What needs are essential in order for an artist to survive? To flourish? To be able to contribute to their community? Few artists manage a full time living selling their wares or working with a publisher or gallery or promoter, yet having these connections is the biggest influence on where an artist lives. Being part of a scenee in important as well. Like-minded groups build camaraderie and help an artist to further engage with the public.
One of the biggest influences on where an artist chooses to reside is the rent. High rent won’t completely dissuade them from living in downtown Toronto or Vancouver, at least at first, but if they give their acting career a good try and it doesn’t illicit the work or success they had hoped, they are likely to seek out a more manageable cost of living elsewhere.
Every human being on the planet requires shelter. It’s a human commonality, not a wanting luxury. And there are good reasons for governments around the world to believe that the most any average income earner should pay for shelter is 30 percent of their income. For someone to take advantage of a situation, like a flood, to take half or more of a person’s income by jacking up the rent without due cause is not just being greedy, it is disgraceful, shameful and it should be criminal. High rent makes life difficult for others and can outright steal a person’s ability to own a vehicle, to have a spouse, to have children, to save for a house. High rent can steal’s a young person’s future from them. On top of paying ever increasing tuition fees, students at Confederation College and Lakehead University will tell you how upset they are about high rent and that no one seems to care about their situation.
For artists the cost of materials is high. Framing is expensive. Promoting and selling work requires being an entrepreneur and business person on the side with all sorts of costs involved. They are particularly vulnerable to economic change. And any adult earning a basic income and looking for an apartment is in trouble.
The rent has seriously jumped in Thunder Bay without cause. What goes on in the head of a landlord when she or he decides to hike the rent by hundreds of dollars? Where are the great new jobs flooding into Thunder Bay? Has everyone’s pay suddenly doubled? Do landlords think we’re all winning lotteries?
It’s not the “market” that is making them hike rent or lack of rental spaces, for even if this is true it’s still no justification for the hike. It’s taking advantage of people. It’s outright shameful greed. Or could it be that people have a fantasy that the future is so bright here in Thunder Bay that we are all going to pick money from trees. It’s not happening.
High rent will make life harsher in Thunder Bay and lead to a slow suicide for the city. We should be encouraging people to move here. We should make the city amendable to our children so they can have good lives here. We need to make our city beautiful. Economists say we need Thunder Bay’s population to grow by at least thirty to fifty thousand people in the next twenty years if we want a healthy and viable city. Closing schools and businesses won’t help. It won’t help to defund promotional campaigns that advertise the city. It won’t help to defund the arts or underfund programs and projects that make Thunder Bay culturally attractive and beautiful for those living here. Why would anyone living in other cities with worthwhile amenities want to move here? People need good reasons to brave a Northern living with its isolation and long winters. And they need reasons not to leave.
Having grown up in Thunder Bay and travelled to quite a few countries I’m suspicious of an undercurrent of fear in this city: the fear of change. I think the reason so many people are jacking the rent and politicians are doing little to nothing about it is because these people secretly don’t want young people to succeed. They don’t want people to move here. Artists, young people and outsiders might change the face of the city, change the culture. They might alter the city’s course and make it something other than what’s it’s always been; familiar, comfortable, low key, stable.
Artists and young people are terrible. They like to do research and get worldly experiences by traveling, opening their eyes and being empathetic. When they return they bring ideas with them and open up gastropubs which puts the familiar greasy spoon places out of business. You don’t want more of that, now do you? Imagine if artists, young people, First Nations people and immigrants became politicians or big business owners. They might “change” things. Scary.
In the name of human decency let’s start by lowering the rent in 2017 and practice giving to others and not taking what isn’t yours.