Thursday, September 09, 2010

A letter re the current arts funding debacle in B.C.

Reinstatement of arts funding only first step

Now that Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger has reversed his government’s controversial and wrong-headed decision to decimate arts funding in B.C., it is critical for all members of the provincial arts and cultural communities to reflect upon this not as a victory, but an important possibility for our collective future.

Mr. Krueger has shown his utter disregard for British Columbians, first when his office initiated the significant cuts to the B.C. Arts Council, then when he refused to attend to the will of the people expressed through an impressive and widespread protest movement, and finally when he petulantly reinstated funds with the accusation that he felt both threatened and extorted. It is clear that the minister should follow the lead of chair of the B.C. Arts Council and resign his cabinet post immediately. But while Jane Danzo strategically and graciously stepped down from the Arts Council in order to speak honestly and critically about the current intransigence of the B.C. Liberal government, Mr. Krueger must exit in order to allow a fresh and consultative voice into that office.

As Ms Danzo and others have so correctly noted, the current arts funding crisis is not soley resultant of a government whose failure of imagination treats arts and culture as unnecessary frivolity, but also precipitated by an inability by the provincial government to maintain an arms-length policy of non-interference in the arts. Our federal and most of our provincial arts councils adhere to such a principle, which encourages funding governments to trust these councils with their assigned tasks – namely, to promote and advocate for the arts from an informed and stable base. Without such arms-length distance, it is all too easy for a government to step in to expedite a political agenda, such as we saw recently with the government’s non-consultative institution of the so-called “spirit festival” initiative that was announced as a surprise not only to artists and cultural workers, but to the B.C. Arts Council itself.

In general, the arts function not as a form of entertaining excess, but as a model to understand, interpret, and yes, even critique, our contemporary culture, including our various pillars of power. Not unlike the fourth estate, the arts effectively work by providing a commentary and reflection of our realities, and for this to exist in a democratic society, it must not be subject to the whims or fears of political leaders.

The possibility that exists for us now is a reconsideration and restructuring of the B.C. Arts Council such that it may operate unimpeded by political interference. To nurture a flourishing arts scene in British Columbia is the task at hand for the Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, and the people of this province deserve a successor to Mr. Krueger’s portfolio who brings in a far more progressive and visionary understanding of what art can be to serve the people rather than an assumption of what it should be to serve the state.

Ashok Mathur
Canada Research Chair in Cultural and Artistic Inquiry
Thompson Rivers University
Kamloops, B.C.


Brian said...

Very well put. The past several months have demonstrated many problems existing within our current arts council structure.

I think it is important however that we avoid blanket statements like "reinstatement of arts funding" as this is not entirely the case.

The $7mil from the Legacy fund is a one-off contribution and does not bring funding back to 2008-2009 levels. More importantly, the discontinuation of gaming funding to arts organization that do not directly involve youth means that as a sector, funding to the arts in B.C. is still significantly down.

The loss of gaming funding remains a huge loss for the sector, and will still results in staff cuts, program cancellation, and other reductions for arts organizations throughout the process.

To say that arts funding has been reinstated in B.C. is, sadly, only a partial truth at this point.

Ashok Mathur (Director, CiCAC) said...

Thank you for this clarification, Brian. You are, of course, absolutely correct. I saw this several years ago with the Klein administration in Alberta -- in that case a showdown with unions -- where a series of clawbacks were eventually countered with a few concessions to unions. This was widely interpreted as the Conservative gov't going head to head with the unions and blinking first. It was not, of course, anything more than a strategic game, one we are seeing played out here.
In this case, the monies that were to be imported to this politically-operated spirit festival are diverted to the BC arts council, but as you point out, the BCAC budget remains as it was post-cutback. An independent arts council is clearly the only way to go, not something the government will be particularly fond of, but a necessary step if we are to preserve a semblance both of freedom of expression and professional conduct in this province.