Article originally appeared in Broken Pencil magazine. Reprinted with permission from Broken Pencil and writer Laura Trethewey.
During a recession, governments both federal and municipal are on the hunt for places to cut costs and the arts seem to be an easy target. Laura Trethewey followed the carnage of arts funding cuts across the country to see the effect on local artists and, ultimately, our culture.
“I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up — I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people.”
– Stephen Harper, September 2008
Hot in the pursuit of a majority government in the midst of the 2008 election, Stephen Harper landed in Saskatoon. The Star Phoenix predicted a talk on crime and justice, but in between the tough-on-crime rhetoric came a now infamous diatribe against arts funding. No one, least of all artists, expected the arts to become a serious election issue. But in retrospect, Harper’s ill-advised aside may well have slowed his party’s momentum and contributed to the last minute slide that led to their second minority win.
The comment also led to the rarest thing of all, an actual debate about our cultural life, one that pitted those committed to the funding of the arts against those obsessed with fiscal restraint and the wisdom of the free market. Now, a year-and-a-half later, it’s like that conversation never happened.