Professor Silver is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Scarborough (UTSC) Campus. His research focuses on theories, urban environments, culture, and cultural policies.
Canada’s arts sector needs transformative action similar to Works Progress Administration
Daniel Silver is a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. Gail Lord is president of Lord Cultural Resources. Mark S. Fox is associate director for research at U of T’s School of Cities.
With unemployment approaching levels not seen since the Great Depression, it is time for bold initiatives. The federal government is wisely considering a major stimulus package geared toward improving the country’s infrastructure. Yet to have maximum impact, it is necessary to expand the notion of infrastructure beyond the physical. Our society is built not only on roads, bridges and cables, but also on music, stories and images. We need a 21st-century Canadian version of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.
The original WPA pushed the boundaries of what counts as infrastructure. It employed workers to build hospitals, post offices, parks, auditoriums, government buildings and much more – many of which became iconic and are still in use today, such as Los Angeles’s Griffith Observatory. But the WPA also sparked one of the most dramatic expansions and diversifications of culture the world has ever seen, through subsidizing the production of visual art, music, theatre, literature, film, crafts, folklore documentation and arts education programs.
The results were astonishing, resulting in some 2,500 murals, more than 100,000 paintings, millions of posters, over 17,000 sculptures, 6,000 music teachers and 225,000 concerts. Much of this flowering took root in underserved marginalized communities and rural areas.