Penniless for the Arts

An addendum to my previous post on Arts funding in Canada. Lest you think I’m just a raving “artsy” lunatic upset that government “handouts” are being scaled back due to “budget” constraints… look at this August 2008 report from the Conference Board of Canada. The Conference Board is an economic and corporate research organization. They are not a government organization. They are not a lobby group of any sort. They are objective and non-partisan. This is what they have to say:

The Conference Board estimates that the economic footprint of Canada’s culture sector was $84.6 billion in 2007, or 7.4 per cent of Canada’s total real GDP, including direct, indirect, and induced contributions. Culture sector employment exceeded 1.1 million jobs in 2007.

I’m not a numbers guy (remember I failed math), but this is pretty compelling. Arts and culture industries play a vital role in attracting people, business, and investment, and in distinguishing Canada as a dynamic and exciting place to live and work. Apparently these just aren’t issues the Conservative party seem to be concerned about.

Faceless for the Arts

Normally, I’m not one to jump on social cause bandwagons. I find that wristbands, ribbons, buttons, stickers, car magnets, and the such are often really more about making individuals feel good about themselves than enacting real change. If people really wanted to make a difference, they would get out of their cars and use their feet. But today, I joined a group on Facebook called “Faceless.” Along with that, I replaced my profile picture to an icon which states “Faceless for the Arts.” This is all a part of a campaign to protest the rapidly declining support of Canadian arts and culture by the federal government.

Before clicking on the “Join Group” button, I hesitated for a moment, but then realized that Facebook is actually the exact place where this type of protest should take place. It is an ironic paradox that our world has become increasingly interconnected, yet at the expense of actual face-time. One of the greatest realms that has been affected by this paradox is arts and culture. In Canada, our current government has decided that if artists want to connect with people, they should do so without any of the support they have traditionally enjoyed from the government. Arts and culture has become an increasingly isolated enterprise in Canada on the federal level, with a lack of recognition of its importance and centrality in our otherwise banal national identity.

The Conservative Party of Canada has shown a blatant contempt for the vitality of Canadian arts and culture. In two and a half years, the Conservative Government has eliminated over $34 Million in funding from Cultural and Heritage Granting Programs. The programs affected were designed to assist artists, arts institutions and not for profit charitable organizations in the creation, development, promotion and dissemination of Canadian art both nationally and internationally. And more cuts are anticipated in the coming weeks as part of Harper’s campaign.

So I joined a Facebook group and changed my picture. Sure, on its own, this measure is not going to make a concrete difference, it’s a symbol. But coupled with a thoughtful vote against the Conservatives in the upcoming elections, it’s more than just a symbol.

I hope and pray that people realize how serious these cuts are, and how they are part of a greater negative ideology on the part of the Conservatives. Things are changing in Canada, and the worst part is it’s not just about how we see ourselves. Just read what Slate has to say about us, in an article titled “What’s the Matter with Canada?”:

…Canada’s political system is in turmoil. Since 2004, a succession of unstable minority governments has led to a constant campaign frenzy, brutalizing Canada’s once-broad political consensus and producing a series of policies at odds with the country’s socially liberal, fiscally conservative identity. Canada is quietly becoming a political basket case, and this latest election may make things even worse.

Make no mistake, these policy changes and funding cuts are radically changing Canadian society.