A Review of To Spoil the Party, to Set Our Joy Ablaze

Ramolen Laruan

Imagine a day without fiction; no dragon drama on television, no posters to look at to avoid eye contact on the subway, no novels to read on the way to work, no musical breaks between podcasts, a lock screen devoid of your favourite visual. After work, no concert halls, no theatre, no cinemas, no museums and galleries to escape to, the town has made dancing and rock music illegal!

On October 21 2015, over three hundred art and cultural workers took part in the first Journée sans Culture (Day without Culture) in Montréal to share their current experiences in the cultural milieu where they don't reap its economic benefits and reimagine the artistic ecosystem as a collective force. This day also doubled as a stand still –- a moment of collective pause to "rest, reflect, and play". To Spoil the Party, to Set Our Joy Ablaze was published as an extension of the conversations that took place that day by the moderators of the discussions, as well as some contributions that were commissioned by the editorial team.

Artists are among the least paid in the cultural economic chain despite being its primary producers and labourers. To Spoil the Party, to Set Our Joy Ablaze discuss the essential issues of cultural discrimination within the artistic capitalist system and provides an imaginable potential for the arts.

The text challenge the myth of the “artistic calling” and rejects the promotion of “artistic devotion” to encourage artists, demanding better compensation without compromising ethics and undermining value. The lack of funding, jobs, as well as unending negligence in the cultural milieu perpetuates the exploitation of artists, who would rather opt for the very little pay than none at all. Nevertheless, the time of labour is blurry when life and work intersect; all we know is that the work needs to be good in order to receive another opportunity. Artists are forced into entrepreneurship, learning not only to sell their products, but also themselves. Visibility does not suffice. As a community, we must say no to those who misapprehend our labour for it is not sustainable to negotiate artistic production and quality of life in contract after contract. If the arts provide a boost to the economy, why are artists and cultural workers systematically underpaid? We depend on grants and artist centres to continue without a compromise to our practice -- funding that is temporary and very little from organizations where employees steadily decrease when resources are cut back, in turn increasing the workload. In the acquisition of funding, moreover, artists must rely on cultural mediation to justify art in the public sphere; how do we expect an art practice changing to seduce “consumers”?

In To Spoil the Party, to Set Our Joy Ablaze, artists, moderators, curators, and researchers reimagine a new artistic ecosystem beyond the neoliberal structure: persist, new language, demand, universal salary, unite, benefits.

But if persistence ceases? Can we afford to lose the arts?


Ramolen Laruan is a student at Queen’s University and is based between Kingston and Toronto. Laruan is a past editor-in-chief of The Undergraduate Review; she is currently a museum docent for the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, staff writer for The Queen’s Journal, the President of Union Gallery’s Board of Directors, and the Communications Coordinator for Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre.

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