“Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?” is a quote from Gabrielle Roy, one of Canada’s most celebrated authors. Unbeknownst to most Canadians, this line appears on our $20 bill. It’s juxtaposed with images of BC First Nations artist Bill Reid’s sculptures “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” and “Raven and the First Men.”
There’s some kind of peculiar irony in the fact that a statement of the indispensability of the arts is inscribed right on our money, when money is the very thing that the arts in Canada are so short of. A vast country with a small population always relies on some degree of public funding for its arts, and in turn, it relies on its arts for its identity. And not just its identity, either, but also its social and economic health, its morale, its innovation, and many other things. But in BC these days, it seems that the arts and money coincide mainly on paper – on the twenty dollar bill and nowhere else. BC doesn’t just receive the least provincial funding per capita of any Canadian province – it’s dead last, and by a very, very large margin. (Update: as of September 2010 it’s $6.50 per capita compared to the $26 per capita national provincial average.) A second irony related to the Bill Reid sculptures is that in BC, lack of cultural funding also hurts First Nations communities. Had he still been alive, sculptor Bill Reid would without doubt have been vocally opposing the BC Liberals’ obliteration of arts funding. Graphic by the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance, via Decimating the Arts in Canada. Please note that the 90% funding cut figure is now somewhere between 55-75%, but that’s beside the point: the $6.50 per capita compared with the Canadian average is all you need to know. Click here for high resolution version.