PuSh Blog

Human Library – Cultural Pirate

January 23, 2013

The Human Library was a huge success last weekend. We know the public liked checking out the books, but we wanted to know what was the experience like for the books themselves? Here’s what one had to say about the experience.

As a cultural pirate taking part in a distinctly cultural festival, I expected to be a lot more controversial than I am.  Arts funding is a sore point for most artists (a point made forcefully by PuSh’s artistic director Norman Armour at the PuSh Gala) and my story is premised on the idea that culture (art, theatre, dance, music, film) should not carry an obligation of payment.  The obvious question is:  “How do we pay for the creation of art”?

If anyone should care about this question, it should be the PuSh attendees who are checking me out at the Human Library.  Then again, it’s a free show, so perhaps they understand my desire to avoid payment.  Or, maybe, my willingness to pose that question as part of my story blunts the controversy before it can begin.

It is heartening to tell people my story and see them begin to sweat over the same questions and problems that I have sweated over during the past 15 years.  It is heartening because I was not at all sure I could express the idea of “cultural ownership” in a way that is understandable to ordinary people.  When I tell my story in ordinary life, the most common response is a shrug that says “What’s the big deal?”

But, my readers have been engaged and interested, without exception.  Perhaps this is because of me, but I think there is another reason.  By participating, my readers have made a decision:  They have committed to being interested in whatever I have to say for the 20 minutes that they have me.

There’s a lesson in that.  Our current struggles to fund the arts are the result of a collective cultural shrug.  “Art.  What’s the big deal?”  Convincing people to fund the arts — be they politicians, corporate donors, or cultural pirates like me — is a terrible uphill battle when they have no interest in the arts.  As an artist, the lack of interest stings even more than the lack of money.  It’s not that our art is uninteresting.  It’s that we haven’t built the Human Library of the Arts that entices the rest of our society to participate.  And without that participation, how can we expect them to commit their interest and their money?

Devon Cooke
Cultural Pirate


Stop the Violence (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Presented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and grunt gallery

January 18-20, 25-27 + Feb 1-3, 2013 12:00PM – 4:00PM
Vancouver Public Library Central Branch, 3rd floor