If you are like most A\J readers, you are more likely to enjoy an independent music festival than a big corporate event.
Independence. It is something that we all strive for, with connotations of self-determination, freedom and liberty. For those of us with aspirations to a career in creativity, we wrestle with that idea of 'independence' all the time. Are we able to convey our core meanings? Can we explore the topics that most resonate with our ethos? Oh, and will I make enough money with my art to be able to afford a modicum of dignity (let alone food and rent)?
I was thinking of this over the weekend when I read POPSMACKED - The Walmart Effect in the Waterloo Region Record. Writer Joel Rubinoff laments the rise of 'sponsored creativity' as embodied by corporate-powered mega-festivals that are popping up across North America. And while there may be logical reasons for this phenomenon - a broken-model recording industry desperate to pioneer new revenue streams - this scramble for dollars comes at a price (over-saturation) and with all-too-familiar victims, in this case, the independent music festivals like the beloved Hillside Music Festival.
Now, admittedly, we're a bit biased in favour of Hillside. Not only are we long-time sponsors of the event but we're also HUGE fans, and have been since its inception. We've frequently been inspired at Hillside to write about artists, initiatives and experiences we've gained in communing with nature, in engaging with our neighbours and from being surrounded by a bounty of independent artistic innovators like Danny Michel, Elephant Revival and many, many more. We're also really impressed by Hillside's long-standing and self-evident commitment to the environment, from their efforts to help visitors learn to live a healthier and more sustainable life through to their working in creating a DIY solar water heater for use in washing reusable cutlery, dishes and glasses. And, yes, we are already packing up our tent and getting ready for Hillside 2016.
But, as you'll see if you read Rubinoff's article, we can't take for granted that an independent music festival like Hillside will always be there for us, especially given the challenges they face with the invasion of the corporate music festivals impinging on their territory and their fan base. In fact, the independent providers of arts and culture across Canada are increasingly under threat as market dynamics shift and more mainstream competitors move in to steal market share from beloved local institutions.
So how do we (the royal WE) go about ensuring the sustainability of our independent creative arts industry? The easiest answer is to spend our hard-earned time and money directly with the artists themselves, or with the independent retailers who share their philosophy of a 'virtuous upward spiral' of community helping community, of artist helping artist, of neighbour supporting neighbour.
Don't like the service (or dwindling selection) at those big-box booksellers? If you are in SW Ontario, you might want to give your business to Wordsworth Books (Waterloo) or The Book Shelf (Guelph). For the rest of the country, you might want to visit Find An Independent Bookstore, a project of the Retail Council of Canada.
Big fan of buying CDs to support independent music artists? First off: HOORAY and THANK YOU. In today's music economy, direct sales of CDs and merch is one of the only consistent revenue streams that puts dollars into the actual pockets of the artists themselves. Your purchase goes so much farther, means that much more and does that much more good in your community when you spend-where-you-live. Here in Kitchener, we're fortunate to have Encore Records, a local institution ('not a dog disk in the dump since 1981') celebrating their 35th anniversary with a big bash next weekend. And, yes, we'll be there, hooting and hollering - and we hope to see you, too.
Let's celebrate the power of independent artists to forge emotional connections directly with their fans through their preferred media. Let's ensure that we're taking that extra step to protect and safeguard independent cultural contributors like Hillside that face encroachment from billion-dollar businesses. And let's work together to build a stronger, healthier and more vibrant independent cultural scene across Canada that properly rewards the artists AND empowers the fans to come together to celebrate the independent spirit of creativity.
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