Harper and the fiasco about the arts

One of the issues affecting the conservative campaign recently here in Canada has been the proposed cuts on federal grants towards the Arts. This comes after the government implemented new guidelines giving its ministry powers to deny government grants on the basis of whether it finds the content of the film/music/play seeking government funds to be offensive and/or appropriate. That has of course caused much debate within the art circles and as something like this can easily be seen as a form of censorship for who is to define what is appropriate or offensive? A funny video about it quickly ensued.

In defense of its cuts of government support for the Arts, Harper infamously claimed that the ordinary Canadian doesn’t care about seeing his money go to rich artists who hang out at exclusive parties and complain about their grants. That was a slap in the face of the overwhelming majority of artists in this country who live on under 20,000$/year and has to struggle on many jobs in order to support their art. It also ignores the fact that the Arts industry generates over 40 billion dollars to the Canadian economy (about 3.8% of Canada’s GDP) and employs hundreds of thousands of Canadians. It was an unfortunate remark that shows how out of touch the Prime Minister is with reality and the lives of the so-called ordinary Canadians.

Margaret Atwood answered Mr. Harper on today’s Globe and Mail with a very poignant article that is worth reprinting here:

To be creative is, in fact, Canadian

by Margaret Atwood

From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

What sort of country do we want to live in? What sort of country do we already live in? What do we like? Who are we?

At present, we are a very creative country. For decades, we’ve been punching above our weight on the world stage – in writing, in popular music and in many other fields. Canada was once a cultural void on the world map, now it’s a force. In addition, the arts are a large segment of our economy: The Conference Board estimates Canada’s cultural sector generated $46-billion, or 3.8 per cent of Canada’s GDP, in 2007. And, according to the Canada Council, in 2003-2004, the sector accounted for an “estimated 600,000 jobs (roughly the same as agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas and utilities combined).”

But we’ve just been sent a signal by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he gives not a toss for these facts. Tuesday, he told us that some group called “ordinary people” didn’t care about something called “the arts.” His idea of “the arts” is a bunch of rich people gathering at galas whining about their grants. Well, I can count the number of moderately rich writers who live in Canada on the fingers of one hand: I’m one of them, and I’m no Warren Buffett. I don’t whine about my grants because I don’t get any grants. I whine about other grants – grants for young people, that may help them to turn into me, and thus pay to the federal and provincial governments the kinds of taxes I pay, and cover off the salaries of such as Mr. Harper. In fact, less than 10 per cent of writers actually make a living by their writing, however modest that living may be. They have other jobs. But people write, and want to write, and pack into creative writing classes, because they love this activity – not because they think they’ll be millionaires.

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