I am loving this controversy over arts funding cuts because it is one of the few times that smart, eloquent, passionate people stand up and declare their love for art and what art does for us as a society.
However, I fear that the right wing of this country – represented by Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party of Canada – has much more planned than just eliminating the Canadian Memory Fund, Canadian Culture Online, Northern Distribution Program, etc.
I hope I am wrong, but here is the first red flag I saw: these funding cuts were announced BEFORE the election was called, but AFTER the right wing of this country knew that there would be one this fall.
The right wing is not just looking to save money and possibly slap down some of the flamboyant artists along the way. No, they are looking for a paradigm change in this country.
I am writing this column the week before the election and I am assuming the Conservatives won. But follow me on this anyway: the right wing knew Stéphane Dion was too weak to carry his party and they knew the NDP and the Green Party would not be a threat. The Conservatives, back in power, will have won while being clearly on the record of not wanting to support art as much as our governments have in the past.
Cutting back on the arts before the election is called, and still winning, they will assume the right to call this anti-art stand … a mandate.
That, right there, is the nightmare scenario. More cuts will come and complaining will not have any effect because, “Hey, we told you we would do this and you still elected us. We have a mandate.”
Just as the United States is slowly turning liberal, Canada is slowly turning conservative. While the NDP, Liberals and Green Party split the left wing vote, the right wing will continue to enjoy this reshaping of Canada.
So, artists need to learn how to appeal to the more business-minded segment of society. They need to explain that art is just as much a component of infrastructure that roads are. Both are necessary to make so much more possible.
And, just as we recoil at the idea of paying a fee to use roads, many Canadians will not buy original art. However, they enjoy it as they choose to go to this coffee shop and to browse in that store because they have nice art to look at.
They leave the phone book out on the kitchen counter because, hey, it has nice art on the cover.
If our street is clogged with snow, we all let our city councillors know about it fast. But, so far, art somehow finds a way to make our days a little softer in a friendly and reflective kind of way without forcing many of us into actually having to pay for it.
Let’s put more of a point on it: it is highly improbable for a businessperson to turn a profit by building a road in Whitehorse and charging a toll.
It is also true that art in Canada will not flourish without government assistance … and for the same reasons.
But these politicians are smart people and they realize artists are necessary and do need support.
Besides, many of their constituents are religious and they express their faith through art; many of their constituents remember their heritage and they celebrate and share it through art; many of their constituents are history buffs and, again, art plays a big role.
And, of the estimated 600,000 Canadians who are employed in the arts, many of them are sure to be constituents.
Meanwhile, every arts organization in Canada should invite their member of parliament, regardless of political stripe, to meet real artists in their community.
There is a work ethic and sense of entrepreneurship in our artists that will appeal to these right wingers.