Monthly Archives: January 2010

Games’ cultural legacy will disappear if arts funding cuts continue

Article by Miro Cernetig in the Vancouver Sun, Friday, January 29, 2010

It’s good news Bramwell Tovey will stay another five years conducting the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The maestro took over a faltering orchestra, steered it to a Grammy, a critically acclaimed tour through China and proved classical music has a place in Vancouver’s cultural life.

Similarly positive is the success of the Cultural Olympiad, the dozens of cultural events surrounding the 2010 Olympics.

Some its notable events are the upcoming Blue Dragon by Robert Lepage, the Vancouver Opera’s Canadian premier of Nixon in China and dozens of others performances making the Olympics about more than gold medals.

It’s all planting the seeds for a cultural legacy. But will it all evaporate after the Games leave town?

Possibly so.

As most people know, when the world economy hit the rocks last year, the provincial government took the scalpel to arts funding, cutting some grants by 90 per cent. The bean counters in Victoria deemed the deep cuts a fast way to lighten the deficit.

At the moment, the bureaucrats in finance seem to be continuing with that strategy. The expectation — and fear — in the B.C. arts community is the next provincial budget, due out shortly after the Olympics is over, will continue with the $19 million in cuts to arts funding, hitting the slim operating budgets of galleries, theatre groups and orchestras from Victoria to Dawson Creek, and everywhere in between. It’s a serious policy error on both political and economic grounds.

First, the dollar-and-cents argument: Investing in the arts doesn’t just improve the cultural fabric of a community or province, it’s good economics.

It’s generally believed by economists that arts subsidies, if spent wisely, generate more spinoffs than the initial public investment.

For every dollar that’s invested, the treasury gets back $1.36 to the treasury in taxes. That’s from the B. C government’s own report, the Socio-Economic Impacts of Arts and Cultural Organizations in B. C.

The arts also have a multiplier effect. The Conference Board of Canada and the City of Vancouver estimate that every dollar spent on the arts at the municipal level generates between $7 and $13 in spinoff economic activity.

Sure, there are other industries that may generate more of a multiplier effect. But the point is the arts are hardly the sink hole some might suggest. Rather, public investment in culture is undeniably a net-positive to the economy and the fabric of a community.

More importantly, despite what some politicians think, it’s good and shrewd politics to support the arts. That’s what Prime Minister Stephen Harper found out in Quebec, when he suggested cutting arts funding, a reflexive move that stopped his progress in la belle province overnight and may have cost him his majority government in the last election.

The popularity of the arts is probably why there’s even support for restoring funding to the B.C. arts community within the B.C. Liberal government’s own ranks. The Finance and Government Service Committee recommended unanimously that arts funding be restored to 2008/09 levels, roughly $40 million.

As the final details of the next provincial budget are hammered out, there’s little word from the Liberal government about rethinking its course. But one final fact may help them reconsider.

The average arts group in British Columbia gets about seven per cent of its budget from the provincial government. It’s the lowest in Canada. The national average is 13 per cent, according to the ProArt Alliance of Greater Victoria. In Quebec, one of the most vibrant arts centres in Canada, the government contribution is 26 per cent.

The facts are clear. Arts groups are not the drain on the treasury as some might suggest. They generate economic activity. In fact, it might not only be wise to restore funding, it’s probably smart to increase arts spending, as many provinces are doing in these tough times.

Last word to the VSO’s maestro: “Arts funding is not a grant. It’s an investment. It’s a guarantee that taxes actually come back to the province. . . . I’ve heard talk of 80-and 90-per-cent cuts in grants. If so, that’s not sensible strategic sense. That’s almost wilful damage.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


Margaret Atwood trumpets art to global elite at Davos

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 3:05 PM
By Jane Taber in The Globe and Mail

Margaret Atwood was poised to tell the world’s business and political elite today that politicians have “done their best to finish” off art. The renowned Canadian author was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Indeed, she likely had images of Stephen Harper in her head when she wrote and delivered that line – in the 2008 election campaign she vowed she would vote for separatist Gilles Duceppe if she lived in Quebec to stop the Prime Minister and his cuts to cultural programs. Her criticism, as well as that from others in the arts community, damaged the Tory campaign.

Ms. Atwood would not comment on that line, only to tell The Globe in an email: “An Artist Never Interprets Her Own Work.”

Coincidentally, Ms. Atwood and Mr. Harper are together in Davos this week. He is delivering a speech tomorrow; she received a prize today – the Crystal Award, which honours those who have used their art to improve the state of the world. But the speech she had planned to give was never given; time was a factor. So she sent the speech to The Globe:

“What is the place of the arts at an economic forum?” she asked in her speech. “Each of us views the world from a limited vantage point, so it’s natural for those connected with economics to try to work out an economics of art. … Is it useful? What does it contribute?”

She says that many people have “defended its intangible worthiness” but others – “politicians among them – have done their best to finish it off.”

And she wondered if art is in danger of dying. “Unlike the discipline of economics, and indeed unlike money – a lately-come tool we invented to facilitate trading at a distance – art is very old. The anthropologists and neurologists are now telling us how old – it’s as old as humanity. It isn’t a frill,” she said. “Art isn’t only what we do, it’s who we are.”

Ms. Atwood concludes that “any theory of humanity that fails to take account of human art fails indeed.”
And she waits with great interest, she says, to see what younger artists come up with, what the art of the future will be.

“I wish for these young artists what I wish for all of us: a cool head in a crisis; a knack of lateral thinking; grace under pressure; and a sackful of good luck. We will need all of them.”

(Photo: Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

Hosting the Olympics while slashing the arts is like hosting a dinner party with a black eye… your guests are bound to notice!

Who’s more embarrassed – the host with the black eye, or his guests? BC artists and arts organizations are expected to put on a good Olympics show for the world, but doing that is tough when the BC government has just made devastating cuts to the arts and there are few resources left and little hope for the future. Arts and Culture were supposed to be the “Second Pillar of the Games” – what happened? The 92% cuts to the arts, which have already produced massive instability in BC arts, are disproportionate cuts – other sectors have received from 5-25% cuts. It does feel a bit like a slap in the face – or to extend the metaphor, this black eye makes it hard for BC arts to put its best face forward. BC’s arts funding was already by far the lowest in Canada and only consumed  a tiny 0.05% of the budget, an amount negligible even in a recession. Furthermore, artists are already among the most underpaid workers in the province, yet they perform proven and important social and community services and they do it on a shoestring. The Olympics have really put BC Arts and British Columbians in a difficult and embarrassing position – we’re supposed to put on a cheerful face and not discredit the (staggeringly expensive) Olympics, yet cuts like these make putting on a happy face very, very difficult.

These photos are from a shoot for the upcoming “Black Eye Dinner Party” PSA video on this theme – watch this space and others for the video. There will be more than one such dinner party held – this one was hosted by Marcus Youssef of Vancouver’s award-winning Neworld Theatre. The organizers want to thank all the artists from many disciplines who are participating in this ongoing event. If you’re interested in participating, contact us and we’ll put you in touch with them.

Train drivers love a good line!

Train drivers John Howarth and Ibraim Ashow love a good line in books and live readings, as well as on the tracks. Photos and text: Bill Horne

Howarth has helped organize two “poetry trains” for VIA Rail. In 2003 a group of poets traveled from Winnipeg to Prince George with the train sold out. The 2004 poets traveled from Prince George to Prince Rupert. In both cases, they gave readings as they traveled west, and in small communities where they stopped along the way.

Howarth was involved with the 1999 CBC Fred Eaglesmith train as well.

“These were amazing trips,” he said, “and the passengers really enjoyed the experience. I think the BC government is underestimating the public’s appreciation of literature when it slashes arts funding.”

Ashow agrees. “John and I have the privilege of seeing a lot of BC and Canada through our work. It’s beautiful country, but it’s empty without stories, songs and poems that originate throughout the land.” Ibraim was a student at BCIT who now works as a conductor for the Hudson’s Bay Railway in Manitoba.

“I always read BC BookWorld,” says Howarth, “and I like to shop at stores like Books & Company in Prince George. Instead of cutting funding, though, the government ought to be increasing its support for our home-grown publishing industry, like it would the forest industry, transportation or any other sector of our economy.”

Engine #4019 was built in 1955 and has one 16 cylinder diesel engine with 1500 HP.

For further information, contact Bill Horne at Amazing Space Studio,
Wells, BC 250-994-2332 mazing at claireart dot ca

Starving Artists? That’s not far from the mark.

This article –  “Starving Artists? That’s not far from the mark” – is by James Adams in the Globe and Mail, February 4, 2009. It’s reprinted here as a backgrounder; almost a year since its publication, the situation has worsened. The data comes from the same Hill Strategies study that showed BC was virtually the worst arts funder in Canada – and that was before the 92% cuts, which are unique in Canadian history.

Earnings by most Canadian artists are hovering at poverty levels and the situation is likely to worsen as the worldwide recession deepens, according to a statistical profile of the country’s artists released yesterday.

The findings of the 43-page study, prepared by Hill Strategies Research of Hamilton for Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council, are derived from the 2006 census. It identified 140,000 Canadians as artists – defined as those who spent most of their working time in nine occupational categories, including actors, dancers, authors/writers, visual artists and producers/directors/choreographers.

The study reports that artists over all are working for near-poverty-level wages, with an average annual earnings in calendar year 2005 of just $22,731, compared with $36,301 for all Canadian workers – a 37-per-cent wage chasm.

In fact, of the 140,000 artists analyzed, 43 per cent earned less than $10,000, whereas in the overall labour force that percentage was 25 per cent. The study notes that the $22,700 average is only 9 per cent higher than the $20,800 that Statistics Canada has identified as the “low-income cutoff” for a single person living in a city with 500,000 people or more.

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Dog Mushers say “Give Back Gaming Money”

Text By Bill Horne, Wells, BC:

Cariboo sled dog mushers Danny & Lorraine Kozar want the BC government to give back gaming money to youth, PACs, the arts and sports.

Pictured here near Wells, BC with “Leo” and “Odin”, just two of their Alaskan Malamutes, they say they understand why the government has pilfered gaming money.

“There was a social contract about gaming,” says Kozar. “It required a portion of lottery and casino monies to go back into communities for non-profits, but the government has broken that contract without any consultation whatsoever.”

Total revenues from commercial gaming in BC were approximately $2.61 billion in the last year, and net gaming revenue for the province was about $1.08 billion. Of this, $156.3 million was redistributed to charities, and now, they’ll receive much less.

Danny and Lorraine say, “Come on, boys and girls in Victoria – start giving back to our future generations, instead of taking.”

Their only access to Wells in the winter is via sled dog or snowmobile.

For further information, contact Bill Horne at Amazing Space Studio, Wells, BC 250-994-2332 mazing at claireart dot ca
Photo by Bill Horne