The Defiant Imagination, by Max Wyman

Douglas & McIntyre, 243 pp, $22.95, softcover.

From the late '60s to the late '90s, Max Wyman was by turns the Vancouver Sun's dance critic, music critic, drama critic, arts columnist, and book-review editor. Since retiring, he has represented Canada on a UNESCO cultural-policy commission. All that experience seems to figure in this "manifesto for wholesale change in the way we as a society regard and value cultural activity". But even though the book is clear and firm--"I am convinced more than ever that we need a cultural contract between government and society," a kind of charter of cultural rights--The Defiant Imagination: Why Culture Matters is hardly a manifesto in the usual tub-thumping sense.

The nature of the subject requires a lot of summarizing before the thesis picks up speed. For example, a brief history of opposition to government support for the arts segues into a survey of arguments used by arts organizations in trying to get private-sector money, including the ever-popular "economic impact" chart, showing the spinoff benefits of every dollar spent on culture. Without gainsaying their approaches, he gives down-to-earth advice to grant- and gift-seeking groups, which often alienate potential patrons by wolf-crying and condescension.

Wyman believes more sophisticated strategies are needed now. He looks at new technology and new media to prompt a return of something like "the Renaissance view of art, science and religion as holistically integrated". He challenges the arts to be more truly multicultural, because "as the role and makeup of the modern city evolve, the opportunity exists for the cultural sector to establish (perhaps more accurately, reclaim) for itself a role that places it firmly at the centre of public debate."

In Wyman's view, the key is better arts education. He argues in detail for a national task force on cultural education to put his ideas about technology and diversity into a single equation. He doesn't address how to keep policy consistent across all levels of government or how best to preserve gains whenever governments change hands. Ars longa, Heritage ministers ain't.