24 September 2008

Arts in Canada under attack

The Conservative government’s strong dislike of arts and culture is increasingly evident in proposed legislation that would establish subjective tests for media to receive public subsidies, and most recently in $45 million of cuts to various arts programmes, particularly those that promote Canadian culture abroad.

Liberal candidate Justin Trudeau (Montreal Papineau) and NDP leader Jack Layton have been vocal in making the cuts an issue in the election campaign, as have many cultural organizations across the country.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper can scarcely conceal his contempt for what he calls a “niche issue” promoted by well-heeled intellectual √©litists, evidently of little interest to ordinary Canadians.

It is not an issue that is going to go away. As an economic activity culture represents a value as high as $85 billion in Canada. Nothing is more potent a factor in Canadian identity forged over centuries across a vast continent. It includes a myriad of activities, national and regional, ethnic and aboriginal, on-stage, in museums, schools and universities, in print, on-air and on-line. Some is commercially viable, but most requires a boost in this country more than most, given the small diverse population spread unevenly across a huge land. Philanthropy can help, but assured public subsidies remain essential for the continued healthy existence of the arts in Canada.

graphic: The Red Maple (1914), by A.Y. Jackson (of the Group of Seven)