listen up Canada: Artists in Mexico can pay income tax with work

I’ve known about this for awhile (they’ve been doing this since 1957), and it seemed timely as we are going through a period here in Canada with a social conservative, big business government that is described frequently as “secretive” and “bullies”. Unfortunately, this seems to describe most Canadians as well.

In the arts industry in general there is a constant background noise “artists versus taxpayers”. Some people get upset over publicly funded work that they do not like. In our culture of epic, chronic, financial crisis there is a sense the arts should be the first to be axed during cutbacks.  This is long standing political rhetoric in Canada from any given government on any level. It only confuses things that the dreaded 1%ers and aspiring 1%ers are often very signifigant contributers to the arts and the industry is often associated with elitism and decadence.

I just find this fundamental difference of the value of culture between Mexico and Canada really interesting to think about. It seems that there is a prevalent attitude here that it is a burden on taxpayers in Canada to support the arts in contrast to Mexican artists (in my limited knowledge), who are seen are taxpayers supporting the state.

Could this model ever work in Canada?

Sadly, I just can’t imagine this working here. Ever. Bitterly, I can explain it by pointing to the dominance of the suburbs in shaping policy and politics, with largely conservative and individualistic values trumping the typically progressive and liberal community values from urban cores.

I can also point to what is going on in Montreal with the student protesters taking a stand against tuition hikes on tuition that is already the lowest in the country. A noble cause, in my opinion, as we should be aiming for tuition free education for everyone.  The backlash from other parts of Canada, the lethargic and disappointing lack of solidarity from other student communities and the somewhat tepid domestic media coverage points to a certain kind of shallowness. Perhaps it can be defined as making sure the next guy does not have it better than you, rather than insisting on progression towards a more Utopian vision. This lack of priority for an educated society has resulted already in a generation who emphasize school as technical training in lieu of critical thought and research. So what chance would a proposal for artists to pay taxes with their work have in this kind of political environment?

Though Canada suffers from a largely puritan and loyalist history, it seems to me that there was a more ambitious goal of our society during the 60’s and 70’s for technology and progress to help create less jobs, more leisure time and higher standard of living for everyone. Arts funding, universal health care, uncensored science research, open schools, job sharing, environmental sciences – now it feels like you are likely to put on some sort of government watch list when you promote these views.

One of the greatest tools a politician has to utilize is to claim to be acting of behalf of “taxpayers”. Income tax was implemented in Canada in 1917 – so is that when taxpayers become more important than citizens? When did culture outside of shopping malls stop being the soul of a nation? When did more jobs, more subdivisions and more cars become our vision of a Utopian ideal to strive for, at all costs?

So that is why I don’t think Canadian society will be enlightened anytime soon to even be able to consider such lofty goals that are apparently outside the immediate wants and needs of your average voter.

And that is a shame. We have the means to a better place to live, more responsible ways, but not the collective will.

I may try to send in a painting in lieu of paying income tax, but as an artist I have a ways to go before being in a comfortable enough position to actually owe anything.

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