COLUMN: Kevin Joseph — May 23, 2014

Kevin
Kevin Joseph
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I remember when Wal-Mart opened up in my hometown when I was a kid.  My adolescent world view thought that every time a major chain opened up in my hometown that we were somehow moving up in the world.

As an adult who has followed his dreams and managed to build a career in music I am often greeted with “are you still playing music?” in the way someone would ask “are you still unemployed?”

Lowered voice and slight head turn included.

Now I find myself writing.  I am married to a woman who is a writer and a painter. 

We are artists.  It’s a tough time to be an artist. 

I’m reminded of a passage from my favourite author Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Bluebeard.” 

“A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world’s champions.”

I am not here to make a judgment call on any level of government but I will say that in the past decade a staggering amount of funding has been cut from all arts programs in this country and province.  But for me there’s a much larger picture than just money. 

In school we were taught about all the so-called “great civilizations.”  Indeed, we model many of our own practices after the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and others.  We study their art, we remember their thinkers, and we still use many of their architectural practices today. 

Art, science, architecture.  Advancements in human thinking for the benefit of all.  That is what is left for us to study. 

What has always concerned me is that while we continue to model ourselves after these great civilizations we tend to forget one thing.  They all collapsed. 

Who was the richest Greek? Which Roman had the biggest columns?  Maybe someone can give me an answer but I don’t think anyone would care. 

My bank account will be meaningless when I die but an artist’s work will outlive them.

I am not anti-capitalism per se.  But capitalism is not culture. 

I was into the World Wrestling Federation when I was a kid.  When my mom would take me out shopping for a new toy it was a day’s adventure around town. If Woolworth’s didn’t have it we’d check Consumer’s Distributing. Or Kresges.  Or any number of stores in one of the malls or in the downtown area. 

Now my youngest son is into World Wrestling Entertainment, as it is now known as.  If he wants to buy a new action figure to add to his collection then we go to Wal-Mart.  If Wal-Mart doesn’t have what he’s looking for we have to order it online. 

It wasn’t just the availability of goods and services.  It was a day spent driving around the city.  A day spent with a parent learning how to be an adult by watching how they interact with other adults.  It was being a part of the community by getting to know the people who worked at these smaller businesses. 

In my 2004 trip to China I spent my first day or two in Beijing. I saw very little Chinese culture.  I heard just as much English as Chinese. 

The city itself reminded me of pretty much any other major city in the world.  It could have been New York, Montreal or London.  All the same shops and a whole lot of young Chinese people awkwardly soaking up as much Western “culture” as possible.

I spent the bulk of my time in Nanning in the southeast region of the country. The minute I stepped off the plane I was immersed in Chinese culture, language, and traditions. It was amazing and inspiring. 

We, the artists who were guests in the country, were treated like royalty.  We were even allowed into a walled city that had never opened its doors to a single non-Chinese person before us. 

No kings, presidents, or prime ministers. Just us artists. 

We had left CDs with the school kids as gifts.  Months later I was informed that a song I had co-wrote with singer/songwriter Jay Ross was being used to teach English in the school. 

On our last night in Nanning our guides had taken us to the brand new Wal-Mart Supercenter that had just opened the year before. 

“And it begins.” I thought to myself.

I recently found myself sitting in a circle of “dignitaries” at the opening ceremonies for the Saskatchewan First Nations Winter Games. In the midst of all kinds of provincial chiefs, the mayor, and wealthy sponsors, there I sat next to my old friend and fellow musician Jason Chamakese. 

It was then that I felt a surge of pride that there are still some who see the arts as something more than a frivolous hobby.  Something we do as kids but eventually grow out of. 

I shop at Wal-Mart. Out of necessity. There really aren’t all that many alternatives left.

I would like to close by stating that I’m not complaining.  We have it pretty awesome.  On that same trip to China I witnessed a shanty town with a larger population than the city of Prince Albert.  And I never saw much of the sun for the entire two-week trip due to pollution. 

 

I was never as grateful for our air as I was when I got off the plane upon returning to Canada.

I’m not telling anyone what to do with their lives.  That goes against the thinking of any artist.  But I would ask you humbly to support all arts.  Visit art galleries and if you can afford it, buy something. Support local music by attending shows and buying a CD off the artist rather than an mp3 on iTunes or downloading for free.

God bless all you parents who listen to your children when they say they want to dance, paint, write or sing.  A couple hundred years ago, their talents would have made them very important in the community.

 

Kevin Joseph is a Prince Albert freelance writer. His column appears every fourth Friday in rotation with Jessica Iron Joseph, Sharon Thomas and Lori Q. McGavin.

Organizations: Wal-Mart, World Wrestling Federation, World Wrestling Entertainment Saskatchewan First Nations

Geographic location: Nanning, Beijing, New York Montreal London Canada

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  • Mike Simon
    May 24, 2014 - 23:42

    Nicely done Kevin!

  • CynthIaJohnson
    May 24, 2014 - 12:22

    Great column Kevin! Always an interesting read...