The Canadian Con

Cancon copy
This morning I woke up to a e-mail from the Canadian Council for the Arts rejecting my application to apply for any form of grant or funding for my art; writing books.

When I was much younger and starting to write my first novel series I briefly considered applying for some sort of government funding but ultimately didn’t. Why? I felt that the arts institutions of our government wouldn’t be willing to give money to a twenty one year old with a bunch of crazy ideas about telling action adventure stories for the masses. So I spent nearly a decade writing and publishing work all out of my own pocket and was mostly happy to do so. I recognized, even then, that simply having ideas doesn’t mean you’re entitled to have some sort of bursary or support, especially if you have no tangible experience.

Now, years later with four novels written and published, literary workshops ran and other people’s work funded and published, I felt like I had at earned the credibility to at least apply for some sort of government related funding. Turns out that’s not the case. The e-mail I was sent by the Canadian Arts Council read as follows with emboldening for emphasis:

“Thank you for submitting your Applicant Profile to the Canada Council for the Arts. We have examined the information you provided in light of the eligibility criteria for:

Literary Writer

Based on the information provided, your Applicant Profile has been declined for the following reason(s):

  • Your background does not meet the general expectations for applicants in this field of practice.
  • Your experience does not meet the specific requirements for this profile.
  • Please note that self-published works are not eligible for this profile; if you re-apply, please note that your CV should be in bibliographic format, listing title, publisher, year, pages.”

1. I have been writing and publishing literal literary novels since 2012. Writing is my life. It’s all I care about. So what if I don’t have an english degree and a boatload of debt? I have been attacking the page every day since I was 15 years old. Writing is the only background I have.

2.  My experience: What experience do they expect me to have? I did it. I did it multiple times. I wrote and published these books. They are legitimate books. They have a story that spans volumes. They have ISBN numbers. They are for sale through legitimate dealers. They had design teams. They cost me a lot of time and money. They aren’t ‘zines or poorly constructed self publications. They are real books. What other experience is there to becoming an author of literary merit?

3. Self Publication: I could understand why certain self published authors would be excluded from the application process. The kind of people who are neither skilled nor inspired, producing sub par material, or those that peddle hateful rhetoric in publication. I don’t believe I’m either of those type of person and an institution like the Canadian Council for the Arts should be able to tell the difference. No one would blink at the idea of a musician releasing their music themselves or a painter organizing their gallery release or a performance artist funding their own show. Why is writing any different? Especially when it comes to applying for the privilege to use taxpayer money to make art.  It is offensive to think that I’m only eligible for the chance to apply for arts development money if I have already succeeded enough as an artist to have some gate keeper publish my writing. Do you have any idea how much work it took to write, edit, design and fund the publication of 4 novels? Art is work. It’s not just a brilliant mind. It’s effort and focus and vision. To be denied status as a literary author because I did all the work myself is infuriating and insulting.

So I phoned the Canadian Council for the Arts and was bounced from phone line to phone line looking for someone to talk to about all this before I ended up on the line with the man who had rejected my claim. He basically told me that the grants are reserved for writer’s already working in a professional capacity. I told him that’s ridiculous and frankly really unacceptable. It’s a thin veil covering the internal machinations of the Canadian publishing industry who’s only looking out for those who’ve already seized the reigns of power and now manipulate the means of production. It has always been my perception that academics get published early, build the connections needed to get a book deal and then once their foot is in the door they sign up for as much free money as possible while delivering as little work as they can manage. The guy on the phone quibbled and repeated his talking points which were just as unsatisfactory the second time around. He said that I would have to be published by a real publisher and I asked him what I was. I created a publishing house. I released my work and the work of others. He told me that I had to be recognized in a professional capacity by the industry itself and I just shook my head. “That’s the best you got huh” I responded. Then I asked him why the Canadian Council for the Arts even exists if not to support artists that actually need it and he trailed off telling me I’d have to email his public relations supervisor. I assured him I would and did less than an hour later.

All I want, all I have ever wanted in fact, is to develop my writing and career as an artist. I spent nearly a decade trying to prove I had the sand to do it without ever once going looking for what I considered a hand out. Five years ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead taking money from any sort of fund let alone a government one. As I grew and matured I came to feel that if the opportunity was there for me to receive funding to further my passion I should take it even if I felt like the art institutions of Canada wouldn’t appreciate or value my raucous pulpy action stories. I’ve been scoffed at by enough academics who consider what I do to be childish or lacking depth, without ever giving my work a chance, for those feelings of apprehension to be validated. Still at this point I didn’t think that The Canadian Council for the Arts would be able to dismiss the existence of four novels much less deny the legitimacy of my status as a literary writer. Looks like I was wrong. This entire experience has been terribly disappointing. I wanted to believe that The Canadian Council for the Arts wasn’t an insular fund group that exists to subsidize the bloated and ineffectual arts industries of this country that have grown fat off’ve the blanket nature all the arts that fall under CanCon. Too bad all my youthful perceptions and suspicions about the systemic exploitation and manipulations of our arts funding turned out to be right all along. Canadian Content, it’s a Con allright.