 1-55192-066-2

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