The Arts Get Politicalby Andrew Budziak
/ October 13, 2008
Election time usually
means increased government spending, but this year Canadian artists
have been baffled by the recent Conservative cutbacks. The end
of the summer saw $40.47 million in cuts to the arts and cultural budget.
have largely remained mum on the issue but artists and political candidates
from other parties have attacked the Conservatives’ decisions. NDP
candidate Anne Lagacé Dowson and Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff spoke
to LSM about the cuts, and why they think the arts community
Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore may not seem like a hotbed for
artists, but between the factories, high-rise apartments, and industrial
waterfront are some of Canada’s most important artistic centers.
Two of the most well-known are the Sean Boutilie School of Ballet and
the jazz program at Humber College, both boasting a long list of internationally
accomplished alumni. Ignatieff spoke out loudly against the cuts on
behalf of his riding.
freedom that really matters,” he said while campaigning on Queens
Avenue in Etobicoke-Lakeshore’s south end. “The government needs
to stop politicizing art.”
a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson, said the
Tories were irritated that Canadian funds were supporting a band with
an obscene name. Juno nominated Toronto band Holy Fuck, received $3000
from PromArt, to tour the U.K. The grant program, which offered $4.7
million annually, was part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and
International Trade. It helped artists promote and market their work
overseas cuts that bother me,” Ignatieff explains, referring to PromArt,
and Trade Routes, a program which supported organizations such as Hot
Docs and helped independent record companies export and sell products
abroad. Trade Routes and PromArt were two of the first programs to be
cut. Both programs offered grants for travel and promotion collectively
totalling $13.7 million each year.
In the weeks
following, several more programs were slashed, including the Canadian
Memory Fund, New Media Research Networks Fund, New Media R&D Initiative,
A-V Preservation Trust, the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund,
and the National Training Schools Program.
The cuts were
made quietly during the August lull, weeks before the October 14 election
was called. The first few cuts were announced by a small notice on the
programs’ websites, and the Conservatives refused to comment.
This lack of transparency has launched a wave of debate.
these cuts were made was outrageous,” said NDP candidate Anne Lagacé
Dowson in an interview in a small garden behind her Westmount-Ville
Marie headquarters. “They didn’t announce them officially,
they put notices up on websites during the Olympics and the summer vacation.
It was very backhanded, and lacking in moral courage,” Lagacé Dowson
posted on the Trade Routes website read “The Government of Canada,
through regular reviews of all program spending in federal departments
and agencies, is committed to a more disciplined approach to managing
spending in order to deliver programs that are efficient and effective
and that meet the priorities of Canadians.” The PromArt website
contained a similar message.
The cuts sparked
protests from artists and art lovers across the country. Alongside
rallies in Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, and Vancouver, arts groups
have voiced their discontent. One such group is the Professional
Association of Canadian Theaters (PACT). Their website provides free
Election Kits with templates for post cards, letters, and fliers protesting
the cuts that can be sent to MPs.
Stephen Harper did speak publicly about the cuts, claiming they were
a result of good governance. Lagacé Dowson described the way
the cuts were made as “gutless.” “If you’re going to take
a hard line on these issues, then be transparent about it,” Lagacé
go to the heart of [the Tories’] approach to government intervention
in the arts: they fundamentally disapprove of it. They don’t
understand the way art as culture is generated,” said Lagacé Dowson.
tried hard lately to shake this image. In a recent interview with the
Globe and Mail, he spoke of his love for piano. Harper completed
his grade 9 piano examinations from the Royal Conservatory of Music
and occasionally performs at parties.
is not convinced. “The Conservatives seem more concerned with
building up military and strategic alliances than pushing forward on
an agenda of cultural diplomacy,” she said.
is a long-standing tradition of the Canadian arts community, and Lagacé
Dowson cited the example of Glenn Gould’s 1957 tour of Soviet Russia.
Gould was the first Western musician to perform in Russia since the
Second World War. He left Canada as a well-known Canadian musician,
and returned as a worldwide sensation. Gould’s tour was made
possible by a government grant. These are the opportunities Canada
is losing with the cuts, Lagacé Dowson said.
resonances, Lagacé Dowson and Ignatieff agree the arts are a profitable
investment inside Canada. A recent document published by the Conference
Board of Canada reports that the Canadian cultural sector directly contributed
$46 billion to the economy in 2007. Indirectly, the contribution
was $84.6 billion, which represents 7.4% of the GDP.
the $4 billion spent on arts in Canada in 2007, $40.47 million
may only seem like a drop in the bucket, but when investing in the arts
a little goes a long way.
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