Thursday, September 25, 2008

The government purse is a finite resource.

Harper’s right. Almost all of what passes for ‘art’ in Canada today most ordinary Canadians do not give two hoots about nor are Canadians prepared to pull out their wallets and pay for it – otherwise the artistic community in this country would not have to rely on the governmental largess for its daily bread.

In any given time, in any given culture, if patrons cannot be found who are freely willing to pay for the fare which is offered by the artistic community, is says something substantial about the fare which is offered, but apparently, not in Canada.

The government purse is not a finite resource. The purse is only filled by sweat of the brow of the taxpayers via the coercive arm of Revenue Canada. Life is about choices and so is government. The government cannot go on funding indefinitely and without concern to the cost of each program which it currently funds.

There is a health care crisis in this country and thousands of Canadians are left without family physicians for their daily health care. It takes money, a great deal of money, spent over a rather long time to train a medical student to be a doctor. It takes money, and a great deal of money to buy an MRI, it takes money and time to train a technician to operate said machine, which correctly operated, does save lives. Not to mention the money which is needed to be invested to set up a university or college program and pay the staff to be prepared to accept to train said medical student or future MRI technician.

Trade skills training in this country is woefully inadequate and chronically under funded. So inadequate, in fact, that our business leaders tell us we need to import skilled tradesmen from other countries to meet the basic demands of industry at any given time.

Basic infrastructure in our cities is crumbling around us and provincial governments pay more attention to financing risky artistic ventures (think Bored of the Rings) than work with municipalities under their domain to keep the roads from sinking, the water drinkable and food for sale safe for human consumption. Instead our municipal mayors go cap in hand to the federal government demanding a bail-out while never trimming the fat from their own dubious budgets. I mean really, do we really need to give out 9% salary increases, free TTC passes, golf club passes, lunches, zoo passes, box tickets to games, play etc for municipal councillors or penalize the poor from scrounging in garbage cans?

And yet, the truly odd thing about the arts funding debate is those who have rallied to the cause of the ‘artistic community’ are the same people who demand we do not institute a 2-tier health care system and let those pay for health services who can afford to pay, and pret on endlessly about the shortfalls in education spending. Go fracking figure.

Given a choice between giving a government grant to film productions – like say, Young People Fucking or improving the health care or educational system; I am betting the overwhelming majority of Canadian would opt for health care and education funding every single time.

We are told by the artistic community that there is a net benefit to the entertainment industry in this country and it brings in a net financial return, but my question is; if so, why does it need government largess to continue to prop up the industry? It wouldn’t unless, it is wholly the product of a governmentally created, and therefore, artificial industry in the first place. And before anyone gets on their high aesthetic horse, I am against funding athletes, sports ventures or corporate bailouts. Imagine, Maple Leaf Gardens was built in the midst of the Great Depression and did not receive a penny of venture financing needed to build it from the government of the day.

Apparently, artists are tired of being treated as tenants and demand to be landlords in Canadian culture, but this is where I say - being a tenant would be a definite step up from sucking off the public teat. At the least, a tenant has to pay rent. There is a definitive reason why most Canadians do not watch the Canadian produced artistic fare in any significant numbers on the CBC, and once given a choice between the internet, cable or satellite television Canadians tune out from the CBC in significant numbers.

I am told Canadian artists are the creators and guardians of our culture, their work inspires and uplifts our souls but I would say - most of us are so deeply unimpressed which is why you need the government largess in the first place. The last thing Canada needs is more artists making bad art which no one wants to freely pay for. Frankly, this is one Canadian who is deeply tired of having her paycheque regularly extorted by the arts community in this country. If cutting $45 million from an overall budget of $3 billion gets the arts community into such a hissy fit - you should all be so lucky it is Stephen Harper, and not me, taking the sissors to the overall budget.

4 comments:

James Bow said...

The cuts themselves are not really a problem for me. They're a small percentage of overall funding and the government might move the cut money to other arts programs. What I find problematic is the refreshing candour Harper expressed in response to those who criticized the cuts:

"You know, I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the tv and see a gala of a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala, all subsidized by the taxpayers, claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough when they know the subsidies have actually gone up, I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people. Ordinary people understand we have to live within a budget. We have increased culture. We haven’t increased anybody’s budget without limit, so we’re not going to do this. I think this is a niche issue for some, but that’s my view..."

As a member of the artistic community myself, I'm surprised to learn that I'm apparently (a) rich and (b) attend rich galas. Possibly I misplaced my invitation while changing my youngest daughter's Life brand diapers. But Harper's words are intended to divide, by perpetuating the false belief that artists and writers are somehow parasites on society, with no connection to ordinary Canadians.

Which is sad, because I find ordinary Canadians to be quite extraordinary. They're very well read. They respect education. They go to the art galleries and they appreciate the work of the Group of Seven. They respect artists. They respect authors. And so I hope that they don't fall for this divide and conquer trick, and I have confidence that they won't.

As for Harper, he appears to have made his contempt for me -- based on my chosen profession -- clear. And for that, I simply cannot vote for him.

Rob Huck said...

I was thinking the exact same thing as I watched the news last night, kateland. Because the federal government has overly subsidized the arts, it has created an artificial economy, and economy that therefore can be instantly removed at the whim of the political zeitgeist.

There are priorities a government must make in order to survive, and there will always be groups that will perceive themselves to be at the short end of the stick. It is also an unfortunate reality in politics that those groups who continually take a consistent political stance against a certain ideology will get less sympathy for their own funding concerns when that certain ideology gains political power.

Which brings me to my next point. I wish I could have seen the context in which Harper commented about the "rich galas" et al. He may have been responding to the arts community as a whole; my thinking is that he was speaking in reference to those self-anointed defenders of Canadian culture who graced my screen during Lloyd Robinson's Fair & Balanced reportage last night.

The attack of ACTRA on conservatives in the country has been long as it has been consistent, and while I agree that most in the cultural industry are far from "rich" (my wife is an actor and dancer and somehow we survive without government handouts), they are not the poor and starving waifs they claim to be either. As disappointing as Harper's comments were to many artists, artist advocacy groups are about to sleep in the bed that they made. In that, I have no sympathy for them.

One last point: if the cultural industry boasts 1.1 million jobs and generates $86 BILLION(!!!) in activity as ACTRA claims, a $45 million cut will not affect Canadian culture in the slightest. In fact, with that kind of economic contribution, there would be absolutely no need for government support whatsoever.

A message to ACTRA: don't go boasting about your economic importance if you cannot survive without massive government support.

james said...

With all due respect James, i do appreciate your work. But you are getting upset awfully easily about nothing. No overall culture budgets have been cut, just some programs and the money will be moved to other programs.
If you want to consider yourself a government employee asking for a raise, remember that makes you accountable to the government and the taxpayers in some way.
I personally see no problem giving the arts seed money to help artists along, but I don't like this long term entitlement mindset that has been fostered.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

Please James, stop the phony posturing and take a deep breathe - as you were never going to vote for Harper in either - the last election, this one. Your vote was never in play for the CPC - which even the most casual reader of your blog would be able to ascertain after a few minutes spent reading your blog posts/archives.

I suspect there is more than a fair amount of projection or channeling on your part as to what you believe Harper feels about art and/or artists rather than what Harper actually said in the quote you provided. In fact, where is the venom and contempt?

Let us break it down:
"You know, I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the tv and see a gala of a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala, all subsidized by the taxpayers, claiming their subsidies aren't high enough when they know the subsidies have actually gone up, I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people.

In fact, I know it does not resonate with ordinary people nor is he saying all artists are rich or go to Galas.

Ordinary people understand we have to live within a budget. We have increased culture. We haven't increased anybody's budget without limit, so we're not going to do this.

Neither the taxpayer nor the government have unlimited resources and so we all have to live within our budget or our means. No venom, no contempt.

I think this is a niche issue for some, but that's my view..."

Still can't see the venom or contempt in Harper's statement but in a purely anecdotal way, I did ask a group of approximately 25 of my middle-aged, middle class co-workers, if they had the option of attending a gallery opening or going fishing which would they choose to do? Going fishing - won hands down - without one single dissenting vote - and this from a group in the heart of the centre of the universe which also included women.

Let us not mince words, if you are taking money from the public trough you are sucking off the public teat. And as hard as it may be to believe, artists have been creating art long before Can-cult was invented and/or subsidized. And those Group of Seven painters, you seem to be fond of – not one of them realized a subsidy from the federal government to create or paint. I can happen and it use to all the time.

'because I find ordinary Canadians to be quite extraordinary. They're very well read. They respect education. They go to the art galleries and they appreciate the work of the Group of Seven. They respect artists. They respect authors. And so I hope that they don't fall for this divide and conquer trick'

Cutting $45 million dollars from a budget allotted in the billions is hardly what I would call a divide and conquer 'trick' or preaching the politics of exclusion. I really feel the need to inject a little tough love reality here. A modest increase in funding (8%) over the past two years cannot be considered measurably harming the artistic culture of the nation.

But here is a thought, imagine you were a laid off or soon to be laid off auto worker from GM or a construction worker facing a massive slowdown in the housing industry (to name just 2 industries facing financial hard times) and watched news reports from the arts community demanding “mo’money, mo’ money” yesterday. How would you feel watching the never-ending demands from the can-cult artists? But even more importantly James, when is enough ever really enough?

Rob, your preaching to my choir.

James, the problems I see with ‘seed’ has more to do with the abuse of process. For example, seed money was used to finance a distribution deal outside of Canada on a docu-film on Argentinean Worker’s Rights. It’s claim to Can-culture – the narrator and writer were Canadian. Content counts for little.