Theatre New Brunswick's production of You Play Beautifully by Thomas Morgan Jones. Photo credit: Andre Reinders. The photo features Byron Abalos, with lighting design by Michelle Ramsay.

Art as a fail-safe on democracy

At this time of the year, the federal and provincial and territorial governments are putting the final touches on their respective budgets. Last year’s federal budget included historical investments of $1.9 billion for arts and culture. The arts sector is rejoicing about this long awaited influx of new parliamentary credits, but it is important to note that some less auspicious decisions have been taken by other levels of government.

The PEI Council for the Arts was eliminated by the provincial government in 2016. Artists and small arts organizations are now in limbo in terms of accessing funds, and the province is so small that access to exhibition spaces, performing spaces, and critical writing to support their work makes competition at the national level nearly impossible.

The budget of the New Brunswick Arts Board (artsnb) was reduced by $200,000 in 2016-2017. Part of this reduction was offset by a move to a government-leased building. Further reductions of $50,000 are expected in 2017-2018. Although funding for grants and awards will remain the same, artsnb has had to eliminate forward-thinking initiatives on Indigenous outreach, multicultural diversity, youth engagement, and creative aging.

The Nova Scotia Tax Credit for Film was eliminated, to huge public outcry.

Both the Saskatchewan Arts Board and Creative Saskatchewan received 5% funding cuts to their current year’s budgets. Until then, both agencies’ budgets over the last 3 years remained frozen. Government-directed funding to specific programs has also seen decreased spending. Overall, there has been about a 9% decrease in government’s allocation to the arts and creative industries from the previous to the current year.

In Canada, granting for research in the social sciences, and granting to fine arts through the Canada Council for the Arts were all set up post World War II subsequent to the publishing of the Massey-Levesque report. The foundational intention was to build intellectual fail-safes on democracy using public money and the peer jury process to ensure that excellence in intellectual pursuit would be funded at a distance from political interference – with public funds – in the interest of a just society.

Increased funding for the Canada Council for the Arts – and the implementation of an innovative funding model by this federal agency – is a remarkable step towards achieving the vision Massey-Levesque Commission. However, as the Commission noted, public support of the arts “is a task for shared effort in all fields of government, federal, provincial and local.” Unless all levels of government – and the arts community through peer assessments – unite their efforts, there can’t be real progress for the arts and for Canadian society.

At this time of the year, arts champions were once engaged in consultation for the analyses of the Provincial and Territorial Budgets and, before that, Statistics Canada’s Survey of Government Expenditures on Culture. None of these publications still exist, and we all find ourselves – governments and arts organizations alike – at loss for a big picture view of arts investments and policies in Canada.

In an era where the world appears to be losing sight of moral benchmarks established after World War II, we ought not to lose sight of the federal, provincial and municipal policies that enable enlightened dialogues and wider worldviews through the arts.

Frédéric Julien and Kate Cornell
Co-chairs of the Canadian Arts Coalition

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