Art Fag City at Control Freak Conservatives Take on the Arts

by Art Fag City on September 18, 2008 Events

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Proof technology speeds up even the return rate of karma, Rabble’s headshot of me is no doubt the universe’s way of paying me back for that shitty picture I posted of Joao Ribas last week. I have no one to blame for the picture but myself unfortunately, as it was the only recent image I had that didn’t also include a portion of my extended arm holding a camera.

In this column, I discuss the arts funding cuts in Canada made by the conservative government, and my own truly shitty experience trying to get basic information from the Heritage Department about the affected programs.

I didn't need a deep understanding of politics to know Bill C-10 was a really bad sign of things to come.

Introduced this February, the amendment to the Income Tax Act gives the Minister of Canadian Heritage power to pull financial aid from any film or television show it deems offensive; a reallocation of responsibilities that seems dangerous at best. After all, a bill such as this renders the peer review process meaningless, legalizing an inane Conservative policy decision that operates as if the arts community doesn't possess enough expertise to recognize and award outstanding contributions in their own field.

The fact that the Tories tried to sneak the bill through, however, reveals a surprising acknowledgment of power within art, at least to the degree that the cultural product is not only deemed valuable enough to be worth controlling, but that the employment of underhanded methods to achieve that end are worth the reelection risks.

Those art supporters wondering what's going on with that bill will be disheartened to learn that the Liberal strategy has been to stall the vote on it until after the election — a real miscalculation if the Conservatives win a majority.

As if the desire to have greater control of cultural practices weren't made clearly enough in February, the Conservatives went on this summer to surreptitiously cut more than $60 million that will take effect over the next two years. Amongst the first and most controversial has been the cancellation of the $4.5 million ProMart program providing travel grants to artists.

The Conservative government defended its choice rather predictably, citing budgets concerns (a point that can be wholly dismissed given 2007-2008 total program expenses totaled $201.2 billion, a .02 per cent reduction of their total costs) and pointing to examples they felt were unworthy of international promotion, amongst them, the Juno award winning band Holy Fuck. Naturally, they failed to mention the large percentage traditional arts affected by the funding cuts no one would have a problem with such as ballets and symphonies. Also controversial was the $9 million cut from Trade Routes, a trade development program that “helps profit and not-for-profit organizations in the arts and cultural sector prepare to export and sell in international markets.”

Given the fact that these cuts were first announced, not formally, but by simply placing a notice on the affected programs websites, I suppose I shouldn't have been overly surprised when I couldn't get even the most basic answers from government officials about these and other arts program cuts. Certainly, my blog Art Fag City wasn't operating as much of a credential, despite the fact that it's a well known website in the New York emerging artist community. Frankly, I don't think the name was helping any.

To read about the Department of Heritage’s response to my queries

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