Reaction to Downie's death shows value of arts in Canadian society

Two & Out
By James Peters
October 20, 2017 - 12:15pm

KAMLOOPS — Almost exactly a year ago, we lost Leonard Cohen. 

Canada's unofficial poet laureate had died at the age of 82. 

He had just released an album, You Want it Darker, three weeks before his death. 

Cohen was known worldwide as a writer, a poet first who expressed the feelings of his heart, and somehow spoke to the hearts of a country.

This week we lost Gord Downie, also worthy of that poet laureate mantle. 

He died at the age of 53 from a particularly horrible form of cancer and he, too, was not finished working. 

Gord Downie's last album of new material, Introduce Yerself, is set for release a week from today. 

Two brilliant artists, two mouthpieces for who we are as Canadians, gone within a year. 

To anyone who works with words, anyone who tries to tell stories that have never been told before, or breathe new life into stories that have been passed down through the generations, there is this feeling that retirement is something for other people. 

As long as there is air filling their lungs, they will use those lungs not just to exhale but to speak, to sing. 

They will paint the landscapes on the canvasses of our imaginations. 

So death is the only thing that will stop them.

Having seen the outpouring of grief for Cohen last year, and Downie this year, don't ever let anyone tell you that the arts are only for the elite and well-off.

This was a false narrative passed around during the performing arts centre debate: that taxpayers would be funding the pet hobbies of the rich.

It's ridiculous.

The arts are, and should be, for everyone.

Gord Downie especially proved that good artists can express a unique and personal voice, but can still speak poignantly to a very large audience.

Everyone from hipster music snobs to the most blue collar of roughnecks loved The Tragically Hip and could sing along to every word of 'New Orleans is Sinking.'

Look around this week, or take a glance at social media, and you will see what the arts mean to us as individuals and us as a society.

Worth the investment, I'd say.