By Lindsay Gibb
Last year every other news story was about the economic effects on this or that. News generally wasn’t good. All this turmoil eventually reached the indie arts and literary communities. The independent arts are now facing a new round of funding cuts, not to mention a generally hostile environment that includes everything from Internet throttling to the closures of some of Canada’s most important bookstores.
2008 was actually one of the hardest years on indie bookstores with Magpie (15 years in Vancouver), The Front Page (15 years in Edmonton) and The Book Room (169 years in Halifax!!) to name a few, all shutting their doors. But 2009 ushered in its fair share of closures to city book staples such as Toronto’s Pages Books, which closed after 30 years, and Frog Hollow which shut down after 25 years in Halifax. All these closures cited issues ranging from rising rent, to the effects of a declining economy, to the digitizing of literature for their failures.
While waning support for indie bookshops is a shame, it seems that, at least in some cases, it’s the lack of connectivity with local communities and an inability to keep up with changing reading habits that led to their downfalls. Sure, it’s hard for a 169-year-old store to keep up with the times, but that’s what we need from them. Local bookstores have to offer something the Internet and Chapters (or Barnes & Noble) don’t; a personality; events, recommendations and offerings that connect us to our communities and are distinct from the mass market offerings we can find cheaper and easier just about anywhere else.
Which is to say that in bad times, we have to work even harder to connect with people and get them to understand the importance of grassroots art and culture. In this issue, writer Laura Trethewey looks across the country at the various hits independent artists have been taking this past year — with the arts funding cuts by various levels of government at the top of the list (page 14). But while cuts and the economy bring creators down, Andrea Mancia, our guest zine philosopher, explains what spurs her to create despite all else (page 34).
The year 2009 wasn’t all bad news for independent creators. Among many other things I could cite, last year saw the release of Canadian indie comic legend Marc Bell’s giant collection of “fine ahtwerks” Hot Potatoe (I suppose borrowing from Dan Quayle’s gift for spelling), Koyama Press’ Lose (excerpted on page 24), True Loves 2 (from our own comic columnist Jason Turner) and Pope Hats by Ethan Rilley (reviewed on page 41).
It was a good year for awards, with local weirdoes bestowed with honours, such as Mammalian Diving Reflex getting the Arts for Youth Award from the Toronto Arts Foundation and the band Fucked Up receiving the Polaris music prize. And while the following didn’t win, indie creators infiltrated the National Magazine Awards celebration with Ryan Bigge getting a nominated for his Broken Pencil article on independent culture in the Google era, Worn magazine seeing a nomination for best cover and Spacing receiving multiple nominations.
So as we look ahead to 2010, we need to keep in mind that there will always be funding problems and other deterrents making it even more difficult to build culture. But as long as there are those who want (or need) to create and communicate, we will. We can’t ignore the stumbling blocks that are placed in our way, but we also can’t let them stop us.