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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

'Life of Pi' to Save Culture: Oh, Dear

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2007 at 10:21 AM

click to enlarge book_burning_thumb.jpg
Frustrated local arts organizations fed up with lobbying local and state leaders for funding might consider taking a different approach. All Shook Down's Chloe Veltman on an unusual form of arts activism.-d2

Pi in Your Eye, Guv'Na

By Chloe Veltman

Arts organizations in the Bay Area are always complaining -- and rightly so -- about the lack of funds available to support the arts and the general lack of interest in championing cultural endeavor at civic and state levels. Music, art, dance and drama have all but vanished from our schools, the California Arts Council has been eviscerated, companies are being chased out of their venues to make way for high-end shoe stores and college dorms and tourists are constantly being told "come to San Francisco for beautiful scenery and gourmet dining" rather than "come to San Francisco to experience one of the finest ballet companies in the world and some of the most unusual underground performance art you'll ever see."

How do we get the people in charge to care about the arts when their extra curricular interests only embrace things like wine ...

tasting, clay pigeon shooting and driving their SUVs? Lobbying the government via the usual channels doesn't seem to produce much in the way of results. Perhaps it's time to try a different approach.

Canadian novelist Yann Martel (Life of Pi) has come up with his own form of activism: Every second Monday, he sends a book to Canadian prime minister and ice-hockey fan, Stephen Harper. So far, Martel has sent the PM used paperback copies of works by the likes of Tolstoy and Strindberg. In an article in The Guardian, Martel is quoted as saying: "Everyone can do a page at bedtime. Or his aide could get a book to him when he visits the toilet." Martel sends the books in the mail with an introductory note attached. ("Om Shanti" ends the letter accompanying the Bhagavad Gita).

Harper's gesture makes for an interesting form of political protest. The symbolism is strong: If the government won't come to the arts, then the arts must come to the government. It's the opposite of book-burning -- instead of destroying art, Martel is literally asking the leader to nurture it by adding to his personal library.

Of course, the whole thing smacks of a publicity stunt. But it's a good one. Perhaps it'll embarrass Harper into paying attention to his country's enviably rich culture, a culture which somehow produces wonders in spite of the governmental cold shoulder. At the very least, it might make him stop and think about the world beyond the narrow confines of party politics.

Perhaps I'll start putting together a reading list for Gov. Schwarzenegger. First up: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

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Chloe Veltman

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