Canadian art grants should be used to support upcoming Canadian artists, not to pad the pockets of commercialized success stories
Joss Arnott // Staff Writer
Naomi Evers // Illustrator
Grimes is a Juno award-winning electronic music artist and former Vancouverite. She also has an estimated net worth of three million dollars and last May, a child with Elon Musk, the second richest human being in existence. So, when she received a Canadian grant for over $90,000, it appeared like a bit of bullshit was going down. There’s no reason why an established artist like Grimes should be receiving money from the government, and in reality, she didn’t… probably.
The grant was awarded by the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings or FACTOR. The foundation supports artists with creating songs, album recordings, album promotion and touring. FACTOR’s grants aren’t intended to fund artists fully but rather “provide assistance toward the growth and development of the Canadian music industry both domestically and internationally, with a focus on commercial success.”
That focus on “commercial success” is what landed FACTOR at the centre of a brief but potent social media shit storm.
The push for mainstream and commercial success is the push for mainstream music, and mainstream music is not Canadian music—it’s American music.
The digital backlash came after Grimes was listed as the sole recipient of a government grant worth $90,525. Social media, especially Twitter, was shocked that a famed artist like Grimes was receiving a government grant at all—let alone one worth so much money. In reality, it wasn’t Grimes who received the grant, despite being listed as the sole beneficiary. It was her record label, Crystal Math Studio, that received the funding.
In an official response to the online backlash, FACTOR asserted that, “Grimes is not an owner of Crystal Math and Grimes did not receive these funds.” Of course, what Grimes’ record label actually did with those funds is unknown, so she could have received the money after all.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the money goes to Grimes or not. What does matter is that $90,525 wasn’t awarded to artists who actually need it. It was given to an established record label.
The problem with supporting artists for the purpose of commercial success is that you aren’t supporting an artist anymore—you’re endorsing a product. The push for mainstream and commercial success is the push for mainstream music, and mainstream music is not Canadian music—it’s American music. Roughly 37 million people live in Canada, while over 328 million live in the United States. Canadian music, and by an extension, almost all of Canadian popular culture is under this tyrannical chokehold of American influence. If you were focused on commercial success, which country do you think the artist is marketed towards?
The inherent problem with Canadian culture is that it’s second hand. We’re a shadow of America, an echo of Europe and an appropriation of the First Nations who were here before us.
FACTOR focuses on success above all else. Meaning that Canadian art, diversity and identity are all lost in the effort to support mainstream Canadian Artists. But Canada doesn’t need more Justin Biebers. It needs artists like the Tragically Hip or Leonard Cohen. Artists who broke out not because they were marketing towards Americans or following trends, but because they were Canadian and embraced that.
Government art grants are supposed to foster and encourage culture. If you push for songs that can compete with Americans, Australians, Europeans and anyone else who sings in English, you lose what makes you special in the first place. The point of a government grant isn’t to create art that can be found anywhere—it’s to make art that can only be created here, by Canadians. Not to fund privileged expats living the American dream.
Culture creates culture; it builds upon itself and feeds into the next generation. Without culture, you have nothing to build upon or towards. The inherent problem with Canadian culture is that it’s second hand. We’re a shadow of America, an echo of Europe and an appropriation of the First Nations who were here before us. And while Canada is strong because of its diverse cultures, its own culture is weak.
The public outcry that followed the grant Crystal Math Studio received speaks to a problem that has always existed in Canada: Who are we? The point of art is to explore complex topics and make them visible. There’s a hunger for true Canadian art; for stories about what it means to be Canadian. But without a funding system that supports that, it will never happen.