$45 Million and Counting

If you haven’t been paying attention this month, the Conservatives have recently announced a number of arts and culture program cuts. The $45 million list includes:

PromArt Program (International touring): $4.7 million
Canadian Memory Fund: $11.57 million
Research and development component of Canadian Culture Online $5.64 million
Northern Distribution Program: $2.1 million
Culture.ca web portal: $3.8 million
Canadian Cultural Observatory: $560,000
AV Trust – Feature Film Preservation and Access: $150,000
AV Trust – Canadian Music Preservation and Access: $150,000
Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund: $1.5 million
National Training Program for the Film and Video Sector: $2.5 million
Trade Routes: $7.1 million
Canadian Arts and Heritage Sustainability Program: $3.9 million
Supply Chain Initiative component of the Book Publishing Industry Development Program: $1 million
Support for Industry Development component of the Canada Magazine Fund: $500,000

Like most people who work in the arts sector, I was pretty shocked at the depth and range of the cuts. I was also offended / amused by the Conservative’s amateurish spin – statements like “the money was going to fringe arts groups that, in many cases, would be at best, unrepresentative, and at worst, offensive.” No rational person would believe that a critically important $4.7 million program that provides much-needed tour funding for organizations like the National Ballet and Tafelmusik should be cut because the band Holy Fuck received a $3,000 grant.

However, I held out hope that there was a method behind the madness and new programs or funding would be announced shortly to offset the cuts. Then came the news that the savings had been directed to fund the 2010 Olympics, including an eye-popping $24 million for the torch relay. Suddenly I was back in high school with jocks battling band geeks over meagre amounts of money (“We need new volleyballs”. “Yeah, well we need new oboe reeds”.)

It’s been fascinating to read the online responses to the numerous articles that have been written about these cuts over the past few weeks. Some people think this is the best thing ever. Here are a couple of examples:

“Arts should be supportted [sic] by the people who believe that it is worthwhile to support it. There is no reason for the federal government to fund arts programs where the return on investment is zero. The people who are good at their craft will make it — the people that stand there with their hands out — are simply wannabes with no hope and little talent. It is welfare for artists. Let’s hang another slab of meat and call it art — yeah right!”

“Now why should the government fund this or any other threater [sic] company? If they have talent and apparently they do, then a paying audience will provide the funds they require.”

It suppose it would be petty to point out both of these comments have glaring spelling mistakes. I certainly wouldn’t want to stereotype the writers in any way…

So, now we wait to see if the letter writing, protests, and behind-the-scenes lobbying have any impact. I must admit, with an election looming, it would be pretty cool to actually see arts and culture being discussed as a serious election issue. When was the last time that happened?

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from an open letter to the PM that appeared in a French newspaper yesterday. Even in the English translation, the writing is beautiful.

“…no government that rejected artists has ever recovered. Not one. Ignored them, bribed them, bought them, censored them, killed them, sent them to internment camps, imprisoned them, watched them, detested them, yes; rejected them, no. To do so is to break a strange and ancient pact between art and politics. Since time immemorial the relationship between art and politics has been one of mutual hatred and envy, attraction and loathing; this uneasy dynamic has spawned many a political theory, and more than a few masterpieces. However, your cultural policy ignites nothing but profound consternation. Not hatred, nor loathing, nor envy, nor attraction—nothing but stupefaction at the stunning vacuum that underlies that policy. From a symbolic perspective, because of the huge gap between you and artists—and your evident lack of appreciation for the value of what you disdain—your government, for however long it remains in power, will likely never witness the emergence of new political theories, much less masterpieces. Disdain is a subterranean emotion, a blend of jealousy and fear of its object. Such governments have existed, but they have not lasted, for no government, no matter how detestable, can endure if it lacks the courage to admit its true nature.”

Amen.

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