Archive for the Artistic failure in Canada Category

I’ve been reading and writing about Canada’s ongoing national back-turning on its artists of late, which apparently is a huge subject up there because it keeps coming up of late. This most recent story, from the Oct. 11 Globe and Mail, is interesting because it discusses an arts event that was highly praised in Canada—the recent triumphant visit of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to a sold-out Carnegie Hall—and describes how impossible it is, in our modern business-oriented economy, for an arts org to be deemed a success. “…the tour was an artistic and critical success,” writes Simon Houpt, “[but] those viewing it simply through a prism of profit and loss would call it a failure: The performance fee paid by Carnegie Hall didn’t come close to covering even half of the orchestra’s $466,000-plus costs.”

The author then looks closely at the upcoming budget for Volcano, a Toronto-based theatre company, which took the unusual step of opening its books to The Globe and Mail, and examines point-by-point how what people are willing to pay for art is vastly outstripped by the expenses incurred in mounting arts programming. The problem with art has long been noted by economists: The cost for the products of our economy become ever more based on the efficiencies associated with mechanization and mass production, so that a product like art that is impossible to make more efficiently (a painting will always take so long to make, a symphony always will involve so many producers) are regarded as too expensive to support in relation to cheaply reproduced good and entertainment (crappy cable TV, for instance). The arguments that people make against arts funding fail to take into account the simple human costs for art.

It’s interesting too to have read this story from the past weekend, from my own formerly artistically “enlightened” northern home state of Minnesota, just south of Canada’s southern border, about the impending doom facing pretty much all of our former artistic treasures. Art funders here, according to the story’s author Mary Abbe, are “bracing for rocky times.” Major arts orgs like the “Minnesota Orchestra, Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts,” who are seeing their endowments rapidly shrink, are “braced for the worst.” At the end she quotes Jacques Brunswick, chief administrative officer of the Guthrie Theater, as he makes an (unconvincing) appeal: “It’s a rough time. I think the arts need people’s money now more than ever.”

And in response (in the Strib’s comments)?

Time to get back to the basics

When many are faced with homelessness, hunger and a lack of health care, it is time to get back to the basics. We have to pay off massive governmental and consumer debt that is strangling the country before we can make much progress. Also, we need to ensure our kids and even adults are getting adequate scientific and technical training so we can compete again in the global market. Given all this, the upcoming decides need to focus on basics rather than arts.

posted by rebeccalhoover on Oct 11, 08 at 7:29 pm |

CTV’s website recently the following story, which provoked some interesting and telling comments (below):

Some Calgary artists played dead on Monday to try to raise awareness about cuts to national funding for the arts.

Protestors gathered at City Hall to say that Canada’s arts and cultural scene is on its deathbed.

The federal government recently cut 45 million dollars of funding and the artists say they already struggle to make a living and they worry it’ll get even worse if the Conservatives win a majority government.

The protesters want people to save the arts and vote for any party but the Tories.

Local theatre director Jamie Dunsdon says the conservatives have undermined the value of the arts in the community.

“I think it’s because we have politicians like Mr. Harper telling us that we don’t value arts which isn’t true, every day citizens do value arts. It’s on the walls of our dentists’ office, it’s on the radio. We do value arts, we just need the funding and we need politicians to recognize that we need the funding and the support,” said Dunsdon.

The Conservatives say they’ve boosted arts funding since coming into office.

They also say they’ve simply shifted some of that money into other programs, including sports and recreation.

SAMPLE COMMENTS:

Claudia.
When people are loosing their houses etc. it would be irresponsible for the Feds to put more money into the ‘arts’. Get real! Who else should the government bail out?


Glenda Bowser
I think the arts have survived very well on the backs of taxes payer. If they are starving I suggest they get a job like the rest of us,


Liz
Totally agree with the cuts - an elite group with attitude - what about extra funding for the underemployed,the wait staff, the retail clerks - everyone cud benefit from a hand-out. What makes the arts group so special!!! - talent - if they had any, they would not have to beg.


Pete
Lets see, a cut of less than 2% to the total arts funding. If thats catastrophic then these people have much more to worry about in the current financial climate when other people are trying to keep their real jobs that pay taxes and support these “artists”. Gravy train is over folks


Angelo
I always figured being an artist was a side job, since when am I, as a taxpayer paying for “art” that I wouldn’t pay to see anyway? Put down the paint set and pick up a hammer!


Michelle
I would rather my tax dollars go to HEALTH CARE, than some starving artist. While listening to them cry on the news about how they can barely survive now, I could not help but think…”Get a real job then!!!”


Davey boy
If that’s the best artists can come up with. Then please take there funding away


Sue - Calgary
I think people in the arts community should wake up and get a real job instead of perfoming meaningless plays that no one understands. I think our tax dollars can be better spent elsewhere.


Jane - A Calgary Taxpayer who is struggling
Well, if the artists were any good at what they do, they would make a good living at it in the free market. If they cannot support themselves, perhaps they could get real jobs like the rest of us! Welcome to the real world! If I like art, I will buy it or see it, otherwise, I am not going to pay for it. I am a good gardener, but the government does not support my hobby. Why would I, who am struggling to make ends meet, have to pay tax dollars to the arts? Funny how the artists have time to play dead, on a work day. I am at work. Making a living. Maybe they could try it instead of complaining and protesting.

An article in the National Post of Canada, titled “The working man’s case for arts funding,” reveals some exciting news from that quiet country to the North: Canada has, politically speaking, finally reached the 1990s. Canada has at long last discovered the great golden age of the American “Culture Wars.”

According to the story’s author, John Moore:

(Prime Minister) Stephen Harper’s campaign has been all about easy points. Teens with guns; lock ‘em up. Average families (we all think we’re average); give ‘em a tax cut. Arts funding; let the sushi-eating, bow-tie-wearing snobs pay for their own meat dresses and urine-soaked crucifixes. Earlier this week, the PM took a gratuitous swipe at the arts, cleverly widening the perceived divide between “ordinary working people” and the “elites” who make their living in creative endeavours.

Ah, such warm and gentle memories this evokes in my hardened art-loving heart. Jesse Helms. The NEA Five. Piss-Christ. Pat Buchanan. Rudy Giuliani. Oh, it’s so fun to demonize the arts and terrorize artists! So much fun!

The author continues with some good points (that puts some of the blame on the artists themselves):

It’s not easy to make a case for the arts, which is precisely why they are such a ripe target. And artists don’t make it any easier. Most Canadians don’t really have a warm and fuzzy impression of Wendy Crewson or Margaret Atwood. Outside of their books, sets and performance venues, artists have a frustrating inability to connect with anyone but each other.

No, it is not easy to clarify why the arts are important to protect, nurture, and support. I’ve tried to do this for years, and I sometimes feel I’m no closer to any answers than I’ve ever been. Moore, for his part, gives the examples of Cirque du Soleil, SCTV, and a full host of Canadian art stars — all of whom received small token amounts of important governmental support when they were struggling to get established. Without such support, he suggests, these institutions that have entertained and thrilled so many people would simply not have been able to survive and thrive.  Because of this, he argues, small amounts of leg-up money from the government ultimately benefits all of us, not just some untouchable elite.

It’s a tough sell, no doubt. Good luck with your wars, Canada. Having been there-done that, I don’t envy you. At the very least, however, I can say in all sincerity: “Welcome to the 90s!”

In the Montreal Gazette, a recent editorial called “Let Canadian artists be free” describes the hit that film and TV artists are likely to take because of a new tax bill called Bill C-10. According to the piece, the bill provides “arbitrary powers to the minister of heritage to deny tax credits retroactively to film or television productions the minister deems contrary to public policy, threatens freedom of expression as well as the financial foundation of our film and television industry.”

The article further explains that the bill will have “chilling financial implications. The ministerial powers to deny tax credits after the fact will create such uncertainty that banks will be reluctant to provide financing to cover tax credits. Industry group FilmOntario presented senators with the opinion of the Royal Bank of Canada: ‘Should the assumption of eligibility currently underlying all bank loans to this industry be compromised or diminished by Bill C-10, this will indeed limit the ability of the bank to continue funding Canadian content production.’”

Translation: Restricting freedom in this way—by keeping a close watch on how art affects the public good—will knock off Canada’s already hamstrung and suffering artistic community. Or as the story concludes:

The creative community in this country is fragile. We fight to have our voices heard over the roar of American pop culture. Our funding and protection slips away yearly. The artists of Canada - our writers, directors, actors, dancers, musicians, painters and poets - are not the rich and famous. The artists of Canada are among the working poor. But we know what we do is important. We do it with passion and conviction, empowered by our freedom of expression… To preserve artistic freedom and to avoid financial uncertainty for a significant sector of the Canadian economy, our film and television community asks the Senate committee to please fix Bill C-10.

Things are really beginning to get bad for the arts these days. So bad, that even our enlightened and genteel northern neighbor, Canada, has undertaken an American-style slash-and-burn approach to spending on the arts in its current budget. According to the Globe and Mail online edition:

In short, yesterday’s budget, in the name of maintaining what Finance Minister Jim Flaherty called “strong fiscal management,” seemed to duck virtually every concern that the Canadian cultural community has been voicing in the past five years.

According to this story on the CBC’s website, arts groups are bitterly disappointed in the budget’s disregard for spending on arts and culture. “Cultural investment generates economic activity,” said one artist representative, “provides opportunities for performers and other creators and generates high-quality Canadian programming and films audiences want to watch… In tough times, that’s exactly the kind of investment government should be making, but they’ve failed to act.”

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by Canada’s new-found “Americanness” in regards to the arts, it appears our very own lame-duck president’s parting policy shot will be to eviscerate an arts community already deeply struggling to survive. According to a story called “National Endowment for the Arts budget cuts should be met with outrage, not complacency,” from the Louisville Courier-Journal, Bush is attempting an arts funding end-around in the last budget that he’ll ever sign off on:

Tucked away in the thousands of pages covering $3 trillion worth of proposed expenditures was a $16.3 million cut in support for the National Endowment for the Arts. That would reduce its operating budget from $144.7 million during fiscal 2008 to $128.4 million in 2009.

You heard right. Barely two months after signing off on a $20 million increase in the NEA’s budget — the largest in the endowment’s history — our nation’s chief executive quickly shifted into fiscal reverse. In budget-speak, this is called a “rescission.” In plain-speak, it’s an outrage.