Spending has never been faster and deeper than it has been with those generous wheelbarrows of taxpayers money, thanks to Federal Arts spending grants here at Mitchieville. Spending without supervision or accountability is one of my skills, finely honed in dispersing Federal, provincial, and municipal capital over the long steady years of activist statism.
I met up with Sonjia DeSade, for a working weekend recently. We journeyed to the Artists Retreat (thanks to unsupervised arts funding from the tax spenders in Ottawa and Toronto) that Mitchieville is proud to be associated with. Located just north of scenic Hillsburgh, Ontario, on the compound of the Tiny Tot Toys and Munitions complex, the Artists Retreat is a converted farmhouse with associated outbuildings, like drive shed, barn, and garden. The facility provides creative space for four artists, with studios, video suite, and lavish data and computer resources. Two full time facilitators are resident year long. In keeping with the pre Christian pagan theme so popular with our unelected bureaucrats who spend money without care for results, the facilitators go by the names Hades and Persephone.
We enjoyed a feast at the Artists Retreat, and toured the facility with Hades and Persephone (here pictured) as our guides. All of the artists in residence were busy elsewhere, but we had a peek at their rooms, their neatly folded clothes, their books and materials. Aside from the complete absence of the artists, there was the complete impression that they were happily living there, above ground, working at painting, writing, photography, whatever. In keeping with the pagan theme of the place, each artist is assigned a location named after one of the four alchemical elements: Fire, Earth, Air, and Water.
Let's visit the artists, I said after dinner. Hades (here pictured) put down his dessert coffee, wiped his lips with a napkin, and led us to the kitchen. He kicked aside the kitchen mat, and pulled on a ring, which opened a trap door. Down we went, Hades, Persephone, Sonjia (wearing here trademark latex catsuit, of course), and myself, Fenris Badwulf. Down the steep stairs, down into the unfinished basement lit only by bare non-spiral lightbulbs that gave off a sickly yellow light against the concrete blocks, surface mounted wiring, and rusty pipes.
Earth. Designed by the gifted architect, engineer, and scientist Doctor No, the room for the artist in the Earth room was a comfortable eight foot by ten foot space, complete with computer terminal, monitor, a seat, and a sleeping rack. We could see all this through a glass window. Communication was facilitated by a loudspeaker. Outside the room was a chamber where the ants were housed. A veritable plantation of ants, with several of my favorite species represented. Tubes lead into the room, and valves controlled access from the happy ant communities. There was a vacuum system of some sort in place to encourage movement to or from the room. Diversity was reflected in the balanced representation of stinking, stinging, and sugar seeking ant cultures. All were small, except for the big ones.
'Let me out', said the creative artist located in Earth. He flew off his stainless steel stool, dislodging a folded copy of the Red Star he was using as a cushion, and ran to the door. Hades had buzzed him on the intercom.
Is that love sonnet done yet? asked Hades, in that same peaceful tone that hypnotists use. I felt relaxed, after that big dinner. Sonjia popped some gum in her mouth and looked at her nails.
The creative artist ran back to his computer console and held up some sheets of paper. He swatted at something on his neck. He held the paper up to the vision slit. The edges of the paper were frayed, like something small had nibbled at the edges. I have it done, he said, with an edge of hysteria, and I wrote a television jingle in praise of the Canadian Wheat Board. The artist was breathing fast, let me out, please! I am so tired. Let me out, I know there are other people out there.
Tired, eh? asked Hades. His hand turned a dimmer switch.
Aaaaieeeee, said the artist in a loud and piercing way. No, no, do not turn out the lights! The ants of darkness will come! Stop, please, stop!
You should put more feeling into this third line, suggested Persephone.
Yes, yes, at once. Anything you say! Please do not turn out the lights. He ran back to his stainless steel stool (bolted thoughtfully to the concrete slab floor)
Persephone filled us in on the economics of running an Artists Shelter with unsupervised grants from the Federal and Provincial trough funding system. It was easy enough to spend the money. That was fun. The challenge was to make the funding sustainable: the artists were lazy and did not produce any actual art. More accurately, the first few artists in the colony were lazy and non productive. Hades shook his head sadly at the mention of artist Earth-1, a particularly stubborn specimen. Earth-2 actually produced a book of poems that were published, but the fees paid could only just cover ant food. But with Earth-3 there was success, a special symbiosis, a synchronicity , the right balance of ant cultures, lighting schedules, and taste of the fickle poetry market in Canada, was found. Earth-3 was sustainable. Persephone smiled. Hades remarked that Earth-1 and Earth-2 had their clothes sold through a flea market after they left.
Water. A recent guest, Water-2 resided in a square tank. We watched him through a window on a watertight door, like they use on those cheap, crappy submarines the British sell to Canada. In the center of the floor was a large drain, too small for a human adult to fit into. In the ceiling were sprinklers, like used in a fire fighting system. The artist was laying on his side, busily working on a long canvas (also sideways). I recognized the piece: something by Chagall.
We sell reproductions, said Persephone. Water-2 has a real knack for making copies, but his original works are dull and uninspired.
We were going to put him in Earth, but the ants get stuck in the paint, added Hades.
Sonjia popped a bubble in her gum.
He is being very productive right now, commented Persephone.
No need to disturb him just yet, said Hades.
Fire. In the center of room, we saw a woman, sitting snuggled under a blanket. Two opposite sides of the room were adorned with fireplaces. There were six on each side, three above three. The control panel for this room was more complicated. Many thermostats, and some hydraulic controls.
We can move the wall on the left side closer in, or out, as needed, said Hades.
Some people are just afraid of fire, said Persephone.
Sonjia stopped chewing her gum and looked in through the thick glass. Wow, she said. Can we see?
Hades smiled, and activated the intercom. Where is my radio play? His voice boomed in the room, and the woman, Fire-1, looked up, awoken from sleep. The woman appeared rather disheveled. Her hair was mussed, and her clothes, an industrial workers coverall provided by the artists retreat, in disarray. She was sitting on a torn slab of cardboard on top of the grated floor. She threw her tin cup at the intercom.
Where is my radio play?, asked Hades again.
Persephone turned to Sonjia and myself, and spoke sotto voce: this one has low self-esteem, but has a natural fear of fire. She can write quickly, when she puts her mind to it.
Hades threw some switches on the control panel which bore all the design excellence of the great scientist, Doctor No. Two of the fireplaces roared into life. I could almost feel the heat through the thick glass of the vision slit. Another switch activated a fan, and a cyclone of cold air (like a computer room floor) began to blow. The blanket was raised up like Marilyn Monroe's dress. Some loose paper skittered around. One piece was drawn into the fireplace on the right and whumped into flame.
Where is my radio play? asked Hades, again.
The woman screamed, held her hands over her face, and curled into the fetal position.
Interpretive dance? mused Sonjia.
We need music for this, then, I added.
Great idea, said Hades. He turned and looked Persephone in the eyes. Banjo music, perhaps, my sweet? He then toggled on another fireplace on each side. Then he activated the hydraulics that began to move the wall in closer. Oh, I nearly forgot, he said, Doctor No wants us to video tape this: he has a grant to study the effects of Global Warming.
The woman was screaming hysterically.
She used to be suicidal, but the Ontario health care system failed her, said Persephone. Now she is filled with a love of life that inspires her writing.
I want my radio play, said Hades. The wall moved in slowly, filling the chamber with a happy red glow. It reminds me of Holiday, I said. Sonjia held my arm and nodded too. We share happy memories, and have taken road trips together *.
The woman threw her blanket into one of the fireplaces. I will do it, she shouted. I will do it. She started crying, too. As an artist, she was on a new plateau of excellence. I felt good inside. The wall retreated, the fire places were extinguished, and the cold air was turned off.
Hades activated a switch and a steel door opened to reveal a computer terminal, a stool, and a keyboard. She wiped the tears from her eyes, crumpled up the cardboard into a pad, and sat down and started madly typing.
On the way back to Mitchieville (after some after dinner activities), I remarked to Sonjia DeSade that it would be a shame to return arts spending to the private sector. I think you would agree. As for the Artists Retreat, it is sufficiently successful that additional space for more artists are being added. These are your unaccounted for tax dollars at work.
I, Fenris Badwulf, wrote this. I care.