Monday, September 06, 2010

Show Us The Money

(This post is a bit long, and might be boring if you're not in/from BC, but it's important.)

Seems appropriate on Labour Day to post about the recent developments to arts funding here in good old British Columbia, also variously known as the Left Coast, Lotusland, LaLaLand, and the province that, even before the recent, well-publicized cuts, dedicated the smallest per capita amount of arts funding out of all provinces in Canada. (That would be $9.67, compared to Alberta's $20.81 or Ontario's $20.91. With the recent addition we are sitting at $6.50 per capita. Allow that figure to sink in for a moment.)

Firstly, Labour Day, around the world, is an "annual public holiday to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers, with origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest."
Eight hours for recreation AND eight hours for rest? Barmy! Imagine that!

I kid. But seriously, there is an important discussion to be had around the idea of artists as workers, or not, and the distinction between art as work or as recreation, or both, or neither, and if so, for whom, etc. A conversation that I hope we can collectively continue in the weeks and months ahead.

I've been working on a poem consisting of comments posted in the comment streams of various online news providers (though as usual McSweeney's is way ahead of me), and one of my favourite lifted lines is as follows:

People are sick of artists expecting handouts.
Get out of the bed in the morinings [sic]
and go to work in the oil fields.

Hilarious, right? It sure sums up much of the opposition to arts funding, blithely ignorant though these "people...sick of artists expecting handouts" are of the many ways in which our government in/directly funds other industries, up to and including our friends at Big Oil.

And we had to wonder whether this reactionary negativity wasn't also the attitude of our government (till very recently...perhaps.) Provincial arts funding in BC began to be slashed last year, we had that Olympics debacle in February, and then in August our government announced $10 million in new arts spending, in the form of....wait for it...BC Spirit Festival Days, a series of festivals designed to prolong the Shiny Happy Feelings we're all purported to have experienced during the Olympics, otherwise known colloquially as WTF?

Arts organizations banded together, and people spoke out, including (my political crush, the elegant and eloquent) Spencer Chandra Herbert, Official Opposition Critic for Tourism, Culture and the Arts, and an organization helmed by independent artists and arts orgs called Stop BC Arts Cuts---whose excellent website, blog and Twitter feed has kept Those of Us Who Want to Know up to date on recent actions and newsworthy developments---the grassroots Arts Advocacy BC, the British Columbia Alliance for Arts and Culture and many, many other organizations and individuals. Local alternative weekly The Georgia Straight has also done an excellent job of continuing to report on the situation.

On August 16, BC Arts Council Chair Jane Danzo resigned with an open letter to BC's Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger, saying she "felt obliged to resign in order to have a voice;" damning the government's establishment of an Arts Legacy Fund with no consultation whatsoever with the BC Arts Council, and questioning whether or not the relationship of the government to the BCAC Board was (as it should be, in a democracy) truly arm's length.

Between then and now, it started to get weird, and personal, and weirdly personal, with Minister Krueger claiming to have been threatened by arts groups (with a rather unfortunate choice of words), and eligibility for gaming grants being reduced to "cowboys and country fairs" (I wish I was making this shit up.)

However, on September 1, $7 million was restored to the BCAC. Stop BC Arts Cuts' phrasing "guardedly grateful" is apt:

Today’s announcement comes almost exactly a year after the retraction of Gaming funds for arts, part of new cuts totalling almost 91%. Those draconian cuts were somewhat reduced to between 50-60% in March, but that hasn’t lessened the emergency all that much and now many organizations are on the verge of closing. Gaming remains cut by approximately 55% or more. By Canadian standards today’s sum of $7 million is very, very small; it’s no wonder we as British Columbians have so little sense of our own identity and so little knowledge of our own culture compared to other provinces. BC governments chronically make inadequate investment – and it’s a lucrative investment, not a gift – in the BC cultural sector. But we do applaud the BC Liberals for beginning to do the right thing.

Beer Bottle Label From The Sick Brewery
So, in the grand Canadian tradition, I hope you're kicking back with a few cold ones on this fine Labour Day, but I also hope you take the time to check out this Arts Advocacy Toolkit. Every little drop in the bucket and all.

Yrs. in solidarity,
Nikki Reimer is the author of one book of poetry, [sic]. She writes and rants in Vancouver.


Kathleen said...

Thanks for this explanation! Whew! And I thought we had it bad in Illinois.

And I love the gray logo. Sadly, it reminds me of the early Day Without Art commemorations, December 1, when AIDS was taking a terrible toll, and art in galleries was covered with white sheets, theatres went dark, etc.

I believe in funding the arts. I am aware of the irony that when we pass legislation that puts 1% of a public building's budget toward art, most often the artist who will benefit is the one who already has plenty of money to get by (sculptor, well known painter, etc., somebody the bigwigs will pick as both capable and innocuous) and that it still makes people mad who don't value art. Sigh...

Lemon Hound said...

Ah yes, the dark side of BC. I do recall being absolutely stunned by the richness of arts organizations when I left BC for Ontario. Not only arts actually, but social agencies...

Staggering numbers, Nikki. Thanks for the post.

Ray said...

Thanks for your post, Nikki!

Lindsay said...

Nikki, this automatically promotes you to a co-top-dog of Stop BC Arts Cuts whether you want to be or not. Unless, of course, you prefer another title. But to be serious, thanks for this. It was a nice surprise to discover your article today, a rainy Labour Day exactly a year since this whole damn mess began. I had just been planning to write a review of the past year for the blog and couldn't face it, then voila, there you were. I just want to reiterate the bizarre figures for people: even with this "new" old $7 million, BC is still at $6.50 per capita in provincial arts funding, meanwhile Canada's provincial average is $26. I hardly need to point out that Quebec and Ontario spend far, far more than $26 per capita, despite having far more corporate HQs and far more philanthropy money than we do here. What the hell are we doing here, the only province to chop funding? Culture war, is what. Fortunately the BC Liberals are imploding as we speak.

Ok that's quite enough from me. Thank you!

Lindsay said...

PS Darnit, I tried to tweet your comment-thread poem on twitter, plus credit you, but it's too long. You know what? After a year of this I have decided that 140 characters is way too short for politics. Even 160 would be better.

alexleslie said...

It's as if...they don't want artists to exist in BC.

nikki reimer said...

Thanks for keeping the fight going, Lindsay, you guys have really done an amazing job.

Kathleen, your point about what (relatively) small lump sums being given to a small (usually the same) select (anointed?) few is a valid one, and it does end up being fuel to the antis.

And Alex, I think they don't want artists in BC, at least not artists with an independent, possibly political, voice.

Whoops, supposed to be finishing my 3 day novel thing.....much more to say, but as I said mentioned in the post, we all need to keep this conversation going and keep the pressure on our elected officials. The Libs may continue to implode but we all need to make sure that whatever comes next in BC improves the situation for our artists.

Lemon Hound said...

They want commercial artists in BC. Those that can hold their own in a free market economy. Canada gets more and more Conservative. If you've followed the anti-Atwood Twitter feed you'll have a taste of what the right has to say about thinking artists who dare to speak out...

Art should be pretty, damn it. And about nothing.

Or about making people laugh.