Pulling ourselves up by our eyes and ears

Posted 07.23.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Readers of Quebec's Pontiac Journal have noticed the many arts and cultural events underway this summer. Pontiac's annual Artists Studio Tour, with many of our best local artists, is just over, and there are individual shows every weekend, from Impressions Gallery's avante garde work in Shawville to shows in restaurants, cafes, and offices.

Elke Bzdurreck has wrapped up her show of impressive recent and past work, and other shows are coming -- including ceramics, sculpture, fabric arts, and the magnificent crafts that have made Pontiac creators famous, from handmade papers to tole art. From Allumettes Island to Breckenridge, the arts in Pontiac are high quality, hugely various -- and a bargain.

This isn't hobby-work; it's an industry, the cultural industry. We'd be fools if we didn't see the economic value of culture. It creates jobs, generates incomes, and increases local spending -- all that an industry does.

Montreal counts culture as one of its top five job creators; Montreal nurtures that industry.

Pontiac's industry faces problems. Competition is a big one -- studio tours are everywhere, and the market for art and culture is immensely fragmented.

These difficulties merit help from everyone, not just those directly involved--like most industries. There's a limit to artists' boot-strapping abilities. Apart from public attendance and purchases, help must include support from our mayors and councils.

Pontiac's industry already exists, but to continue and grow it needs more foundational help, real marketing help, and money.

This industry stimulates other industries -- restaurants and motels -- and it needs the support of that very infrastructure. More attractions, B&Bs and cafés make a visit to Pontiac's arts communities more attractive. The industry needs more galleries, gift shops and other places to show and market arts and crafts. Pontiac Wool Works was a super example, as is L'Artizan and the big arts, crafts, and gift shows in various cities.

Synergies created by this industry include bus tours -- and the Pontiac commuter train. Here's how to fill the weekend and summer holes in the train's schedules; Pontiac's cultural industry can help make the commuter train a viable project.

To grow its present success this industry needs more effort from the artists and crafters themselves: unity and cooperation, but also recognition that our artists have to push themselves closer to the cutting edge. Urban customers want innovation and radical expression. This alone would distinguish Pontiac from the hundreds of other areas promoting amateur arts.

Government experts should see culture as a legitimate industry, deserving support. Funding for an old-fashioned community organizer, for example, or for an arts or heritage centre, or to fund events, if not buildings -- projects defined by the artists and marketing specialists, not by functionaries.

A marketing study is clearly needed, including how to create and market year-round a Pontiac logo for the arts.

All this has been discussed for thirty years or more. It grows out of the Ottawa Valley and Pontiac's rich cultural heritage, but really became a force with the back-to-the-land movement of the '70s, '80s, and '90s, which brought remarkable skills and creativity to the Pontiac from across North America.

The new Pontiac School of the Arts is one of the brightest potentials for big growth. Although the youth programs are filled, there are still openings in jewelry making, collagraphic printing, oil painting, trading cards, floor mats, box making, visual theatre, and singing classes. These are this season's final weeks-call 819-647-2291 or go to www.pontiacschoolofthearts.com .

Our arts create jobs. The create our vision and spirit. We need them. We need to support them.

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/07.10