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City Limits Press 3

CALGARY HERALD Sun., May 2, 1984

Syntax loses big in political game

Politics - let's face it - play a part in every human activity.

That simple principle isn't exactly shouted from the rooftops these days, although folks in oil and real estate have certainly learned how political decisions can affect business.

In the realm of cultural affairs, though, there is a common belief that politics aren't really involved. That's not the case, of course; otherwise, there might be a tribute to pioneer Union organizers at the Glenbow instead of an exhibition extolling the C.P.R.

Naturally, there's nothing sinister about it. It's just a fact of life-cultural activities tend to reflect political realities. The reason is money: He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Still, it isn't every day that the ancient principle is applied as directly as in the case of Syntax, the oddly-named arts organization now getting the cold shoulder from the various agencies that keep arts groups alive.

Like it or not, government grants are the life-blood of arts groups. Without financial life-support systems the groups would simply wither and die. Because of that dependency most recipients of public money tend not to antagonize their benefactors. Well-fed dogs, after all, are usually polite enough not to bite the hand that feeds them.

Syntax, however, definitely antagonized people in positions of power, largely because of the stand taken by the group's founder and president, Brian Dyson, against the proposed 9A Street route of the LRT through Hillhurst/Sunnyside.

Dyson, 39, happens to live on 9A Street, so he does have a personal stake in the issue. He opposed the LRT long before Syntax was formed. Once, for a benefit concert to raise funds for the anti-LRT campaign, he designed a poster that shows how to set a bomb on a railway track.

His activities caused a flurry of controversy two years ago when City Limits, a newspaper published by Syntax, was denounced by Alderman Don Hartman as "a garbage paper." City Limits, which ran several articles opposing the LRT route, was started with cash from the city-sponsored arts funding agency, the Calgary Region Arts Foundation (CRAF).

From the beginning, the Syntax Arts Society has been dedicated to community involvement, to so-called "alternative" causes, and to breaking down the barrier between locally-based amateurs and the professional artists recognized by establishment art galleries.

For a variety of reasons - lack of capital, fuzzily-defined goals and the usual burn-out of volunteers-Syntax hasn't been as successful as it might have been. The group has sponsored scores of events-ranging from performance art to community parades - but some proposed workshops and exhibitions had to be cancelled.

Despite the shortcomings, however, Syntax has provided creative expertise to dozens of other Calgary arts groups. The Syntax society owns printing and layout equipment that has been used to design posters, handbills, tabloid newspapers and gallery catalogues for arts groups ranging from the Arete Physical Comedy Troupe to the Walter Phillips Gallery at the Banff Centre.

Last Issue, the brash arts newspaper, is prepared at Syntax, as is The Hillhurst/Sunnyside Voice and The Calgary Folk Arts Council Newsletter. Without Syntax, these groups and many more will be forced to spend more money getting their message to the public.

Ironically, Syntax's success as a low-cost design studio (gross volume was $65,000 last year) was the very reason cited when the provincial government refused to renew the society's Alberta Culture grant of $8,000. Stating that Syntax was a business, rather than a non-profit society, the government also refused Syntax permission to hold a casino or lottery.

CRAF likewise declined Syntax further funds because it was not a "specific" organization.

Neither agency mentioned politics as the reason for pulling the plug. They didn't have to